Vale Peter Wall: September 2, 1946 - January 28, 2018

Vale Peter Wall, much-loved husband, father, foster father, grandfather and community activist.
Vale Peter Wall, much-loved husband, father, foster father, grandfather and community activist.

Peter Vincent Joseph Wall: 2 September 1946 – 28 January 2018

Peter died as he had lived his life - at peace within himself and surrounded by those he had cared for, nourished and cherished over their years. His family was always foremost in his thoughts.

Born to Tim (a policeman) and Georgette (who looked after the house and children), Peter grew up in Como, a southern Sydney suburb. With his parents, brothers and sisters, he was a regular at the local Catholic Church.

He wasn’t a regular at school, however, often walking home to escape the restrictions. He never liked being told what to do, but never went off the rails.

Leaving school after the Intermediate Certificate, Peter did an apprenticeship with MIMS Cable and Electrical, trained as a fitter and mechanic at Ultimo and did dairy and pig husbandry at Hawkesbury Agricultural College.

He maintained his Licence and Contractor’s Tickets, OH&S Workcard and relevant insurance all his life, so he could assist people in practical ways when they needed help. He trained in first aid and surf lifesaving.

Peter first came to Wauchope to install a parquetry mill for Thatcher and Oberg in Wade Street in 1962. Later, he worked in South Australia, following construction sites for APM, Chrysler and Softwood Holdings.

Starting to ‘wire up the first pineboard plant at Mt Gambier’ (made in Germany), he discovered that the assembly instructions were German too. He managed to work out the schematics because he had fixed up generators on German boats for manufacturers in Kent Street, Sydney.

Jenny likes to tell the story of winning Peter in a 1963 raffle. The Sutherland church held a social evening for young folk; the boys had to go in drag, while the girls were each given a ticket in the lucky door prize - the ugliest boy in drag.

Peter, in his grandmother’s dress with a pipe, hat and gumboots, stole the show and Jenny hit the jackpot! Tall and handsome, with a strong jaw and lively blue eyes, he married her a couple of years later.

For school holidays, Peter had gone to stay (and work) with his aunt and uncle on a Bega dairy farm. The city boy always wanted to be a farmer… In 1967, he, wife Jenny and little Julie-Anne moved to Willow View, their first farm of 250 acres with a house on a slab near the Pappinbarra River on the Left Arm (Mulligan’s).

To help with finances, Peter worked as an electrician. Anthony was born at Wauchope Hospital and christened at the old Ellengrove Schoolroom, where the priest used to come from Wauchope to say Mass.

1968 saw ‘the hugest flood ever’ along the Pappinbarra. Electrical work dried up, so rather than driving as far as Taree to work, Peter reluctantly took his family back to Sydney.

He had three jobs, seven days a week for quite some time, survived on two hours’ sleep a night for three months, then went all round the state as an electrical contractor - ‘twelve years of hard work’. Third baby, Angela, was born in Sydney.

Over Easter 1969, the home on the Left Arm was destroyed in a fire, together with all their possessions; they had to sell the land. Peter worked his way to a partnership in Jax Electrical Service and in 1976 set up his own electrical company, ‘employing up to eight sparkies’.

The country still beckoned. Four years later, the business and two houses in Sydney were sold and the five Walls moved to Riversleigh, the old Wallis farm at Pappinbarra. Running about 200 Angus cattle, the property is still owned by the family.

In no time at all, Peter became President of the Progress Association and the Pappinbarra Rural Fire Brigade. His commitment to the Valley community continued right up to his last days.

A highly intelligent, but practical man who kept himself well-informed, he was always ready to express his views logically and succinctly. No-one ever had cause to doubt what side of the fence he preferred.

Nonetheless, he was always ready to listen to others. Prepared to involve himself in what he saw as worthwhile causes, he worked on all sorts of bodies and with people of all political persuasions to improve the lot of his fellow men and women.

For ten years he was involved with the then Holiday Coast Credit Union as a Director, Deputy Chairman and Chairman. He was appointed to many advisory bodies: the Regional Development Board; the Premier’s Department (North Coast); the Hastings-Camden Haven Catchment Committee; the State Catchment, Weirs and Wetlands Committees, the Farming for the Future Committee, the Coastal Council and the Coastal Committee. He played a major role in these, mostly for the life of the body.

In spite of such heavy commitment, he was an elected member of the Regional Catchment Committee, the National Landcare Program, the Western NSW Bore-capping Program. He found time to organise the first conference on acid-sulphate soils at Port Macquarie.

Over time, in Sydney and Pappinbarra, the Walls took 32 children, who had been mentally and sexually abused, into temporary foster care - ‘ones no-one else would take’. The whole family worked to ‘get through to them’.

Almost two decades ago, Peter and Jenny swapped houses with son Anthony and his wife, Jenny. The younger generation lived on the farm at Pappinbarra, while the older ran the business at ‘Timber Corner’, selling firewood, recycled and new timber, growing tea tree seedlings, herbs, hydroponic cucumbers and tomatoes.

Folk needing a bit of help, backpackers who wanted to earn a bit to see more of Australia, people working to repay Peter for help, and those who wanted some work experience all found a welcome there. Although the site was hard to navigate, Peter knew exactly where everything was!

Several years ago, Peter joined Bella Bago Choir, rediscovering the big voice his family remembered ‘singing hymns in the family Kingswood’. He and a piano-playing mate first entertained the oldies at a nursing home in Frederickton; this snowballed.

He joined Sing Australia, took lessons, sang for anyone who asked him and was a star in the 2013 home-grown Pappinbarra production, Bushed. He loved bringing pleasure to others.

The propensity for dressing up, which sealed his marital fate over fifty years ago, came to the fore again when he donned the red cap, jacket and trousers with fur trim to bring excitement to kids leading up to several Christmases. He had many stories about the confidences whispered in his ear and the surreptitious tugs at his beard. Many decided he must be the genuine article!

Peter loved kids and despite a workload to exhaust a mallee bull, always had time for his own, those he and Jenny fostered, his ten grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. Many of the family photos have an infant cradled in his big hands, a toddler clinging to one of them, or his outstretched arms embracing a swathe of young folk.

Peter survived misadventures that would have left a lesser man incapacitated; he never dwelt on them. He fought his cancer every inch of the way, never moaning about his fate, appreciating every visitor, and providing a friendly ear to others in sad situations.

The genuine article - a big man, with big hands, a big voice, a big heart and huge inner strength - he lives on in his descendants and the hearts and minds of those who feel privileged to have known him.

Jean Hegarty