Heavy hearts in Hawkesbury after passing of John Miller

Vale John Miller, OAM. Picture: Geoff Jones.
Vale John Miller, OAM. Picture: Geoff Jones.

Hawkesbury has lost one of its most passionate and proudest citizens, Richmond resident and regional ambassador John Miller.

Mr Miller reportedly passed last night, Friday, March 12, at age 91.

He leaves behind his wife of 67 years Beryl, their children Annette, Ken and Robyn, his seven grand-children and six great grandchildren.

Mr Miller was born on April 14, 1929. He arrived in the Hawkesbury in 1955 to farm orchard fruit and vegetables. Seven floods later he moved to higher ground in the Hills to grow mushrooms.

"I have come and gone a few times, but I keep coming back because I love the Hawkesbury Valley," he famously told the Gazette in 2018, when he was named in the Queen's Honours as a recipient of an Order of Australia Medal for service to the community.

Mr Miller was active in the Australian Mushroom Growers Association and worked to unite growers around the country.

In 1986 he joined the Hawkesbury State Emergency Service (SES) and became the chief warden, enlisting 250 others with local knowledge to establish an early flood warning network from Robertson in the south to Wisemans Ferry in the north.

That same year he became social secretary of the Hawkesbury Historical Society to promote the rich heritage of the area. He was declared an Ambassador for Hawkesbury due to his passion for selling the region.

The mid-90s saw Mr Miller establish a group to lobby the state government to raise the Warragamba Dam wall, an issue close to his heart to the end.

Mr Miller believed a repeat of the 1867 flood could be the "biggest disaster Australia has ever seen since Cyclone Tracey".

Of course, Mr Miller was also well known as a driving force behind a third river crossing from Richmond to North Richmond, and was an 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.

Mr Miller was ordered by his doctors in 2018 to take a step back from his community efforts for fear "I will not make it my 90th birthday".

Of course Mr Miller did make the milestone and was treated to a gala celebration at Loxley on Bellbird Hill, surrounded by family and his many friends.

During the celebration, Mr Miller's eldest daughter, Annette Watson described her father as a devoted husband, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Birthday celebration: John Miller, OAM, celebrated his 90th birthday in style at Loxley on Bellbird Hill. Pictures: Krystyna Pollard.

Birthday celebration: John Miller, OAM, celebrated his 90th birthday in style at Loxley on Bellbird Hill. Pictures: Krystyna Pollard.

Hawkesbury MP Robyn Preston also read a message from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian congratulating Mr Miller on "all you have done for your family, community and the people of NSW".

As news of Mr Miller's passing is becoming known tributes are appearing across social media.

Hawkesbury Councillor Sarah Richards said on Facebook she would be "eternally grateful for his guidance, friendship and kindness".

"He was a huge supporter of mine from the very start," Cr Richards said.

"John was a farmer, historian, family man, Hawkesbury ambassador, loyal Liberal, but most importantly of all, husband to the absolute love of his life, Beryl.

"Thank you John, for your lasting legacy. You will be greatly missed."

Cr Richards said that had it not been for the efforts of Mr Miller, Hawkesbury would not be getting its third river crossing.

"He had pushed the case for this infrastructure for years, which is why I made sure that he was the first person I visited to deliver the news when we knew we were receiving the funding," she said.

Fellow Liberal Councillor Nathan Zamprogno said via Facebook: "John was a good friend, and a tireless advocate for the understanding of our history, especially as it relates to flooding. It wasn't possible to start a conversation with him without it turning to the risk floods still pose to our community, and the work he continued to do right up to the end to get the ear of Ministers and press that cause. John was a teacher and mentor and I'm proud to continue his work - to raise awareness of flood risk and to promote infrastructure that will make the community safer. I will miss his counsel and frequent phone calls goading me on."

Hawkesbury deputy mayor, Councillor Mary Lyons-Bucket said via a Facebook post that she was deeply saddened by Mr Miller's passing.

"John was passionate about the Hawkesbury, its river, its people and its potential," said Cr Lyon's Buckett. "He was widely respected and was regularly called upon for advice on many topics.

"It was a pleasure to have known John for many years, to have been friends, and to have shared many wondrous discussions about all things Hawkesbury.

"Fortunately he has documented much material through written and video recordings which is a magnificent legacy to have left future generations. His knowledge of local history and specific issues such as our flood vulnerability, agriculture, military involvement, tourism and more, will be remembered and valued for generations to come.

"What I loved most about him was his tolerance of alternative points of view and his willingness to entertain other ideas and perspectives - sadly, all too rare a quality these days. He was knowledgeable, interesting, kind and encouraging."

Councillor Danielle Wheeler also took to Facebook, saying the region had lost one of its great champions.

"John and I disagreed on a few big things but he was always respectful and reasonable in any debate, with the very best interests of the Hawkesbury as his focus, and a tireless advocate for a better deal for the area he loved so much," Cr Wheeler said. "He was a knowledgeable, articulate and thoroughly decent man, who will be sadly missed. My greatest memory of John will always be his absolute devotion to his wife Beryl."

Macquarie MP Susan Templeman also paid her respects.

"Over the last ten years I've had many engaging discussions with John," she said. "While we didn't always see eye to eye, we shared a deep commitment to the Hawkesbury.

"John's contribution to our community was extraordinary as was his determination to see recognition of the efforts of Australian Boer War veterans. He was delighted to be at the unveiling of the stunning Boer War Memorial in Canberra in 2017."

Over the years Mr Miller has had a close association with the various editors and reporters who have worked for the Gazette.

Current editor Matt Lawrence said that despite having only known Mr Miller a relatively short time, he believed a big piece of Hawkesbury will be missing.

"Coming to the post in early 2015 I asked for interested folk to come along and say hello ... Mr Miller was the first to get on the phone," Mr Lawrence said.

"People like John Miller are truly rare diamonds. They have a passion for their community that you can tell straight away transcends ego. John truly cared. He will indeed be sadly missed. On behalf of the many Gazette folk who had the pleasure of meeting and working with John over the years, I say, may you rest well mate."