Vale Norman Volk

Norman Volk remembered

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Norman Volk is being remembered throughout the Merino industry as a 'thorough gentleman', and as an 'eternal optimist' with unflagging faith in the wool industry.

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Margaret and Norman Volk attending a race meeting in Dubbo. Photo: Lesley Gibson

Margaret and Norman Volk attending a race meeting in Dubbo. Photo: Lesley Gibson

Norman Volk who died on 24 June 2021 in Dubbo is being remembered throughout the Merino industry as a 'thorough gentleman', and as an 'eternal optimist' with unflagging faith in the wool industry..

His quiet and patient reserve was an antidote to the egos that inevitably bubbled around the stud industry. His integrity was noted by all and as a mentor of jackaroos who became influential in the Merino industry, Norman had no peer. With his death, aged 97, the Merino industry has lost another breeder whose career linked the golden times of the wool industry with the modern era.

Norman Patrick Volk was born on January 6, 1924, in his grandmother's house in Tambo, Queensland. He was the second eldest child of six children born to Grace and Louis Volk and grew up on the family property Killarney Park, Tambo.

His initial schooling was through the Brisbane Correspondence School and supervised by his mother. Aged 11 years, Norman attended the Tambo State School for one year before returning to Killarney Park. On that property running 5000 sheep and 300 cattle, Norman would spend the next few years on horseback assisting with the mustering and stock work. At night he continued his studies by correspondence and in 1942, Norman was awarded a Certificate recognising his success in the 'Station Bookkeeping with Income Tax' course.

He also avidly read The Pastoral Review, the monthly journal which covered the stud industries across Australia. It was the photos of stud Merino rams in that journal which piqued Norman's interest in a career in the wool industry which led indirectly to a jackaroo position on Terrrick Terrick, Blackall.

It was during the Great Depression that Norman joined The Australian Estates, the pastoral company which would be his employer until 1978 when the properties were purchased by CSR. Norman regretted that sale as he considered CSR with its roots in sugar refining had little sympathy for pastoral management. During his career as an 'Estates man', Norman served as a jackaroo on Terrick Terrick, overseer on Raby, Warren, stud overseer on Terrick Terrick, manager of Dagworth Station, Winton, QLD, (home of the Waltzing Matilda billabong) and manager of Raby where he stayed for 25 years. Throughout his career, Norman credits Ray Murdoch, manager Terrick Terrick and Jim Broad, manager Raby and Howard Holmes, also manager of Raby as having the most influence.

In June 1949, Norman married Nancy Wass from Warren and the young couple went to Terrick Terrick as stud overseer and where on April 6, 1953, their first son Peter was born in Blackall Hospital. Norman was then promoted to manage the 32,390 hectare (80,000ac) Dagworth Station which was subjected to regular flooding from the Diamantina River. During the flood of 1955, their daughter Lesley was born in Blackall Hospital on February 14, 1955.

After three years Norman was promoted to manage Raby when that stud was selling around 600 rams each year. Norman and Howard Holmes who had the classing eventually established a clientele who were purchasing 1500 rams each year. Upon taking that management position, Norman who had an enlightened view for the time in his attitude towards working conditions for all station staff including jackaroos, believed they should have the opportunity for leisure and job satisfaction of other occupations. That attitude differed from the traditional concept of jackaroos as cheap labour and who worked seven days a week under the autocratic direction of the somewhat distant manager.

Each year the Sydney Sheep Show and Sales was the highlight for Merino breeders across the state and in 1965 the team from Raby won the coveted Stonehaven Cup for a group of three rams and two ewes. During Norman's time as studmaster, Raby also exhibited three grand champions in Sydney.

Norman and Nancy's second son James was born in Dubbo on 10 February 1960.

Norman was honoured to have the opportunity to be invited to judge sheep at the following Royal Shows - Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. He also judged at Qld sheep shows in Roma, Charleville and Blackall.

Under Norman's management and with the assistance of Nancy who turned the homestead garden into a showpiece, Raby became renowned as one of the show Merino studs in the district. At the homestead in a bend of the Crooked Creek, Norman and Nancy hosted many dignitaries including Prince Phillip, The Duke of Edinburgh, who stayed for three nights in 1973 after the Queen had opened the Sydney Opera House. Other guests included Doug and Margot Anthony, deputy Prime Minister, 'Andrea' who was a popular radio star in Sydney and Sir Denys Lowson, the youngest Lord Mayor of London.

The homestead garden was also the scene for many parties to which all of the jackaroos in the Warren district were invited. Many remember the kindness shown by Norman and Nancy to them, as it was often the first time they had been away from home except for boarding school.

In 1981, Norman and Nancy retired from Raby and moved to Heatherbrae near Geurie where they ran 1000 Merino sheep and from where Norman classed 25 flocks in the district. He was also appointed a stud representative for Haddon Rig, after the retirement of Howard Holmes, a position he held for 11 years.

Nancy died suddenly in July 1990 of a heart attack, thereby bringing to a premature end a working partnership well recognised by many in the Merino study industry.

Norman married Margaret Macarthur on March 30, 1994. Norman and Margaret had 27 very happy years in Dubbo, they were both very active in the community.

Sheep classing clients became close friends who appreciated his wisdom and skill, with one recalling upon his retirement, "We will always think of you and your patient handling of sheep when we class in the future. Thank you so much for being such a gentleman."

Horse racing had been Norman's one abiding pastime and influenced by his father who bred racehorses and who was a successful amateur jockey in western QLD. Norman was a life member and Patron of the Warren Jockey Club where he had been vice-president for 18 years. He was also vice-president of the Geurie Race Club.

A keen but cautious gambler, Norman kept a tally of every bet he made during 69 years of studying the form of racehorses and jockeys.

Norman was the inaugural recipient of the Howard Holmes Memorial Award for service in the Merino industry.

Among many of Norman's interests, he was a member of the NSW Sheepbreeders Council, inaugural treasurer of the Macquarie Merino Field Days (which he instigated with Dick Rutledge of Mumblebone) and later president, captain of the Geurie Bushfire Brigade and active member of Dubbo Probus.

Norman Volk is survived by his wife Margaret, sons Peter and James and daughter Lesley Gibson along with grandchildren Anna, Tom, Susie, Alexandra, James, Tim, Richard and Kathryn and seven great grandchildren.

They remember him as the nicest and kindest person they ever met.

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