He’s been named a Champion of the West and an Ambassador for the Hawkesbury, and now one of the region’s most recognised residents has received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).
Richmond’s John Miller has been recognised in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours list for service to the community of the Hawkesbury, the latest in a long list of achievements gained through more than six decades of dedicated community service.
Born in Crown Street Women’s Hospital in April 1929, Mr Miller arrived in the Hawkesbury in 1955 to farm orchard fruit and vegetables. But the following year, seven floods devastated the farm “with all our crops washed away” and he moved to higher ground in the Hills to begin growing mushrooms.
“I have come and gone [from the area] a few times, but I keep coming back because I love the Hawkesbury Valley,” he told the Gazette.
Active in the Australian Mushroom Growers Association (AMGA), Mr Miller promoted the use of locally grown mushrooms and worked to unite farmers across the country. He was also instrumental in establishing a research facility at Rydalmere to improve productivity of local farms as chief executive of the association in the 1970s, and travelled to France in 1978 as part of Australia’s successful bid to host the 1981 international farmer’s conference.
“Five hundred leading mushroom growers and research scientists from all over the world came to Australia to teach us the latest technology,” he said.
In 1986 he joined the Hawkesbury State Emergency Service (SES) and became chief warden, enlisting 250 wardens with local knowledge to establish an early flood warning network from Roberston in the south to Wisemans Ferry in the north.
“We also established a community flood education session in all major towns for residents,” he said.
In 1986, Mr Miller became the social secretary of Hawkesbury Historical Society to promote the rich heritage of the area, eventually winning the golden award for tourism and being appointed Ambassador for Hawkesbury.
He established a tour guide service for visitors to gain a greater understanding of the region, and in 1996 trained young people as guides for the National Parks and Wildlife Service to develop a greater understanding of European and Aboriginal heritage in the area.
The mid-1990s also saw Mr Miller help establish a community group to lobby the State Government to raise Warragamba Dam wall, an issue still very close to his heart to this day.
He said a repeat of the great flood of 1867 could be “the biggest disaster Australia has ever seen since Cyclone Tracey” inundating up to 7,600 homes and 35 sewerage plants, and Mr Miller remains a strong advocate for the raising of the wall.
Mr Miller has also made representations to the State Government about exploring the feasibility of building a high level, four-lane, one-in-100 year flood free bridge from Richmond to North Richmond.
“While we are waiting for the Warragamba Dam project to commence, it is essential that we improve evacuation routes to allow early evacuation of residents to avoid being cut off by flood waters,” he said.
“There are over 27,000 people on the northern and north-western side of the Hawkesbury River who have no hospital, ambulance or police facilities available, and the only way out is via Bells Line of Road and Mt Victoria to Penrith, which takes four hours on a clear day.”
He has also been a big advocate for the construction of a Centre for Excellence in aged and dementia care as well as respite accommodation for the Hawkesbury’s ageing population, preparing a submission to Hawkesbury MP Dominic Perottet on the issue.
“I have been advised that a meeting will possibly be held in July with Nepean and Blue Mountains Health Care to discuss the possibility of establishing such a project in the Hawkesbury Valley,” he said.
Over the last two years alone he has produced a DVD on Hawkesbury‘s history, raised funds for a Boer War memorial in Canberra, and had a plinth erected in Windsor to Hawkesbury’s ‘Angel of Mercy’, Sister Julia Bligh Johnston, RRC, who was also recognised posthumously in this year’s Hawkesbury Council Australia Day awards thanks to Mr Miller’s hard work.
Many community members congratulated Mr Miller following the announcement on Monday (June 11), including Hawkesbury MP Dominic Perrottet.
“John Miller is a Hawkesbury icon worthy of recognition, he is one hundred per cent deserving of this medal and I am proud to call him my friend,” Mr Perrottet said. “Together with wife Beryl the couple have worked tirelessly to improve the Hawkesbury region for more than 50 years.”
But more than 60 years of campaigning for the community has taken its toll, and Mr Miller has now been ordered to take a step back by doctors.
“I have just returned home after being in Hawkesbury Hospital for 11 days being treated successfully for heart failure,” he said. “My heart specialist has directed me to cease getting involved in any more major community projects as it has caused major stress on my heart, and I will not make it to my 90th birthday on April 14, 2019.
“I’ve been flat out since the 1950s, it’s time to take a break and enjoy retirement with my wife, Beryl.”
And helping the community is just something that comes naturally to Mr Miller, who said he had been “humbled” by the OAM nomination.
“I find it rewarding helping your fellow man in the Hawkesbury community,” he said. “I grew up in the Depression years where people helped one another. No one had anything, you got in there and fought for your fellow community members to achieve a better deal. I couldn’t lay around and do nothing.
“I am proud to have been able to make a small contribution for the benefit of the Hawkesbury community.”