Fergus Thomson awarded OAM

Belowra farmer, Eurobodalla councillor and former mayor Fergus Thomson received an OAM in the Australia Day Honours.FERGUS Thomson’s life philosophy has changed in the past year.

When asked, the Eurobodalla councillor and former mayor, who is undergoing intensive treatment for a brain tumour, said his thinking was now different.

“My philosophy today is enjoy every day that you get,” he said.

“It probably has been that we’ve always tried to contribute to the community and we’ve always enjoyed it.”

Mr Thomson was recognised for his service to the community and to local government this week in the Australia Day Honours, receiving an Order of Australia Medal (OAM).

A man with an infectious laugh, a friendly disposition, and a clear passion for family, Mr Thomsongrew up on, and still lives atthe family’sBelowra farm, whichhasbeen tied to the Thomsons for four generations.

In his younger daysMr Thomson worked the land full time but was nudged into community involvement by his father, former Eurobodalla Shire president (mayor) Douglas Thomson, who placed great importance on contributing to the local community.

“My father was probably the greatest influence on my life and through all of the things that he did,” Mr Thomson said.

“He said ‘you boys can’t go back to the farm and just bury yourselves, you’ve got to go do something’.”

Mr Thomson joined Moruya Surf Life Saving Club in 1962 and spent every weekend during summer at the beach either volunteering or competing.

“Our mentor was Ron Cheshire – Ron has been the greatest influence on my life apart from my father. He’s just a wonderful man and a mentor to many people,” he said.

“(Surf Life Saving is) a great organisation and I think it is probably understated in the influence it has on people’s lives.”

Among his many achievements in the organisation was serving as the Far South Coast branch state delegate, chairman, president and deputy superintendent. He was former chairman of Country Branches and was manager of the touring competition team to New Zealand.

With his father on council for “as long as I can remember”, Mr Thomson knew well the ins and outs of local government, but had little desire to follow his father’s lead.

“It had been part of our lives I suppose for so long because my father was on the council, and his father was on the council,” Mr Thomson said.

“I think I felt for a long time I didn’t want to go there, I didn’t want to be involved in local government. It wasn’t my scene I suppose.”

He instead became involved in several local environmental pursuits, including founding the Belowra Landcare group. He later played key roles in water catchment management committees and the Rural Lands Protection Board and was even an advisor to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

It was not until 2004 that Mr Thomson revisited the idea of walking the family’s well-trodden path to council.

“I found that I was working more closely with the people in local government and really liked working with the people in it and it sort of became a bit of a bond and something that I felt I could contribute to,” he said.

Two months after he was elected, Mr Thomson was thrown onto the national stage as one of two NSW representatives to the National Sea Change Taskforce.

It was a role he particularly enjoyed. The group provided guidance to coastal councils on issues such as rapid growth, planning, funding and management of natural disasters, and projected climate change impacts.

Mr Thomson realised that the Eurobodalla was not alone in having 36 per cent of its residents not contributing to the community fulltime, but wanting to use local infrastructure and services. It was being replicated around the country – from Robe to Maroochydoore.

“We did some really good stuff,” Mr Thomson said, of the group.

“We worked with different people in professions and looking at the impact of growth on the community and how to manage it.”

In 2013 Mr Thomson was elected director of lobbying group Local Government NSW. Shortly he after was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour.

“I haven’t missed too many meetings, which has been rather miraculous,” Mr Thomson said.

“It’s been a little but of a battle but they put up with me. I used to go in with a bandage on my head.

“I think I did it more for me than I did for them, I felt I wasn’t going to give in to it. I’ve got this problem but I can beat it.

“I probably can’t, but I’ll give it a good shot.”

Mr Thomson said that at the end of the day his motivation came down to a love for the Eurobodalla.

“I love the community and I think that is the only reason you could ever go into local government,” he said.

“If you didn’t enjoy it and you don’t enjoy working with the people you wouldn’t do it – you couldn’t do it.

“There’s nothing better to walk down the street in Moruya or Batemans Bay or somewhere and (see) all my friends, and people you’ve actually been able to help – that’s the reward.

“They talk about getting an OAM or something, that’s the not the reward – the reward is having been a part of it.”

Being a part of it is something Mr Thomson could never have done without having wife Yvonne by his side.

“There was nothing that I’ve done in my life that I could have done without her,” he said.

“She has been absolutely brilliant and most people wouldn’t know – she taught our kids (by) correspondence, because we were so far out (of town).

“While I was mucking around and doing silly things, she was at home teaching.

“She was still out there fencing and farming… I would probably be in at the surf club having a surf and she’s out here drenching sheep.”

Mr Thomson said he was happiest on the farm with Yvonne and their two boys Brendan and James.

“That’s why you enjoy being on the farm – you enjoy it as a family,” he said.

“That to me is my greatest memory and I treasure being alongside Yvonne doing that, that’s a big wow factor.”

While Mr Thomson is unsure of what the future holds, he is certain of his appreciation of those who supported him over the years.

“I will always say it’s been an absolute privilege to have been able to represent this shire and this community. They’re my friends and they’re the people that they’re wonderful,” he said.

“You couldn’t ask for abetter community to work in and live in and so I’ve just been really privileged.”

He hopes a new chemotherapy drug trial treatment in Melbourne he is undertaking will give him more time.

If not, he says he’s had a great innings.

“I know it sounds final but I don’t know how else you can say it,” he said.

“You’ve got to acknowledge there’s life and there’s death.

“But I don’t intend to get out yet.”

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