July 27, 2017 – Megan Doherty
Tharwa’s unofficial mayor Val Jeffery had one wish for his send-off following his death last week (18 July 2017): just a plain, simple graveside service at the Queanbeyan Lawn Cemetery.
No-nonsense and no-fuss, just like the man himself. But he could never have stopped hundreds of people turning out on Wednesday to honour his decades of service to the village, bushfire management and rural heritage.
The 82-year-old was buried in the older section of the cemetery, a suntrap under tall trees where galahs squawked throughout the ceremony.
He was laid to rest in a coffin made from local timber, and scrap metal from the original Tharwa bridge, a tip of the hat to his long campaign to have the bridge re-opened. The casket was made by Tharwa furniture designer Myes Gostelow and engraved by another local artisan, Karim Haddad.
Mr Jeffery’s wife of 56 years, Dorothy, was sadly unable to attend the funeral, in hospital after suffering an earlier fall, but her brother Brian McCormack gave an affectionate send-off to his brother-in-law, Valentine Max Jeffery, born in Queanbeyan on December 6, 1934.
Mr McCormack paid tribute to Val’s strong work ethic, common sense, sharp wit and dry sense of humour and, of course, his commitment to his community.
“Val Jeffery was never a ‘gunna do’ person,” he said.
“He was a mover and a shaker, an achiever, a statesman, one of life’s true gentlemen and a true friend.”
Mr Jeffery’s life was a catalogue of the ACT’s rural heritage – making hay, erecting fences, carting phosphate, checking fire trails, running the local general store, listening to country music and writing poetry. A life of self-sufficiency and self-taught skills
“He showed me the art of stacking a load of hay so it could go from here to Bourke and it wouldn’t move an inch,” Mr McCormack said.
Mr Jeffery received the Order of Australia medal in 2006 for his service to Tharwa and the Bushfire Service Medal for 60 years’ service with the local brigade. He was briefly a Liberal MLA for Brindabella last year. Several Liberal MLAs attended the funeral.
Long-time friend Michael Lonergan said Mr Jeffery was a trusted mate who “could keep his trap shut”, keeping confidences and dispensing advice.
He “hated bureaucracy” but recognised most of the individuals within it were good people.
Mr Lonergan reckoned Mr Jeffery didn’t believe in the after-life but his funeral was conducted by Reverend Craig Roberts because Mr Jeffery believed a funeral needed the religious element. Mr McCormack said Mr Jeffery could order who he liked “up there” but “send rain”.
Retired CSIRO bushfire expert Phil Cheney said Mr Jeffery’s knowledge of bushfires came to the fore when, against orders, he burnt a break around Tharwa, the day before the 2003 firestorm, saving the village from its onslaught. Mr Cheney said earlier in his own career, he and Mr Jeffery spent many hours checking the fire trails for fuel loads.
“I came to appreciate his knowledge of the topography, the country, the people and what needed to be done to carry out effective bushfire protection,” Mr Cheney said.
Mr Jeffery’s son Kevin has carried on his bushfire fighter legacy. Mr Jeffery’s grand-daughters Madelaine and Charlotte Jeffery gave a reading at the funeral.
The crowd dispersed to the sounds of the Willie Nelson classic, On the Road Again.