Inseparable in life and death

By Country News

An enduring partnership ended in a remarkable way when husband and wife John and Margaret West died last month.

Many Goulburn Valley people will remember them from their Girgarre days including 11 years running the Girgarre Milk Bar in the 1960s and 1970s.

Both turned 90 this year and recently celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary with family.

Both passed away in hospital surrounded by family; John West on September 24 and Margaret West just a day later.

John William West, the son of Charles and Heather West, was born in Elmore and Margaret Elizabeth West, the daughter of Andrew and Dorothea Lawrie, was born in North Fitzroy.

The Wests had a soldier settlement block near Colbinabbin and John West attended primary schools at Burramboot West, Colbinabbin, Corop and Colbinabbin West while Margaret was schooled in Rushworth.

In 1942 John West first worked at Parsons general store in Colbinabbin, and his duties included delivering groceries by horse and cart each Thursday to farms in the Colbinabbin district.

He particularly enjoyed these days out, where cups of tea and cakes were regularly provided by rural folk keen to ask him for all the local gossip, as well as news about the progress of the war.

Mrs West’s first job was as a typist/switchboard operator in Melbourne, and her next job was at Rushworth’s Smiths Timber and Hardware store.

The couple’s courtship began when Mr West asked if he could walk Margaret home from a dance in the Rushworth hall one night.

The Wests were married in Rushworth on September 8, 1951, and then set up their home in Upper Yarra Dam, where Mr West worked in the Board of Works Post Office.

He had to manage the only two phone lines into the construction site.

Mrs West also had a job there for a short time.

Lawrie was born in Upper Yarra Dam and in 1954 the family moved to Echuca, where Mick was born, and then to Cornelia Creek where Mr West worked as a Rawleighs salesman.

His next job was at Corop where he worked for the Rural Water Supply Commission.

He successfully applied for work as a grocery assistant at Ernie Vaughan’s grocery store in Girgarre, with a house in Dickman St included.

Cherryl, Stewart (now deceased), Merredith and Grantley were born before the move to Girgarre.

Mr West leased, then bought, the Girgarre Milk Bar in late 1966.

Son Lawrie recalls the milk bar years were very busy ones, with work seven days a week for up to 12 hours a day or more in summer.

‘‘In early years, with a smaller family and friendlier work hours, fishing and camping trips to the Goulburn River, or occasionally summer beach holidays were possible,’’ he said.

‘‘With six children to cater for, and the shop to run, Mum and Dad’s holidays were now limited to occasional short caravan trips when one or more of the older kids took over in the shop.’’

After the business was sold in 1977, the family moved to a small hobby farm while Mr West worked at Nestle Farm Supplies, located at the old Girgarre Cheese Factory; he retired in 1993.

He devoted more time to the farm, tending to his cows, chooks, fruit trees, and vegie garden.

The couple retired to Stanhope in 2000 and spent more time spoiling many of their 18 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and a great-great-granddaughter.

They moved into Rushworth Aged Care Hostel in 2017.

On top of their work and domestic duties, the Wests were involved with Scouts and Guides, the local kindergarten, primary school and op shop, Methodist Ladies Guild, Uniting Church and Sunday School, RSL, carpet bowls, a hall committee, Girgarre Community Cottage and the Salvation Army and Red Cross Door Knock appeals.

Mr and Mrs West became great supporters of the little Girgarre Christian Church after Mr West had made a renewed commitment to the faith, and he went on to become a lay preacher.

At the Girgarre Australia Day ceremony in January 2001, Mr West was announced as Girgarre’s 2000 Citizen of the Year, an honour he shared with his wife.