DIANA Fleming was an absolute community gem, a leader and champion who we will be missed greatly.
Local identity John Duscher was asked by the family to say a few words as they sadly farewelled a very special, inspiring lady who lived a full and happy life and to celebrate her huge contribution to the community:
Our paths have crossed so many times over the past 45 years since we also made Wonthaggi our home. I have always valued your friendship, admired your energy and appreciated your strong leadership and connection with the community.
May I first of all offer our most sincere condolences to husband John, daughters Fiona and Debbie, grandchildren Bethany, Joss, Tanya and Donald, the extended family and friends.
Affectionately known as Di…
Di was born at midday on May 3, 1931, at Frankston Bush Nursing Hospital and was the only child of Beryl and Kenneth Cone. She spent most of her very happy childhood living at Healesville and often related stories of visiting David Fleay at the Healesville Sanctuary where the first platypus in captivity was bred and playing with baby wombats. She also spent much of her time riding her horse, Chester. These were obviously fond memories at a great time of her life and she would always remain a country girl at heart.
She went to Healesville Primary School, then on to Fintona Girls School in Balwyn, staying with family and having lots of adventures with her cousin Judith. She spent happy summers at ‘Kinneil’ in Sorrento at her grandparents’ holiday home with her cousins.
She later attended Swinburne in Hawthorn where she studied commercial arts – these days we would call it graphic design. She was already showing lots of promise in this area. She acquired a knowledge of book binding and studied art history. Di gained employment with the CSIRO, illustrating their publications.
Di met John in 1954 through friends and realised it must be serious after she went to Sydney on holidays with her parents and missed him terribly. She was obviously not put off by his love of cars, going on many time trials and hill climbs with him. She had found the love of her life and they married in January 1956. They remained happily married for nearly 65 years. January was a busy month for the Flemings in that year because John’s two brothers also got married. Di was living with her parents in Mt Eliza at the time.
John was managing a service station in Northcote, Merri Bridge Motors, and they were living in Doncaster when the family started to grow. Fiona arrived in 1957 and Deb in 1959.
In 1961, Di and John decided they wanted to bring their children up in the country, moving out of suburbia. We would probably call this the sea-change move now and they were immediately on the lookout for a dairy farm in Gippsland. But a better offer came up, discovering a Holden dealership was for sale in Wonthaggi and it came with a house. The rest is history as they say and it was also about this time that Di persuaded John to give up his car racing. Good move, John.
From the moment they arrived and indeed ever since, Di and John have been firmly embedded in their community.
What an understatement!
They had made Wonthaggi their home and immediately showed they were going to be great community contributors, straight into the CFA, charter members of Lions, CWA, local council, hospital auxiliary, started and ran Meals on Wheels for 29 years and so many more volunteer activities.
Di was a member of the CWA choir at one stage and performed at a number of competitions. She became heavily involved with the Red Cross, serving as an executive board member, working on the emergency management team responding to various disasters including bushfires, floods and even Wonthaggi’s own micro-burst.
For many years Di and John established and also ran the Wonthaggi Blood Bank which was a big ask in itself. What an incredible dynamic team they have been, committed to so many local and international projects, working hard to make a real difference to the lives of others and definitely building and strengthening their community. This community spirit and leadership has left an incredible legacy. Whatever needed to be done was done well.
That comes as no surprise, really. Di was a determined person, a great organiser of events, able to rally workers and resources and achieve outstanding results especially through her fundraising efforts. She proved to be also a great mentor and friend of many, encouraging others to also be active as volunteers and enjoy the experience as she had done so many times before. The words, “say what you mean and mean what you say”, I believe would be a good summary of her approach to life.
Di’s exemplary community service through Lions was recognised with a Melvin Jones Fellowship Award in 2008. This is Lion’s International’s highest award. She has also received well-deserved recognition from Red Cross with a Distinguished Service Award. Di and John were the Borough of Wonthaggi Citizens of the Year and later on proud recipients of a Rotary Club of Wonthaggi – Bass Coast Shire Australia Day Award. Together they also received recognition with a National Centenary Medal for Community Service in 2000.
Following the sale of John Fleming Motors in 1975, Di worked with John in their businesses in Wonthaggi. At one stage she drove taxis when they operated the taxi service. Later on she sold paint, fabric and materials, made curtains and lots more when they operated the Gas and Colour Centre in McBride Avenue. Fiona and Deb have said that mum was a very firm parent with high expectations of her girls which is not really surprising either as she wanted them to do well in life and be happy.
Di loved the live theatre, opera, ballet and musicals like Gilbert and Sullivan performances. She loved horses and dogs, owning Dachshunds and Corgis over the years – a bit like the Queen really and every bit as spoilt no doubt.
Di loved going out socialising, enjoying good company, good conversation and a good wine. I know we always enjoyed her company and friendship.
She also loved the beach, going for walks and travelling with John after the kids were off their hands. Their first overseas trip was in 1985, tearing themselves away from the shop and leaving it in the capable hands of Barb Guthrie.
The trips were always memorable, highlighted with a magnificent trip to Canada and Alaska. Another holiday to Broome was also memorable as she broke her arm for a second time. Di and John made friends easily on these trips and even up to recent times, Di made a point of keeping in touch with the people they had met on holidays.
Di liked to collect some lovely souvenirs of their travels including pieces to add to her extensive jewellery collection. It is not surprising she also loved to design her own pieces from scratch, often purchasing unset stones and discussing designs with jewellers.
Di loved reading and passed this love of literature on to her girls. In her recent time at Seahaven she spent much of her time enjoying her reading. Her other interests included sewing and making clothes. She was very good at this as she was in growing Bonsai plants, restoring furniture and gardening. She definitely had a green thumb. There was only a single apricot tree in their garden when they first moved in to their McKenzie Street home in 1961 but it wasn’t long before she has transformed the garden in to something very special.
Di took night classes at the Tech school. Learning pottery and woodwork and some of the results of these classes still reside at Fiona and Deb’s today. She supported the Wonthaggi and District Show entering hand-knitted items and won prizes along the way. Di liked to explore the craft trends of the time, turning her hand to mosaic work, ribbon embroidery and lampshade making. She loved working with wool, another passion, joining the Wool Group, spinning and dyeing wool to knit. She worked some magnificent tapestries to hang on the walls and to upholster chairs, fulfilling her dream of making her home with John a beautiful one.
The girls also pointed out mum had put a lot of time and effort into making various costumes for them to wear to their primary school fancy dress balls. That sounds pretty significant.
After living in a chilly weatherboard house for years Di and John rebuilt at McKenzie Street, enjoying a more comfortable abode until they made the decision to downsize. They built in Hagelthorn Street and spent their later life very comfortably there before, due to declining health, moving to Seahaven.
Di was easy to talk to and so easy to talk about. She led a very busy life, full of adventure in many ways, full of love and happiness. She was happiest when surrounded by her family who she loved immensely.
She will be missed by all who knew her. Hold on tight to your fondest and special memories of her and let us celebrate her wonderful contribution as a wife, mother, grandmother and friend and her enormous passion for her community. Di was an absolute community gem, a leader and champion who will be missed greatly.
Rest in peace dear friend.