The town of Tenterfield is unique in so many ways brimming with history and natural beauty. The community has evolved over time but the actual fabric of Tenterfield continues to be woven with the dedication and passion of selfless individuals who call Tenterfield home.
Behind every prominent hard working citizen there are dozens of quiet achievers simply doing what has to be done, ever willing to lend a helping hand, whilst staying out of the limelight with no expectation of reward.
In 2018 Oracles of the Bush honours all of those quiet achievers. This year’s legend, George Mulherin, is the story of just one of those generous ‘behind the scenes’ achievers.
George Mulherin was born in Tenterfield in 1947. Younger brother to Tony, and twin brother Jim, George has lived his entire life in Tenterfield with the exception of several early years living in Brisbane, following the tragic loss of his Mother, at age 5.
George attended St Joseph’s Primary School and Tenterfield High School. After finishing high school secured an apprenticeship with local builder, Tommy Couper. In the third year of a five year apprenticeship, George was called up for National Service. He was able to defer the call up for two years to finish his trade then entered the Army in 1969.
George’s Army stint was cut short when he suffered a serious neck and back injury shortly after arriving in Canungra, a week before being deployed to Vietnam. He was taken to Brisbane where it was confirmed he had broken his neck.
After a long rehabilitation (12 months) George returned to Tenterfield on completion of two years National Service, picking up his building trade with local builder Pat Duck.
In 1974, George married his wife of 43 years, Helen and after welcoming their first child in 1975 ventured into business trading as P.G. & E.H.Mulherin, Building Contractors.
As a result of his previous injuries George underwent a back operation in 1988. Finally seeing the light and acknowledging the nagging old injuries he retired from building in 1990.
George always had a deep connection with the land, horses and cattle so it was a natural progression for him when he purchased a rural property, ‘The Homestead’ in 1977 after welcoming their second child.
The property included an orchard which later was turned into grazing land for prime bullocks. As years went by George went from raising bullocks to establishing a breeding herd, and today still runs about 300 breeders.
You would imagine that raising a young family, running a building business and operating a cattle property would make for a busy enough life. But no, as I chatted with George I was intrigued at how many voluntary organisations he was involved with.
There was the Pony Club, Camp drafting, School P & C, St Vincent de Paul Society, State Emergency Service (SES), Basketball Association, Haddington Building Committee, Vintage Car Club, Volunteer in Policing ( VIP ) not to mention various church and community committees. These were not splash in the pan commitments but long term passions e.g. St Vincent de Paul Society 43 years, SES 35½ years, and 33 years with Pony Club. As you can see from the time frames most of these involvements were simultaneous. Although George held various executive positions over the years he preferred to simply be on hand to help.
He said: “You don’t need to be on a committee to help.”
At this point Helen quickly reminded him that she remembers the early years when it was not unusual for George to attend five meetings in two nights.
The beauty of Georges personal time sharing is he combines his leisure passions with his desire to help the community.
His first love is horses, be it show jumping, pony club or camp drafting. Although he held an executive position for a while, the majority of his time with the Pony Club was as a volunteer and instructor. He loved sharing his knowledge with the kids at pony camp and watching them develop relationships with their horses.
As a camp draft competitor and volunteer George travelled to many events creating great family memories in those early years.
“It was always a family affair,” George said. “We packed the truck, loaded the horses and off we went. On arrival with a good sweep out the was ready to camp in the back, a far distant cry from today’s modern floats.”
George was fortunate to have the opportunity to acquire the land left vacant by the closure of Riverstone Meatworks on the outskirts of town.
For the past 20 years George and Helen have generously made this land freely available to the Tenterfield Camp Drafting Association Inc.
The Association holds a number of events during the year including a major annual camp draft. The major event attracts competitors from far and wide providing a great boost to the local economy.
The Association has full use of 50 acres including holding paddocks and cattle yards, and have erected facilities and an arena on the land.
Needless to say the old injuries put a stop to George’s competitive years a while ago but this is his way of still being part of a sport he loves.
It is a massive contribution to the Tenterfield community. George, like all previous legends, is enthusiastic in promoting and improving his home town.
As a result of his generosity and assistance George has been awarded Life Membership of the Association and is also Patron.
It is as much George’s generosity as physical contribution to the community that led to him being chosen as Oracles 2018 Legend. Nothing has come easy, George has worked extremely hard to provide for his family and his willingness to share those provisions with others is outstanding.
For many years Adult Education conducted chainsaw courses in Tenterfield. George offered his property, free of charge, as a venue. He volunteered his time to assist organising the courses and personally tidied the areas on completion.
He then loaded the sawn wood and delivered it to elderly people in the town. What a great gesture!
George is an advocate of having a trade behind you to fall back on. In the mid 1980s he took a part time teaching position at Tenterfield campus of TAFE providing instruction in the building trade, and reveled in his position of supervisor to a group of ladies who built a large wooden barn on the TAFE grounds. His trade experience was also invaluable during his time on the Haddington Nursing Home building committee.
The most intense part of George’s volunteering life was his 35 ½ years with the State Emergency Services.
That strong desire to help others prompted George to volunteer in the local SES in 1979.
He embraced the learning aspect of his role as volunteer and absorbed the training courses with vigor. His natural leadership qualities, compassion and training, soon saw him front and centre for emergency call outs in the local area. He also became invaluable as a trainer and assessor in at least seven competencies throughout the North West Region to other like-minded volunteers
The SES provide assistance to many and varied emergencies, sometimes with good results but often with a sad outcome. As well as local emergencies George participated in many out of area assistance for natural disaster relief in NSW and Queensland including Cyclone ‘Yasi’ and was also search co-ordinator for numerous land search operations.
The strain of small town SES groups is the likelihood of personally knowing those involved in the emergency. The ability to stay detached and de-brief after the event is essential. Tenterfield has seen more than its fair share of tragic incidents. The local SES members, like George, have been those selfless compassionate people who have dealt quietly and professionally with these situations.
In 2003, after a particularly horrific truck accident George was diagnosed with Severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD ). He talked frankly about this difficult period in his life and says talking helps him and if his openness can help others he is happy to discuss it. He explained he has learnt to understand you have no control over your feelings and must be open about them. He said his self confidence was totally shattered and took considerable time to regain. He still has what he calls ‘doey’ days and is constantly learning to deal with it.
Not willing to throw in the towel George transferred to Moree North West SES Region Headquarters in 2003 and took on the role of Deputy Regional Controller (Volunteer). Here he regained his confidence and slowly found his comfort zone.
In fact in February, 2008, as part of the North West SES Region Headquarters, George and the team received a Directors General Unit citation recognising their efforts for the coordination and delivery of training to members of the Moree and Boggabilla indigenous communities and providing a pathway for indigenous people to build SES capability in the Moree and Boggabilla communities.
On January 26, 2010, George was awarded the Australia Day Award for the Emergency Services Volunteer of the Year also in the same year he received a life membership of the State Emergency Service.
Space does not permit me to detail the many more community projects George has quietly worked with. He is the ultimate quiet achiever and Legend.
Elizabeth Andrew wrote “volunteers do not necessarily have time, they just have heart”.
That sums George up perfectly! Seek him out during Oracles and say G’day.