‘DO things because we can, not because we have to,’ is the motto of long-time community man John Fleming – who has received an Order of Australia Medal (OAM).
Serving as a volunteer firefighter, local mayor, Lion’s Club of Wonthaggi charter member and a Justice of the Peace – amongst other roles – John Fleming’s contribution to the community has truly been recognised.
‘Ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things’ is the selection focus for OAMs, with John’s commitment to the community and giving wherever possible.
Moving to the area in 1961, John settled in town after purchasing the Wonthaggi Holden dealership.
“Originally I was looking to buy a dairy farm, but after six months of looking around the South Gippsland area, none quite jumped to my attention.”
John was a qualified mechanic and spent most of his early working days in Northcote.
“When the Holden dealership came on the market, I thought it would suit me well, so I bought it and moved into Wonthaggi.
“My love for the town grew when I was well received by the community.
“I had been to other areas, but none of them could compare to the warm welcome I felt in Wonthaggi.”
Eager to become part of this community, John offered to help out with the local fire brigade, after seeing the truck going around town with just the driver inside.
“The driver said other members came when they could, but he needed help, so I offered to give him a hand.”
John went on to volunteer at the Wonthaggi Fire Brigade from 1961 – 1995, where is now a life member.
He was then a member of the Glen Alvie Rural Fire Brigade.
At a time where councils’ roles were more straight forward, John recalls the cost of rates being $10 a year. He served as a councillor from 1968 – 1979 on the Borough of Wonthaggi, including being mayor in ‘77.
He was also a Bass Coast Shire Council commissioner from 1994-1997.
“We had a complaint that a drain… wasn’t clean, so we sent the dozer and said, ‘you only get half an hour as the machinery costs $20 per hour.’
“Things were different back then, the role wasn’t quite as strenuous, but I did play a part in the combining of local councils,” he said.
“This worked well for most as the with the closure of the State Coal Mine and railway line things were changing around the area.”
But John’s best achievement was while volunteering with the Lion’s Club.
“Being part of the team that initiated and raised funds for the Wonthaggi Senior Citizens Clubroom was something I am very proud of.
“We raised $38,000, however, for the remainder of the funds we borrowed from the bank. Several members put their names down and gave their word that these debts would be paid.
“At a time when interest rates were close to 20 per cent this was a challenge, but we got the money we needed, built the building and repaid the loan.”
John also spent many years volunteering to raise vital funds for the Lion’s at barbeques outside Safeway.
“Seventeen years cooking sausages outside Safeway on the trot. For a while, we were raising over $40,000 a year.”
John was a charter member of the Lions Club of Wonthaggi, has served as president, as well as secretary for 18 years and treasurer for five years, safety officer, and life member.
He’s also an international life member of the Lion’s Club.
John’s later volunteer life included being a Justice of Peace, which he continued until his body wouldn’t allow further.
Other roles have included: Wonthaggi State Coal mine volunteer, Wonthaggi Business and Tourism Association committee member, founding board member of the Bass Coast Community Foundation, Bass Coast safety ambassador, Bass Coast Football Tribunal member, and founding director (also chair) of the Wonthaggi Sewerage Authority.
His awards and recognition includes: Borough of Wonthaggi Rotary Citizen of the Year, Bass Coast Shire Community Service Award and Fellow, Royal Victorian Association of Honourary Justices Award.