OBITUARY: Steve Burrell - Family farewells Bega Valley man of many passions

Anne and Steve Burrell.
Anne and Steve Burrell.

In memory of Stephen (Steve) Burrell, born November 13, 1947 and passed away October 7, 2017.

Steve’s parents ‘Bert’ (Albert George) and Joy (Yetta Florence Joyce Johnson) met in Sydney during the war years and married shortly after the war ended. Bert always wanted to live and work in the country and they moved to Forbes NSW where a job awaited and they bought a one bedroom house on a hobby farm. Steve and his brother Grant were born at Forbes and when only a few years old they moved to Southgate NSW (near Grafton) on the Clarence River to take up Dairy Farming on a Soldier Settlement holding.

 During the 10 years at Southgate there were lots of challenges with 13 floods and three droughts during that time. Steve’s sister Judith (Judy) joined the family and they had a rich life full of community and events, fishing and tennis. It was here Steve inherited a great love and respect for the land, work and a lifelong interest in birdlife.

Steve had to leave the farm at 15 and got an apprenticeship in coach & motor painting at Waterloo in Sydney. Over the next 13 years he got to the top of his profession including time as head of the paint division at Rockdale Ford dealership where he got to work on racing cars for Peter Brock and meeting many of the racing identities of the time. He did a few years car racing himself in a Ford Anglia at a time when backyard outfits could do the racing circuits. His other interests were horse dressage to show level and ballroom dancing - to meet the ladies!

Steve never lost his love of the land and farming and when he met the like-minded and lovely Anne they only took three weeks to decide to marry in 1973. They did up a 20’ tin caravan in glorious ‘70s style and lived beside the Woronora River for three years saving and searching for a suitable flood free area to buy a farm.

They fell in love with the Bega Valley and on moving down to Bega in 1976 they obtained the job of resident farmer on the Bega Dairy Demonstration Farm run by the Bega Department of Agriculture. They got to work with, and appreciate the support of, the board in charge especially Tony Wright and Trevor Cochrane and the staff including Dick Beusnel and Harry Kemp. Through the practical trial work carried out on the farm and resultant field days they got to meet many of the valley’s farmers. Steve’s practical skills and workaholic tendencies combined with his ambition to excel were perfectly suited to dairy farming and his experience on the ‘Demo Farm’ led to some innovative approaches to farming. Many connections made became good and valued friends.

After two years a suitable farm, ‘Hillcrest’ at Candelo, became available. It was then owned by John Gill who was milking two dozen cows in the walk-thru and had a TV in the dairy to watch the cricket. It probably had one of the best views in the valley from the dairy yard with a 360 degree panorama and overlooking Candelo.

Steve and Anne farmed the 100 acres in an intensive way using innovative and pioneering techniques of herd, feed and supplementary feed management always improving farm fertility and looking after the ‘working girls’.  Despite a terrible five year drought they managed to pay the farm off in 10 years.

After 12 years, changes to the industry meant the farm was too small to continue dairying and Steve was supported to explore another passion, painting and drawing.

Anne and Steve Burrell with daughter, Corey.

Anne and Steve Burrell with daughter, Corey.

They had three wonderful children by this stage, Glencora (Corey), Ben and Katherine (Katie). Candelo was a lovely community for the family and for the children to grow up in with lots of involvement in school, local events, drama, art, sport, Candelo Arts Society etc.

Steve studied art and drawing at Bega TAFE and his distinctive style, like a rural Geoffrey Smart, and sense of perspective earned him recognition and respect. Steve got involved with the Candelo Arts Society serving as president for several years and presiding over many events, festivals, music and variety nights and especially promoting his own area of interest in visual art.

Steve never quite adjusted to life without dairy farming and after 16 years at “Hillcrest” they moved to “Hillgrove” on the other side of Candelo. They bought possibly the most run down dairy farm in the Bega Valley consisting of three big paddocks on 400 acres with dubious fencing but loads of character and potential. With a huge amount of commitment, hard work and experienced management the farm was transformed and Steve achieved his aim of one million litres. Steve was very forward thinking in his ‘holistic’ approach to farm planning using practices caring for the land and animals well before they became mainstream best practice.

All the skill and good management couldn’t overcome the effects of deregulation and drought. It was a time of great hardship for farmers across Australia and eventually, with health suffering, the decision to sell had to be made. This was the hardest time, having to leave everything, profession, farm, home, friends and family.

The focus was gradually changed from farming to fishing and the slogan went up in the dairy, “When the going gets tough, the tough go fishing!”

After the sale of the farm they went on a wonderful camping trip around Australia for a year to recover and plan the future. On their return they built a home at the fishing paradise of Bermagui where Steve’s parents, Joy and Bert, had previously lived for 12 years. Steve got to use his farming skills, in miniature, farming herbs in the backyard to supply local cafes and stores for a few years and a little aquaculture breeding gold fish.  Steve’s practical skills are in evidence in the home he helped build, the lovely garden and his beautiful Bonsai, his latest passion.

Whatever he took up he always did with great passion, dedication and commitment. He can be justifiably proud of his achievements in life and the example he always set. Steve was a good, decent, hard-working man whose counsel will be sadly missed by family and friends. Much loved in his time and fortunate to have got to explore so many of his passions in life during his 40 years in the Bega Valley.

Family are hosting a gathering to celebrate his life and reminisce at 51 Parbery Avenue, Bermagui on the afternoon and evening of November 11. Family, friends and acquaintances are invited and welcome to drop in and possibly bring a small plate to share (not essential though).