Harold ‘Titch’ Verdon
August 1, 1934 – February 16, 2021

HAROLD ‘Titch’ Verdon lived with the tragedy of a fatal milk tanker accident for 40 years.

And as a former vice-president of the State Branch of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), and a life-long union representative, he felt the loss of a brother driver more deeply than most.

But he didn’t let the 1982 accident define him and as soon as he recovered from burns to his face and right arm, he was back in the saddle, collecting milk through to his retirement in 1999.

It was a total of 43 years and two days in the dairy industry for Titch, starting as a boiler and refrigeration mechanic for the busy Korumburra Butter Factory, then KDP and SGMI before the plant was taken over by Murray Goulburn and he was offered a new job as a driver, working out of the Leongatha factory.

Trained in driving trucks during his National Service days and as a member of the Korumburra Fire Brigade, the work came as second nature to Titch and apart from that terrible day on January 25, 1982, he had an accident-free career behind the wheel.

But it was a big one.

Mr Verdon was on his usual run back along Whitworths Road at Korumburra South on Monday afternoon that day with a full tank of milk, but a late change in the pick-up schedule for Unigate driver Allan Lees, 34, of Poowong, unexpectedly brought the two trucks together on a blind turn in the road.

The two drivers took what evasive action they could but there was simply no room and Mr Lees’ truck hit the petrol tank of Mr Verdon’s truck front on, causing an immediate explosion – he had no chance.

Lucky to be alive, Mr Verdon crawled out as the fire spread and wandered up the road where he was picked up by Frances Wintle, a local nurse.

Some weeks later, the shire came out and cut the top off an embankment to improve visibility but Korumburra Shire engineer, the late Ray Walls, acknowledged the parlous state of South Gippsland roads in the ‘Leongatha Star’ in the same week of the fatal tanker collision.

“I have been in South Gippsland for 13 years and it has astonished me that there are not more accidents… when you consider the number of heavy vehicles such as stock transports, milk tankers and school buses that must drive on hillside ledges in a 48-inch rainfall climate.”

Harold William Verdon was born at Mirboo North on August 1, 1934, the third son of Jim and Lil Verdon in a family of six which included five boys, Bill, Jack, Harold, Jimmy, Les, and a sister, Aileen.

Harold attended school at Mirboo North, Mardan and Mt Eccles but left at 14 when the family moved to Bena, share-farming for the late Les Brown.

He started work with the Lands Department in 1948 but was put off two years later in 1960 due to budget cuts. He got a job as a coal miner at the Sunbeam Mine at Korumburra South, which he loved, and later at the North Outtrim Mine where he gained a reputation as a hard worker.

When the mine closed down, he gained employment at the Korumburra Butter Factory continuing in the industry for 43 years and two days.

Along the way he met and married Margaret Smith, spending almost 63 years of married life together. The couple had a son, Darrell.

An outspoken community and workers’ advocate, Harold Verdon lived a life of service to his workmates and the local district. He was awarded life membership of the TWU, a rare honour, was a life member of the Murray Goulburn Social Club, received his 50-year jewel as a Freemason, and was a life member of Coal Creek Probus, which he helped form.

He was also a member and one-time chairman of the Korumburra Water Board, ushering in many improvements for the Nyora, Poowong, Loch and Korumburra areas along the way.

Even after he retired as a union representative, he was often called upon for his knowledge and meticulous records of past actions and hard-won conditions.

In a newspaper tribute, the TWU described him as “a strong advocate for the milk industry and a true believer”.

In later years, the couple enjoyed their retirement, ultimately downsizing and moving to Leongatha, also touring Australia with Marilyn and the late John Mackie’s bus trips.

After becoming unwell in October last year, he moved himself into Koorooman House to be closer to care, but the cancer spread and while he was able to come home for Christmas with his extended family, his condition worsened and he died on Tuesday, February 16 aged 86.