By Tracey Matthies
NEVILLE Matthies was an icon of South Gippsland simply for living a normal, fulfilling life – for being a bloke, a one-eyed Parrots footy fan, local sportsman, valued employee, community volunteer, brother, uncle and a mate.
He was also born with Down syndrome, not that he ever let that slow him down.
In a sign of the high regard in which he was held, more than 400 people filled St Peter’s Anglican Church in Leongatha for Neville’s funeral in December 2004. He would have been chuffed – almost as chuffed as seeing himself in the local paper again.
Born in Leongatha on November 13, 1959, he was the youngest child of Koorooman dairy farmers, Les and Mavis Matthies. Les passed away while Nev was still quite young, and Mavis and Neville later moved into town with Neville taking the bus to attend Moonya in Wonthaggi.
Both became involved with the Leongatha Croquet Club, with Neville going on to with the Division Three Gippsland pennant championship with Mary Ann Kinnish in 2001.
Mavis suffered a series of strokes in 1985 and was hospitalised and then moved into a nursing home. She had succeeded so well in her goal of raising Neville to be independent that he simply continued to live in their Worthy Street home for the next 18 years.
As Neville’s life became busier, he cut back on the number of days that he went to Moonya each week until 1988 when he decided that he would stop going all together. By this time his life was busy with church, football, croquet, St Vincent de Paul, community radio, and a local advocacy group for people with disabilities – and as Nev saw it, there wasn’t time for school.
Neville made his first foray into the workplace when Moonya organised work experience for him at the then-Safeway store in Leongatha. He worked in the fruit and veggie section and when his work experience time was finished, the store manager was so impressed with Neville’s diligence and attitude, the manager gave him a regular Saturday morning job.
In the years to come, Nev also worked at McCartin’s Hotel, the Murray Goulburn factory and in the hospital kitchen. He cleaned the Commonwealth Bank and Latrobe Personnel offices and worked as a cleaner and general assistant at Taranto Glass. Neville loved all his jobs and was extremely disappointed when a job would finish for any reason.
A proud and passionate member of the Leongatha Football Club – he was renowned and respected throughout Gippsland football circles for his on-field celebratory ‘Parrot Dance’ whenever Leongatha won. Neville performed many small but necessary behind the scenes tasks such as cutting the oranges for half time, collecting club mail from the post office for the secretary for several years and participating in most social events.
Neville showed his support for the playing coaches by ensuring he wore the number of the current playing coach on his jumper. Apparently, the wives of various club presidents were asked to change the number on his jumper whenever the club took on a new coach.
Neville was honoured as the club’s number one ticket holder one year, awarded Best Clubman on another occasion, and recognised with many supporter’s awards.
In 1997 the Leongatha Football Club won several premierships and publicly declared the high esteem in which it held Neville by presenting him with a premiership medallion.
He was similarly welcomed by the Koonwarra RSL Cricket Club, initially in charge of the scoreboard, but also dressing in his whites as twelfth man, occasionally taking the bat or ball, but always enthusiastically supporting his mates, both on and off the field.
Neville joined the Access All Abilities Football League for people with disabilities when it was formed in 2001. He played two games with the Gippsland Grunters, proudly leading the team onto the ground in his beloved Parrots’ colours for the first game, before deciding that he would rather participate from the boundary line. Neville received training and support to become a boundary umpire and umpired 12 matches until 2003.
An example of how well Neville was accepted in the community, and of just how resourceful he could be, relates to his love of pizza. Sometimes after working at his cleaning jobs, Nev would call into his favourite pizza shop and order a home-delivered pizza – “you take me home, too,” he would ask, and they always did, delivering Neville home to Worthy Street along with his hot pizza.
Neville was a reliable and active volunteer worker with the St Vincent de Paul Opportunity Shop in Leongatha from 1990 until 2004 when he was no longer able to continue due to the effects of ill health. He was responsible for sorting and cleaning shoes in readiness for sale, writing price tickets, removing old price tickets and baling clothes for shipping to Melbourne. Neville also participated fully in social activities with other volunteers.
Neville’s faith was a major and vital part of his life. He has been described as the most ecumenical person in Leongatha because of his ability to support three different churches with equal conviction. Neville was welcomed into St Andrew’s Uniting Church where he was baptised in 1994. He was also welcomed into the Christian Revival Centre and St Peter’s Anglican Church.
Neville Matthies passed away from Motor Neuron Disease aged just 45.