Reg leaves a huge impact
Reg Byrnes, the man who described himself as ‘not a brilliant scholar’ at school, yet who went on to document the history of the Brunswick Valley in meticulous detail in several manuscripts and publications, died last month at the age of 83.
Born at Mullumbimby Creek in 1926, Reg ‘Hooky’ Byrnes never moved more than a few kilometres from his birthplace throughout his life. Yet in terms of what he packed into his life, he was a man who came a long way from the hard life of the only child of dairy farmers on Tunnel Road, who rode a horse or a bike to school in all weathers, and who left school at the age of 15 to run the farm with his mother after the death of his father.
He was a familiar figure round town in those long-ago days, for he was the last person to use a horse and cart to deliver cream to the butter factory, on the site of what is now Ross Industrial Estate in Mullumbimby.
But Reg did not stay a farmer, and up to retirement in 1986 he worked at a range of different jobs – at the sawmill, as shop assistant in several different businesses, as mineral tester and laboratory assistant in the sand mining industry, and in the Department of Public Works.
“People always asked Reg to work for them,” recalled Reg’s wife Betty. “He never had to ask.”
But while Reg was always in full-time employment, he kept busy outside working hours as well, always throwing himself wholeheartedly into the life of his community.
He became a life member of Brunswick Surf Life Saving Club, and his initial membership of the club that became such a very big part of his life is remarkable given that until the age of 18 he couldn’t swim.
“He taught himself to swim in the old pool in the river,” said Betty. “And his proudest moment was when he swam the 33 yards, in a combination of dog paddle and any other possible stroke.”
Reg went on to gain the bronze medallion, and in the club held every possible position on the committee, with the upward extension of the clubhouse to two storeys during his time a ‘big thing’ for him.
The Brunswick SLSC was the first in the area to use expired air resuscitation as a lifesaving method, thanks to Reg, who pushed for its introduction after contact with doctors in America convinced him of its importance.
Reg was instrumental in the foundation of the Mullumbimby Swimming Pool Committee, in the organisation of the first footrace to the top of Mt Chincogan, and was one of the original members of the Mullumbimby Rural Co-op.
He was an early member of the Woodchop Festival committee, and was the one responsible for coming up with the name ‘Festival of the Fish and Chips’.
The Lions Club was another of his activities, and in his time of membership in the 1950s was the only Australian Lion to hold the dual position of secretary and president.
He played golf and bowls, and was rostered on for Meals on Wheels for many years.
“It’s just amazing the things he did,” Betty said.
“Yet he was a man who didn’t blow his trumpet.”
And Brunswick SLSC member Mark Edwards paid Reg the ultimate tribute when he came to visit him in his last days.
“He came to tell him what a good bloke he was,” said Betty, “and how he had made the decision to run his life on Reg’s principles.”
At his own request, the ‘good bloke’ was privately cremated, with a wake last Saturday on the beach at Brunswick Heads and a scattering of his ashes between the two towers.