Looking Back – Tony Lawless

By Leo Billington

Story continued from last edition

As mentioned in the previous June edition, about Tony Lawless, he asked “Now young Leo, where to from here? What else do you want to know?”

My reply was “A coffee thanks Tony. Let’s talk more about where’s Hazelwood.”

But alas this wasn’t to be. Tony was concerned about any story missing his long-standing involvement with the Driffield and District Fire Brigade – 25 Years as Captain and continuing. It needs to be understood the Driffield brigade was re-housed in a Yinnar brigade shed. Tony is adamant there is another equally important entity – and they share the same site.

Driffield Fire Brigade is housed in a shed alongside the Yinnar Fire Brigade. The Driffield Fire Brigade still stands alone as a fire brigade in its own right, but they are sited in Yinnar rather than Driffield

The pretext, many years ago, was a proposal for a brigade shed at Driffield. It never happened, and is most unlikely to happen.

Tony joined the CFA “six months before Ash Wednesday.” With over 44 years in this line of community service, Tony has amassed a wide circle of friends and colleagues.

Tony has been Captain of Driffield Fire Brigade since July 1992, taking the reins from long standing Captain Ivan Walker. He is currently the longest serving captain in the Merton Group which was formed on April 23, 2015.

The Ash Wednesday bushfires – February 16, 1983 - killed 47 people in Victoria and 28 people in South Australia.

“Keep your hair on Tony”, is the reply. Such a commitment to community service, and as a volunteer, Tony’s worth is immeasurable. Volunteers are rather scarce these days. However one pushes onwards – including 15 years in the Yinnar and District Lions Club and being a regular attendee at Yinnar and District Community Association meetings. His preparedness to help at any time, with volunteer work in the Hazelwood Cemetery, is greatly appreciated.

“I am a district person. I live in this district. I am proud of this district!

Leo, as I previously said, after school in Sale, it was back to Hazelwood and the farm for me.”

Farmyard with horse and a few cows

No worries Tony, as he mentioned about 527 cows waiting for him. Incidentally, he is more than sure there wasn’t 528; just 527! Farm life took over – dairying, interwoven with smart, strategic farming methods. As neighbouring blocks came up for sale, Tony’s family expanded their Hazelwood footprint.

From an expanded farm covering about 2.5 thousand acres, by buying at least five neighbouring farms, milk was sent to the Moe Dairy Co-operative. Theirs was a 12 stand-up milking shed ‘being the most modern around our district’, Tony proudly boasts.

“Beef cattle were sold into various markets - Yinnar, Trafalgar, even to Morwell. Invariably, our cattle then went to Newmarket.”

“A bit before my younger years, and for a while thereafter, R. R. & H. C. Jolly Pty. Ltd., from Trafalgar conducted regular auctions at Morwell. In July 1953 for instance, our local farmers were receiving Choppers heavy, £23/9/, £20; medium, £16, £14, £12; bulls, £22, £35.”

As most people will know, Tony has worked hard, never letting “the moss grow beneath his boots.” One early job, after returning from school in Sale was grubbing tussocks for a neighbouring farmer, Jim Daly.

Grubbing tussocks was never destined to be long term employment, more like a bit of respite from what he proudly calls “smart farming.”

“We had a 12 stand-up, “walk through” dairy shed by 1942. Most neighbours persevered with smaller “back out” sheds. Our shed was considered the most modern around and when electricity became available, “the first thing to be converted to electricity was the separator which had previously been turned by an employed man.” (Changing Landscapes; A History of Settlement and Land Use at Driffield.)

“More tractors started to appear during the 1940’s and our family soon acquired reliable Ferguson tractors. Conversely, an obedient dog and a good horse was always challenging to replace for herding cattle.

Payment for being a farm hand was another consideration, with me needing to explore options, particularly during the 1980’s dairy crisis. On-farm income took a battering, with low prices and severe changes in climatic conditions. Basically, dairy farmers were powerless.”

Tony, one never to sit down, and stare towards any horizon, took on off-farm work to supplement family income. He resumed milking cows morning and night in between working on earthworks in the Morwell Open Cut. Fencing became a viable option. Working on the Morwell Wetlands project and subsequently planting trees were added to his work job list. Meanwhile, cows had to be milked although plenty of milk was “tipped down the drain.” (This was in direct response to the dairy crisis in the late 80’s. There was a protest at the Moe Dairy Co-op blocking tankers from leaving the co-operative)

“Dad bought a backhoe for contract work. We soon added a tractor and slasher for hire. As I indicated, we had to get smart.

March - with cow with

Dad was rather canny – watching cattle and milk prices, listening intently to midday market reports. Once he topped the market for beef cattle at one of the last Newmarket sales.

It was hay season when our contracting services were sought after. Small hay bales at first, then a big, new machine was purchased – a New Holland to do round bales. Then there were two round balers covering the wider Traralgon – Yinnar area.

There was still a market for small bales and at one stage, we had four balers doing this work. It was hard work, constantly watching for fine weather but better than milking cows. Earlier on, Dad gave me some sound advice. Lifting small squares incorrectly will hurt your back. Be bloody careful.

 Truck -

My determination to remain busy retained that advice. Nonetheless, to steer clear of his advice, there was the time when we sent my parents on a trip in The Ghan. In their absence, I completed over three kilometres of fencing, and my back was fine.”

Jack Lawless passed away in October 2003. A heart attack stopped him and his memory and presence still remains strong in Tony’s heart. He does not necessarily show his soft side, perhaps it is his stubbornness and tenacity which covers what he really cherishes most.

Mum, Pat, at 94 continues onward and upward. Her long-lasting impact has been coloured by a wide range of trials and tribulations associated with dairy and beef farming. A family video for instance shows Pat keeping up food and beverages for the hard working farmers doing battle with clouds of dust and hay seed to get those bales in.

However there is one picture remaining in my mind which brings me to a sudden stop. Writing about local history from in and around Hazelwood makes one realise it is vital to “keep alight the flame.”

Car on driveway in front of Hazelwood Power Station

One picture, suitably and slightly out of focus, shows a car travelling home, dust signalling its arrival. Eight stacks sitting above the horizon spell progress. Perhaps the car was hurrying home to say look what’s coming.

Progress has absorbed “Lawless Country”. Nonetheless, the stacks are gone. Tony and family remain steadfast. While this continues, justifiably, Tony will always ask, “Where’s Hazelwood?”