John Bruce Macdonald (OAM)


John Bruce Macdonald was born in Toorak, Victoria, Australia on November 18, 1932 to Captain Hector Millar Macdonald and Edith Emblyn Macdonald (nee Trethewie).  In 1934 Edith passed away and with Hector at sea on the India – Sth Africa run for The British India Steam Navigation Company, baby John was cared for by his paternal grand parents Captain Colin and Mrs Margaret McDonald together with his maiden aunt Lillian at “Waipu”, Emerald Road Belgrave.

Between 1938 and 1944 John firstly attended Belgrave primary school then Upwey higher elementary school.  He became a border in McHeckan House, Scotch College in 1945 and was appointed a McHeckan House prefect in 1946.  During this period he played underage cricket and football at both house and school level, was a member of 1st Hawthorne scout group and the school choir.

John was transferred to Arthur Robinson House in 1947 and joined the pipe band and orchestra.  Intermediate Certificate was gained in 1948 and it was during this year that he studied drums under the watchful eye of Graham Bell’s drummer Russ Murphy.  1949 was his last year at “Scotch” where he played house firsts for Littlejohn in cricket and football, drums in the school band and both cricket and football for the school thirds.  Having gained his Leaving Certificate he left at the end of the school year.

He joined the Postmaster Generals Department at Upper Ferntree Gully in 1950.  During that same year he joined the Belgrave Urban and Rural Fire Brigades as a Reserve Fireman, The Belgrave Cricket Club, assuming the position of Secretary, South Belgrave Football Club and played drums with Frank Johnson’s Fabulous Dixie Landers at the Australian jazz convention in Sydney.  John was elected Foreman of the Belgrave Fire Brigade in 1951 and was also hospitalized as the result of a bicycle accident at Tecoma on his way to work.

Snr Purser John Bruce Macdonald
Young John with Grandather Capt Colin McDonald (Left) and unknown friend

1952 was a big year for John, he was elected Lieutenant of the Fire Brigade, however he resigned this office (and his job) in June to join the ss. River Glenelg of the Australian Shipping Board (Later ANL) as a Deck Boy on the “black and tan” run to gain time towards the 2nd Mate’s Certificate. The most eventful thing of that year however, was his engagement to Beryl Louise Wright of Bayswater.

He was again hospitalized in 1953, this time in Brisbane with an eye infection as a result of  chipping rust, a well known past time to anyone that has gone down to the sea in ships.  Later he returned to Belgrave to undertake a clerical position with US motors.  John again made himself available to the community, by joining the Upwey Division of the St John Ambulance and was Elected Apparatus Officer of the Fire Brigade.  This year also saw a return to his musical career playing drums with various dance bands throughout the Dandenong Ranges.  Having completed his Initial National Service engagement at Puckapunyal he Married Beryl in Boronia on December 12th 1953.

In 1954 he was first elected Foreman then Lieutenant of the Fire brigade and continued to play both cricket and football with Belgrave clubs, whilst acting as President of the Cricket club. 

John and Beryl’s First child, a daughter, Cheryl Anne was born on October 12 of this year.  He was also promoted to Corporal with the 10th Field Regt, RAA, CMF.  His position with US Motors changed in 1955 on the successful completion of his Commercial Drivers Licence, undertaking both tour and route driving duties.

The call of the sea was too strong in January 1957 and having resigned from US Motors and office in the Fire Brigade he Joined the Adelaide Steamship Companies tsmv. Manoora as a Musician\General Assistant on the Australian Coastal Passenger Run.  In May he took articles in Tucker Shipping’s as. Wongala engaged in the Trans Tasman explosives trade, carrying 15,000 cases of dynamite, gelignite and detonators.

   Life was tough in the "Mosquito Fleet" and these small Sail powered vessels were very much at the mercy of the weather.  During one particularly bad crossing in 1957, Wongala, having been battered for days, made land at the first available cove in an uninhabited part of New Zealand, where she waited out the storm.  Of course communications were not as they are today and there was no way the crew could advise the outside world where they were. After a week of sheltering, during which time they had to go hunting to supplement what meagre rations were left, they took passage to their intended destination. 

As soon as the lines were over the side, the John went ashore, found a phone and called Beryl to advise her what had happened and that all were safe, on hearing this Beryl said that was nice, however she had not been aware that Wongala

A Young John Macdonald - Date unknown
as. Wongala under full sail, ak. Merilyn, ak. Argonaught II

had been posted as missing!  It was during this nautical episode that their second child Ronald John was born on October 9th.  In November of that year he was transferred to the ak. Merilyn as Assistant Engineer in the same trade on the Australian Coastal Run. 

It could be said that John had a personal angel sitting on his shoulder, for not long after he left this vessel in 1958 she struck a rock and sank, all hands were saved but the vessel had to be detonated as a danger to shipping.  It was also during 1958 that he was offered a position in the new schooner “Ian Crouch”, this involved travelling to Hong Kong and sailing her back to Adelaide on her delivery voyage.  Why exactly he decided not to take up the offer not even he knew, as this would have been quite an adventure for the day, however it was to prove to be a fortunate choice.  The Ian Crouch sailed from Hong Kong Harbour on September 27th and was never seen or heard of again, the common belief being she was taken by pirates somewhere in the South China Sea, the crew murdered and the vessel re-registered.

During his time ashore he took up a position with Patterson’s Pty Ltd in Belgrave, was re-elected lieutenant then Captain of the Belgrave Fire Brigade, appointed Deputy Group Officer with the Dandenong Ranges Fire Brigades Group, Brigade representative on the Shire of Sherbrooke Local fire advisory council, the Region 13 fire advisory council and a life governor of The Royal Children’s Hospital.

February 25th, 1960 and a second son, Colin Graham was born, in July all offices were again resigned and John returned to sea in the Wongala.  The angel appeared again, during a rough Tasman passage a portion of the rigging broke loose and John was sent forward to attend to same.  Long before the days of OH&S there was an accepted convention of the sea, “one hand for you and one hand for the ship”, fortunately, John followed this edict.  With a stay firmly in the crook of his elbow he attended to his allotted task, the old girl bucking and weaving underneath him.  Then Wongala staggered, healed over, and in an instant John found himself swimming in the Tasman, the ship dragging him along as she bounced across “the pond”.  A subsequent roll deposited him back on deck and having completed his task, he made his way back to the wheelhouse resembling something akin to a drowned rat.

He opened the wheelhouse door only to find Captain Leo Meyer rolling around the deck in fits of laughter, claiming it was the funniest thing he had ever seen!  I don’t think at the time John was in agreement, however many years later on frequent occasions we would discuss this and have a good laugh.

In 1961 he was transferred to the ak Argonaut II as a leading hand, still in the explosive’s trade on the Australian Coast.  Later that year he accepted a position with The Australian National Line as a “Ship survey & repair clerk of works” keeping records for the line of all shipyard works around the country.  John and Beryl’s 4th bundle of joy, a daughter, Jillian Margaret arrived on December 28th.

In 1962 John accepted the position of Purser in ANL’s new ro-ro (roll on roll off) Vessel tsmv. Princess of Tasmania on the Bass Strait service.  During that year he sat for and passed The Certificate of Efficiency as a Lifeboatman, and was awarded the CFA’s 12 year long service decoration.  1963 saw a change to foreign going with the new Melbourne based Dominion Line in the ss. Francis Drake as Assistant Purser on the Far East passenger run to Japan.  June 1964 was transferred to the ss. George Anson of the same line and was promoted to Purser in November of that year.

The Dominion Line amalgamated with the Indo China Steam Navigation Co in 1965 and became the Dominion Far East Line.  With that amalgamation John was transferred to the ss. Eastern Queen as Purser to bring this vessel into service.  February 1966 saw him back in the “Anson” and on May 30 a third son Ian Ross was born, two months later he was back aboard the “Drake” but this was to be short lived.  A promotion to Senior Purser of the Line saw him transferred to Head office where he was responsible for personnel and stores throughout the fleet and relieving duties afloat as required.

Purser John Macdonald - Australian National line
"Rusty D" (mv Rosie D) "Enna" (mv Enna G) "Egg Nog" (mv Eigamoia)

In 1968 he again “swallowed the anchor” to undertake the position of General Manager of the Royal South Yarra lawn Tennis Club.  On December 3rd 1969 a sixth and final child, Janine Elizabeth was born.

With the new decade came a return to the sea.  Having resigned from Royal South Yarra he joined the new Pacific wide service of the Nauru Pacific Shipping Line.  Travelling to Japan he was on the commissioning crew of the ex “Triaster” which became Nauru’s mv. Rosie D.  On completion of that task it was then to Holland to commission the ex Prinses Margriet as the mv. Enna G, later also serving in the brand new purpose built mv. Eigamoia.  This year John was awarded the 20 year clasp to the Fire Brigade long service decoration. He passed his Local Masters Certificate in Rabaul for Papua / New Guinea territorial waters in 1972, the same year there was a move ashore for the family from Belgrave to Mornington, a transfer to the Mornington Urban Fire Brigade and a position as Assistant Coach with the Beleura U15 football team followed.

After having been bounced between the “Rusty D”, “Enna” and “Egg nog” he resigned from Nauru Pacific in 1973.  The following year the family was again on the move from Mornington to McCrae where He took up the position of Assistant Secretary with the Rosebud Foreshore Committee of Management under the Lands Department.  Naturally there was a transfer of Brigade to the Rosebud Urban Fire Brigade and his musical interests continued, playing with various dance bands around the peninsula.

A certificate of horticulture at Burnley Horticultural College was commenced in 1975 as did a return to sport with a position on the Rosebud Cricket team,  He also joined the Rosebud sub branch of the RSL.  In 1976 John assumed the added responsibility of Forestry Officer with the Foreshore Committee and advised the family that he was considering standing for one of the Murray Riding seats on the Shire of Flinders council.  We were all told that this would be for ONE term, get in there, sort the buggers out and that would be it.  In August he stood for council on the “John Macdonald for open council” platform and had a resounding victory. Subsequently he was also appointed to the Dromana\Rosebud Sewerage Authority.

Russell Harmsworth the then secretary of the Rosebud Foreshore Committee of Management suddenly passed away in 1977 and John assumed that position.  The same year he was elected President of the Rosebud Tennis Club and joined the Shire of Flinders concert band.  The Shire President, Vern Wright passed away in 1978 and John was elected to that position for the remainder of that term then re-elected for the 1979 Presidency.  As Shire President he was awarded the Queens Silver Jubilee Medal.

The 1979 council elections loomed and John advised the family he had not quite completed all that he would have liked to so, maybe one more term, he nominated and was re-elected.  He was also appointed Council representative to the Mornington Peninsula Municipalities Association and to the executive of the Gippsland Municipalities Association.  Somehow in among all this he managed to successfully complete his Certificate of Horticulture – WITH HONORS!

John with sisters Illene (Left) and "Pixie" (Extreme Right)
Photo to come

The list of committees grew, in 1980 he was appointed Council delegate to the Rosebud Primary School Council, Rosebud Park & Recreation Reserve Committee, Natural Resources Conservation league and Southern weights and measures.  1981 elected President of the Mornington Peninsula Municipalities Association and President of the Associated Bayside Foreshores in Flinders Shire committee.

1982 and yes, just one more term, just to finish off a few things.  Following his successful nomination for council he was appointed Local Government representative to the region 8 fire advisory council and shire delegate to the Westernport Regional planning authority. In 1984 he added President of the Gippsland Municipalities Association and Chairman of the Westernport Regional Planning Authority to the growing list.  By 1985 not one member of the family believed the old “just one more term” thing, and on nominating he was again re-elected.  Election to the position of President of the Mornington Peninsula Municipalities Association, re-election as President of the Gippsland Municipalities Association, appointment as Secretary of the Rosebud Combined Carnival Committee and following his resignation from the Rosebud Foreshore Committee appointment as council representative to that body rounded out the year.

In 1986 he was appointed to the position of Secretary/Manager of the Rosebud Park & Recreation Reserve Committee of Management, appointed a Bailiff of Crown Lands, elected to the Executive of the Municipal Association of Victoria, Local Government representative to the State Government Building  Control Technical Advisory Council, the Building Control Accreditation Authority, Scaffolding Regulations Committee, Council Representative to the Municipal Bayside Councils Association and Chairman of the Westernport Committee

In 1987 he was appointed Council Representative to the Eastbourne Primary School Council, the Hillview Reserve committee, the Shire of Flinders  Concert Band, Olympic park Committee and the Rosebud Memorial Hall Committee.  He resigned from the Rosebud Urban Fire brigade and received the 30 year clasp to the long service decoration and a certificate of service.

Re-Elected as a riding councillor for Murray riding in 1988, he was then re-elected to the Executive of the Municipal Association of Victoria, Elected Chairman of the Municipal Bayside Councils Association, Chairman of the Associated Bayside Councils Association and appointed a Commissioner for Melbourne Water.

The final year of the 1980’s saw him serving as President of the Mornington Peninsula Municipalities Association, on the Ministers Review panel for amendment 200 to the Shire of Flinders Planning Scheme, Council representative to the Westernport Development Council, the Rosebud Community House Committee and Chairman of the Long Point Reserve Committee.

A new decade, the 1990’s, and John was elected Treasurer of the Shire of Flinders Concert Band, re-elected Local Government representative on the Region 8 Fire Advisory Council, and appointed Council representative on the Mornington peninsula & District Water Board.  This was also the year he joined the Merchant Navy sub branch of the RSL.  In 1991 he was re-elected to council, unbeknown to him for the final time.  He of course continued on the various committees, was elected Deputy Shire President ‘93/94 and The Shire of Flinders final Shire president in 1994.  He served in this position until the dissolution of council due to the then Kennet Governments council amalgamation policy. 

Photo to come

One door closed and yet another opened, He joined and became heavily involved in the Merchant Navy War Service league and the Rosebud Senior Citizens Centre as their Honorary Secretary.  His council duties did not finish with the demise of the Shire of Flinders as he continued to serve on the Municipal Bayside Councils Association on behalf of the Commissioners of the new Mornington Peninsula Council; indeed in 1995 he was elected Chairman of that body.  1995 was also the year John was “mentioned in despatches” on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.  I remember well the day at Government House when Governor McGarvie Pinned the Order Of Australia Medal on to his chest, I was both pleased and honoured to be able to share that very important moment with him.  Time had come to consider retirement, to that end John and Beryl travelled to St Helens in Tasmania, Finding it to be a quiet and quaint fishing village they decided this was the place and purchased a block of land.

He was not however quite finished with the Mornington Peninsula and in 1996 was elected Senior Vice President of the Rosebud Seniors and President the following year.  As retirement came closer they decided to purchase a house in St Helens in 1998 and placed the block on the market.  Being the man he was, the minute the anchor had found bottom he began to collect Tasmanian clubs by joining the Suncoast Jazz Club.   Finally in 1999 he retired from the Rosebud Park and Recreation Reserve Committee and John and Beryl shared their time between Rosebud and St Helens, including a trip “down south” to play in the annual Suncoast Jazz festival. 

Investiture of John Macdonald OAM 1995

As the last ties with the peninsula were cut he resigned as Past president of the Rosebud Seniors and was made an Honorary Life Member of same.  A good finish to the 90’s was his presentation of the Australian Merchant Navy Service Cross.

The new Century saw the move to St Helens finalised, he again played in the annual Jazz festival, Joined the St Helens Golf Club and Sub branch of the RSL.  In 2001 he became secretary of the Jazz Club and in 2002 joined the Probus Club and was presented with the National Service Medal.

Over the following years he made his presence known in St Helens, Treasurer of the Suncoast Jazz Club, secretary/treasurer St Helens Golf Club Veterans Group and the executive of the St Helens Sub Branch RSL. 

George's Bay, St Helens Tasmania

Quite a full life you would think, however somehow he managed to be an avid reader, prolific writer of articles, including for the RSL magazine “Mufti” and the Australian Sea Heritage magazine.  He had a love of restoring and driving classic motor cars which included  MK1, MK4, Mk5, MK7, Mk9, Mk10, “S” Type and 420 Jaguars, Humber, Morris, Wolseley, Daimler, BSA,  a little yellow 1933 Riley Monaco, and finally a red Alfa.

Early in 2006 John started having a succession of health issues, each time he was told that it could be worked through and should not cause him any major concern.   On June 7th he was air lifted to Launceston General Hospital, however, by the following day he was feeling and looking much better and was expecting to be home soon.  Unfortunately that was not to be the case, at around 3am on Friday June 9th he suffered a massive cardiac arrest, he was revived but never regained conciseness.  At 9:55 Pm that evening, surrounded by family, John "Crossed the bar" and went aloft to Fiddlers Green, the final resting place for seamen.


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