There aren't too many successful stud Merino breeders who left school when they were 14 to go trapping rabbits and work on the family farm.
Much to the dismay of his teachers as he was a very good scholar, Don Phillips was one.
He had decided early in life that there was more money in trapping rabbits than going to school which in his determination made the teachers argument look pretty thin.
And 92 years later, no one can argue that Don made the right decision.
Donald James Phillips was born on May 11, 1930 to Frank and Adeline Phillips of Jerangle, the youngest of four children. His sister Lola Goggin and brothers Keith and Clyde Phillips, predeceased him.
Don grew up in a tight knit community at Jerangle where hard work was accepted and sport was the entertainment.
He was a very good left-handed batsman and slips fielder, and as a member of the great Peak View/Jerangle cricket team he contributed to the numerous premierships on the Monaro.
He played Burns Cup for the district, and one day when Peak View/Jerangle, beat outright the Snowy team, Don took 10 catches at first slip.
Don was also a very good tennis player and at one tournament at the age of 17 Don played and beat Lew Hoad in the semi-final at White city in Sydney. That was probably the pinnacle of his tennis career.
Don met Thea Bowerman at a dance at Bredbo and in his words "thought, she was a pretty good sort".
They were married in 1953 on Anzac Day.
When their daughter Shayne was born she needed constant special care, and the love and devotion they gave to her was incredible, setting an amazing example to family and friends.
When Shayne passed away a couple of years ago, Don and Thea had cared for their daughter for 64 years, which would be unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Don worked with his two brothers and father in a farming partnership, trading as FJ Phillips and Sons, until 1968 when the partnership was dissolved, dividing the country and the stock.
This gave Don and Thea the chance to breed their own sheep and in 1970 they entered their Merino ewes in the NSW State Country Life Ewe Competition and won at their first attempt.
"I don't think it had ever happened before," Steve Phillips said.
Don and Thea founded the Yarrawonga Merino stud in 1971, based on ewes and rams purchased from the Uardry Merino stud, Hay, which Don had always admired for their productivity and outlook.
Thus was Don's passion and lifelong dream fulfilled as he always wanted to have his own Merino stud. He was a great sheep man, who had the rare ability to be able to select rams that would breed on.
Don and Thea entered an industry in which they made lifelong friends and were greatly respected.
Don was a very humble man and one of nature's true gentlemen, who always downplayed his successes with his humour and quick wit.
But he had an incredible work ethic and was the hardest worker his son Steve has ever seen.
"When working with Dad, you could throw the clock away as you weren't going home until the job was completed whether it was daylight or dark. I remember lamb marking in the headlights a few times and many sheep were drenched in the dark," he said.
In 1974, Don bought a property at Galong which he managed from Jerangle.
One year, when Steve had left school, he remembers the shearers walking out of the shed because the wethers were too big.
"Dad decided that he and I should start on them. Only one problem, neither of us could shear. To make matters worse, we started on the heaviest ones, which we had drafted off so we could entice the shearers back. After about a week of hacking away with no style but a lot of guts we got a few out."
Don Phillips was part of the fabric of rural Australia and he loved to have a yarn about the bush.
His great business sense and tremendous vision of market trends and fluctuations influenced his family who knew his gut instinct was usually on the money.
And buying more country, to expand the families holdings was done with enthusiasm, he was never afraid to have a go. He was a great negotiator, treating the transaction as if it was a sport, and he had the uncanny ability to always end on the best of terms even though he'd come out on top in the deal.
Because he had worked hard when young, Don was a great inspiration to young people wanting to get ahead on the land and he was always willing to share his experience with them.
In what spare time he would allow himself, Don would fly fish for trout in the streams around Jerangle, and in the Bredbo and Murrumbidgee rivers, often with Brian Bowerman.
For a man who had been very active, his last few years were frustrating as he had lost a lot of his mobility and could not get out and do the things he loved. But his mind was clear and sharp right until the end.
His determination and strength of purpose were admired. Long time friend, Tony Dowe, said "Don's heart and will were the last two things to give in".
In 1985, the family moved to Oakvale at Yass, but Don's heart was always on the Monaro and it was quite fitting that he should be laid to rest on the high plains, it was always his home.
Many will know that if they said anything against the Monaro, Don would interrupt them and say it's the best country in NSW.
Don was a great family man and adored his two grandchildren, Georgia, and Sam. He was always there for them and followed their pathways in life with keen interest. In return they loved and respected their grandfather. spending many hours yarning and laughing with him.
Predeceased by his daughter Shayne, Don Phillips is survived by his wife Thea, son Steve, daughter-in-law Liz and grandchildren Sam and Georgia.
- Stephen Burns and Steve Phillips