Last weekend, the O’Connor family celebrated 100 years of farming at “Oxton Park”, Harden. The Oxton Park aggregation is the largest family farming enterprise in the Hilltops, stretching from Harden to Young. It is a truly remarkable feat and a testament to the family’s perseverance, skill and determination.
Everyone in the farming community knows Oxton Park and the O’Connors, who have been at the forefront of the agricultural sector for many, many years. Probably only those of my generation and older would know of Kevin and Justin O’Connor, who laid the foundation for what exists today.
What isn’t as well known by the younger generation and those outside the farming sector is the community dedication of both men. Much of Harden’s health services exists in no small part due to the tireless work of Kevin, who for many years was chairman of the local hospital board, a lifetime Rotarian and the inaugural chair of the St Lawrence Retirement Home Galong (now located in Harden).
To raise the funds to build the initial facility at Galong, Kevin organised the local farmers to donate the inputs and machinery to farm the adjacent paddock. This occurred for many years along with other fundraising exercises until the necessary funding was raised. He did similar efforts to raise funds for the Harden District Hospital.
Justin, for his part, was a Councillor on the Demondrille and the Harden Shire Council for over 20 years, serving as Mayor for a period. My father told me on more than one occasion what an honour it was to be a Councillor alongside Justin. In the early 70’s, there were still many gravel roads in the Shire which were “poorly formed” and whose path was often decided originally by ease of travel, not the shortest or best route.
In those days, the Councillors ran the shire. Justin convinced the Council of the need to provide better roads for residents and the farming community as more people owned cars and farms were producing more product that needed to get to markets more efficiently. Under Justin’s stewardship, the Council purchased a scraper, new graders and a dozer and set to work. Cuttings were put through hillsides and roads realigned to remove dangerous bends and continual wet areas. The efficiency and planning were a lesson for all. Justin’s favourite saying was the 6 P’s. Prior Proper Planning Prevented Piss Poor Performance.
In those days, there was no RFS and the brigades were funded and controlled by Council, which Justin also took on supervision of along with fellow Councillor Pat Brown. Both men lamented the decision of the State Government to establish the RFS and hand over operations and control, with Justin saying in that dry manner of his, “Why would they want to do that? We didn’t leave any fires burning?” How true!
To amass such a significant holding in some of Australia’s prime agricultural land is a testament to the ability of these two men and their families. Both men were running huge enterprise yet they still had time to give back to the community. It is during times such as COVID that we realise just how important good health services and a strong community are.
I think it is unfortunate that there has been virtually no formal recognition of either of them and nor was there at the time of their deaths. When the opportunity presents, Council should recognise their deeds via a bridge or road renaming.
– Tony Flanery
Sign up now for the latest news from the Hilltops Area direct to your inbox.