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PATON, Walter Duncan (1925-2017)

PATON, Walter Duncan (1925-2017)

Walter Paton at Paton's Hut in Kosciuzko National Park, NSW.

Walter Paton at Paton's Hut
in Kosciuzko National Park, NSW.

Walter Paton boarded at Geelong College from 8 February 1938 to December 1943. His address at entry was ‘Coonara’, Tooma, NSW and he had previously attended Tooma State School. He was born on 17 September 1925, a son of Frank McKinnon Paton and Elizabeth nee Buchanan.

While at Preparatory School in 1938, he performed in the chorus of the College Glee Club production of ‘Trial by Jury’ and, at the junior sports, he won the Open Egg and Spoon Race. In 1943, he was a cadet in No 5 Platoon, later that year being promoted to Lance-corporal. His first senior year at College would have seen him move into the newly built Mackie House, which opened on 15 December 1938 for the 1939 year.

Walter married Jill Graham from Rutherglen. A grazier, he retired from the property to Albury where he died, aged 92 years, on 12 December 2017.

His brother, Stephen Macdonald Paton (1921-2000), was also educated at Geelong College.

The life of Walter Duncan Paton 17/09/1925 - 12/12/2017

Walter, better known as “Walwa” to his grandchildren, had a wonderful life; filled to the brim with living. He has seen it all. He lived through the depression years, the war years and had the fun filled 50’s and 60’s. As a kid on a trip to Melbourne to get his tonsils out, he was lucky enough to witness “Phar lap” win the Melbourne Cup. Walter saw the changes from the horse and cart to the first motor cars and enjoyed many more decades.

For 55 of those years, he has been lucky enough to have had the same strong, caring and dependable Jilly by his side. He adored his two children, Julie born in 1963 and Roger in 1965. The family have also been so lucky to share so many great years living and working together. Let’s just step back in time to where it all began. .....

Walter’s father, Frank, settled ”Coonara” and established the house in 1910 having previously migrated from ”Welaregang”, ten miles away on the Murray. Frank married his true love, Violet Buchannan from “Ormidale”, Tallangatta. Together they had Frank junior, however, Violet sadly died during childbirth. That very same year, Frank enlisted and was in France fighting on the Somme. He managed to return home and later married Violet’s sister, Elizabeth.

In 1925, Walter Duncan Paton was born in Albury. He was the youngest brother to Steve and Helen and step brother to Frank. In his early years, he attended Tooma School and then for a short period at Wagga primary after his mother bought “Kyeamba Meadows” at Forest Hill. Then from 1938 to 1943 he boarded at Geelong College.

War was again upon the nation. While his brothers fought overseas, Walter was summoned home to run the properties and was not permitted to go as his father’s health was slipping after a horse fall. Not serving his country was one of Walter’s regrets; however after the war years were over there were better times ahead.

With these more enjoyable times came polo, polocrosse and duck shooting at “Welaregang”. He was a “pick up” man at the Tumbarumba Rodeo, judged at the Tooma Draft and later on at the Tooma Gymkhanas. There were many trips with cattle out to the mountains.

In 1934, the Toolong lease block was taken up. It expired in 1950 when the Snowy Mountain Scheme started but Walter was allowed to take cattle out in 1952 after the bushfire which sadly burnt most of “Coonara”, including the old stables. The lease block K2 ran from the north end of the Dargals down into World’s End where the Southern Cloud crashed.

Walter was eight when he took his first trip to the mountains with horses and cattle. His last trip was in 2008, where he was still on a horse for the opening of Paton’s hut. It was rebuilt after the 2002/3 bushfires. He spent many years in the saddle and had become somewhat bandy in the legs many would say. A friend of his once said “Walter, you wouldn’t stop a pig in a passage with those legs!”

Walter loved the mountains and took great pride in reliving all the history that went with the snow lease. In 1956 he paid 2 pounds, 10 shillings an acre for the bush block at the foot of 'Black Jack' which backed onto the Tooma River. As kids, Roger and Julie loved to take the cattle out through Maragle to what he called Byatts. The block was later sold in 1980.

Winding the clock back again, in 1950, Frank Paton’s health deteriorated further after he had a stroke. He needed constant care for 9 years until he passed away. Throughout that time, 26 nurses passed through the doors of ”Coonara”. Lucky little Walter! He kept them all at bay, or so he tells ….
Walter only had eyes for one little filly who he met at the Corowa Picnics. In 1962 on a very hot day in Rutherglen, he married Jill Graham with the help of his groomsmen, John Montague, Hamish Urquhart and Alan Tinkler. Shortly after, they hopped on a boat and honeymooned in New Zealand. The crossing took four days and Walter’s lily white feet, which had never seen sun, were badly burnt. He couldn’t walk for a week. While in New Zealand they visited 'Teupura Pura' at Masterton, home of Walter’s great uncle, Sir Walter Buchanan, the man after which he was named. Sir Walter was responsible for pioneering the fat lamb industry in the North Island.

Married life was great, many parties with friends, which saw Jill trying to curb his bachelor ways with little success. However, Viscount cigarettes were eventually traded for peppermints and chocolates. He was becoming more punctual as he was always running late in his Ford Mainline Ute, but regardless he still enjoyed the odd drop of good quality whisky.

In 1971 he did in fact celebrate with an extra drop after his horse 'Moab' won the Centenary Cup at Towong. Walter and his brother Steve were given a colt called 'Kin-Tail' from the McCrae’s near Bendigo. His mare, 'Royal Ruth', produced a foal he named 'Moab'. 'Moab' proved to be a lot of fun. Walter had a passion for racing and a long association with the Towong Turf Club. He was later rewarded with a life membership. Walter was a great horseman. And he loved his racehorses and the family spent many days at the races. In recent years he would watch the races all day on the TV. While in hospital the other day he picked one grey horse called ‘Dash for Pash’ which won a maiden convincingly; he said “keep an eye on that horse.” He had a good eye for a good horse. He once bred a race horse he thought was perfect and he called it “Made to Order” unfortunately it never made it to the track.

A young bachelor by the name of Ted Dunstan came to work for Walter in 1963. He lived in the cottage right next to the house. Julie and Roger were the children he never had and always had a watchful eye over them. Ted worked with Walter for 46 years until a few years before he died in 2009. Ted was loyal and devoted and it was a testament to Walter’s placid nature and ability to be a good boss.

He touched on politics after becoming the President of Tooma/Khancoban National Party for many years and was very fond of our local MP, Tim Fischer who held the seat of Farrer. He became President of the Tooma fire brigade after the 1952 fires and then went on to be captain for many years. He acquired the first VHF radios from the Snowy for the local brigade and he was also the sole elder of the church which was rebuilt after the fires. When Jill and Walter moved to Albury in 2013 the church was closed. Some wildlife had moved in there over the past 4 years but thanks to a few trusty Tooma helpers it resumed its former glory to be able to hold his funeral.

Special memories Roger has included building a Go Kart with his father when he was 10. He was a great engineer and very handy with the welder. He was also pretty handy with a stockwhip. There was a bit of concern as he nearly took out the chandelier when he started cracking it inside the Albury Club at his recent 90th birthday party.

As many of you would know, Walter’s passion was horny Herefords. He sold a 6 year old bullock called “Big Ben” who had a great set of horns. He managed to upset the unions at a Melbourne abattoir when he wanted them cut off and returned as a souvenir. Walter not only treasured his cattle, but having a good horse, a faithful dog and rubber on your tyres was just as important. He loved his “squeeze box” and no party was ever complete until it appeared, providing much fun with his music.

Walter never went anywhere without his pocket knife. He felt undressed without his knife. It cleaned his finger nails, it dug out splinters; it was part of him. Recently in hospital it became misplaced. He had the nurses looking in the bed, under the bed, in the toilet, everywhere. Much to his relief it was found. Charlie, his grandson now has his treasured possession in safe keeping.

The last few years on the farm, Walter was on light duties. One of his favourite pastimes was 'cocky watch'. The winter oat crop needed guarding from the noisy, white pests. More often than not he would be asleep with the 303 out the window of the ute with a sea of white birds around him. He had to be woken up by the UHF radio.

Since Jill and Walter moved to Albury 4 years ago, Jill has done a sterling job looking after him in that time. He has had the luxury of being able to stay in his own home. Walter permanently had head phones attached to his head day and night. He listened to the ABC and was up to speed on all worldly news. His knowledge of geography, history, politics and world events was incredible.

Walter had a delightful sense of humour; he would come out with ”one liners” that were gold. Whatever he said was always of value and he could get a chuckle out of most people. He was sharp as a tack with detail when relating a story.

Walter was a great family man and was just so proud of his 7 grandchildren. He was always dishing out praise and referred to them all as “trimmers”. You never saw him without a smile on his face he was a breath of fresh air with his gentle, kind, laid back nature with not a worry in the world.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge and ironically he had built a bridge or two over the Mannus and Tumbarumba creeks. 92 years is a great innings and his family are all so proud. His parting words were ”carry on MacDuff”. ........... Walter, you’re a trimmer. Although it is very sad, it is a celebration of a life well lived. On behalf of the family we were thrilled so many could come to farewell Walter. It was a tribute to see the Tooma church overflowing.

Walter had the most wonderful 92 years and we all have just so much to be thankful for. He will always be loved and adored. God Bless and rest in peace.

Sources: Pegasus June 1943 p14; Pegasus December 1943 pp33, 35; The Age (Melb) 16 December 2017: Obituary by Paton Family (via Julie Lawrence); Ad Astra December 2019 p59. OGC 1939.

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