Meet a Member: the remarkable Philip Melbourne

Meet a Member: the remarkable Philip Melbourne

Born in 1931, Philip Melbourne’s experiences as one of the youngest members of NSW Farmers – and now as the eldest member – not only reflect the evolution of farming practices but also stand as a testament to the enduring spirit of Aussie farmers.

As a teenager, Mr Melbourne had already taken on significant responsibilities, becoming the Secretary of the Narrabri branch of NSW Farmers in 1947.

“At that time, there was only me and the president – I was just 16 when I went to Sydney to represent the Narrabri branch. I’d also been involved with the junior farmers. Back then, joining NSW Farmers was very easy. It involved just seeing the president, asking him if I could join and he said, ‘Yes’!” Mr Melbourne said.

Philip Melbourne began competitive woodchopping at the 1938 Narrabri Show. Here he is with champion woodchopper David Foster.

Against the odds

Growing up as the eldest of five on the family farm in Narrabri, Mr Melbourne experienced the harsh realities of life, especially when his father went to war.

“Throughout the war, my father was in the 8th division. He was an incredibly tough man and was a POW on the Burma railway line. So, mum had five of us to look after. I was eight when dad went to war and my youngest sister was born when dad was in the army.”

Philip Melbourne, NSW Farmers member

The story of his father’s resilience, enduring gall bladder surgery in a POW camp without anaesthetic under the skilled hands of Sir Weary Dunlop, is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by those who served.

“My father was an incredibly tough man; he had his gall bladder taken out with no anaesthetic. A guard beat him with the butt of his rifle and knocked him down, then kicked him, busting his gall bladder. Sir Weary Dunlop operated on dad in the POW camp – four Aussies had to hold him down while Weary sewed him up with pig skin. He shouldn’t have lived – he wasn’t expected to live – but he did.

“And years later, when Weary Dunlop opened an RSL in Tamworth, my dad took us to meet him and Weary couldn’t believe his eyes. He said ‘Well, Melbourne, you’re the last bastard I’d expect to see walking up Tamworth steps’!”

Philip Melbourne says the key to his longevity is woodchopping all his life, which kept him healthy, fit and following a passion.

Brushes with fate

The first farm Philip’s father owned in Narrabri was near Castletop – but that farm eventually sent him broke.

“My father was drilling for water and all he could get was coal. He went out with a team, clearing bore drains and putting down tanks, but he had no luck there and then he went to war. While he was away, an aunt left my mother 220 acres at Stony Creek and that’s where my father started farming again after the war,” Mr Melbourne said.

By the age of 20, Mr Melbourne was keen to own his own farm, so he started share-farming, eventually buying the 310-hectare property near Narrabri, known as “Merrigum.”

As Mr Melbourne and his wife Anne navigated the challenges of parenting three daughters and a son, their life grew increasingly hectic. The farm’s primary production in the early years centred around fat lambs and wheat, while Mr Melbourne later nurtured a keen interest in beef production. But ever-present was his passion for woodchopping.

Mr Melbourne began competitive wood chopping in childhood at the 1938 Narrabri show.  Over the years, he has participated in numerous local events until eight years ago, when an injury on his farm prompted his retirement.

Mr Melbourne is certainly no stranger to injuries and has at least four tales of “near-death” experiences. One particularly chilling event occurred in his teens when he was flung from a plough, with a whip entangled around his neck and caught in the axle. It was only when the whip finally broke that he was spared from a fatal outcome. Another gruesome episode involved being kicked by a cow, which left him with severe injuries. “I was open from my collarbone to the end of my ribs,” Mr Melbourne said.

Philip Melbourne with his family
Philip Melbourne with his family.

Words of wisdom

These days Mr Melbourne lives 10km from Narrabri and, at the age of 92, he doesn’t let much stop him.

“Just yesterday, I drove 260km to visit some friends. If I can drive a tractor for three hours, then I can drive for three hours, no trouble!” he said.

When it comes to all the changes he’s seen across his farming career, Philip said the starkest changes involves transport.

“From a young age, I drove horses. Dad was a real horseman, so we drove horses with a plough. After the war there weren’t too many farmers driving horses in a team sowing wheat.

“The other big change is chemicals: when we used to farm there were no chemicals. But I think the toughest thing about farming today is the cost of machinery and tractors. I don’t know how people can afford them.”

Phil’s best advice for farmers doing it tough:

“You’ve got to battle on, grit your teeth and keep going. There are plenty of places you can go to for advice and over the years NSW Farmers has been great, they battle for farmers all the time.”

Philip Melbourne, NSW Farmers member

And the secret to his longevity? “For me, it’s because I’ve been a woodchopper all my life. That’s kept me fit and healthy and doing something you’re passionate about.”

If you enjoyed this story about Phillip Melbourne, you may like to read about Jan Fletcher, a NSW Farmers member from the Far North Coast.

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