Vale: Kenneth Ernest Pech
Born: Brookton, September 21, 1939
Died: Albany, October 9, 2019 (Aged 80 years)
KENNETH Ernest Pech epitomised the values of the quintessential Australian farmer - family, a deep affiliation and love of the land, community and respect for all who crossed his path, regardless of their circumstance, ethnic background or religious beliefs.
One of four children born to Henry and Mavis Pech, Boyagin Valley, 14 kilometres west of Brookton, Ken was the second child, a year younger than older sister Daphne, and elder brother to Neil and Eric - sadly Neil died as a result of a horse riding accident aged 16 years.
Farming life immediately post World War II was hard toil, the Pech family lived in a four room mud-brick house with no running water, a Coolgardie safe was the means to keep food cool and the gaps between the floor and walls made easy entry for field mice and the snakes that followed them inside.
Ken's early childhood, like many farm kids, was a mixture of work and play, trapping rabbits (pairing and gutting them for sale), cleaning soaks and sheep troughs, feeding horses and milking the house cow.
A trip to town (Brookton) was on the back of a 1937 Maple Leaf truck run on a gas producer and although it generated some welcome heat on the cold trip back to the farm at night it came with its own hazards - as Ken found out sitting too close resulting in his one good overcoat catching alight.
Church and education figured strongly, the family being regular members at the local Methodist church at South Dale.
Ken's education began at the tiny Jelcobine Primary School, 8km west from the farm on Brookton Highway, later he moved to the Brookton Primary School to complete his school education to year 8.
At age 14, Ken applied and was accepted to the Narrogin Agricultural College, completing a two-year course where he graduated with honours.
Ken's parents were accomplished and innovative farmers for their time - sheep and wool were the mainstays of the property and the early adoption of the use of fertiliser and trace elements enhanced the success of the farm business.
Local Aboriginal people and war refugees from Europe were employed on the property where possible and the Pechs respected their reliability and hard work, many becoming lifelong friends and no doubt the catalyst for Ken's compassion in later life to embrace people from all walks of life.
In 1956 the family expanded its holding, purchasing property just north of the Stirling Ranges and about 40km south of Gnowangerup.
This land purchase marked the beginning of Ken and Judith's farming property, North Stirling Downs.
Mostly uncleared, the hard work of clearing bush, fencing, sowing oats and clover and establishing water points fell to Ken's father Henry and his European immigrant friends, leaving Ken and a couple of reliable workers to continue the work on the home farm at Brookton.
Ken's sister Daphne moved to the north Stirling property in 1960 following her marriage to Ross O'Keeffe, the couple helping to complete the last of the development of the farm.
That same year, through Junior Farmers (like so many couples before them), Ken met Judith Light, when they both attended local social events and dances, Judith having moved to Brookton as a primary school teacher at the start of the 1960 school year.
They married in Albany in 1962 and moved into a cement brick cottage on the Boyagin Valley farm.
Daughters Leanne and Cheryl were born in Beverley in 1962 and 1964, respectively.
The family moved to North Stirling Downs in 1965, living in a four room wood and asbestos house that had been relocated from the Kwinana Oil Refinery.
With no phone connected, it was left to Ken and Ross O'Keeffe to construct 8km of phone line to run to the local telephone exchange.
The two families (Ken and Judith and Ross and Daphne) farmed together for a number of years, sharing a shearing shed and equipment, before eventually going their own way.
Three daughters and a son were added to Ken and Judith's growing brood - Rosalie, Julie, Sandra and Wayne, all four born in Albany.
All six children attended Gnowangerup Primary School where Ken and Judith were members of the local P&C for 20 years.
Very successful farmers and acutely aware of their responsibilities as custodians of the land they owned, Ken and Judith grew North Stirling Downs to encompass a total land holding of 13,500 hectares, a result of their foresight to embrace new farming ideas and apply the latest technologies available.
But farming was only one aspect of his life, volunteering and contributing to his community was as paramount to Ken as obtaining a top wool price.
The condition of the local Formby South Road was so bad that on occasion it was unsafe to drive on, and when the local Gnowangerup Shire was focusing on improving the Bremer Bay boat ramp, and not the local roads, Ken made a concerted effort to be elected into the South Ward vacancy (Shire of Gnowangerup) and won in emphatic style - claiming 95 per cent of the vote.
The year was 1981, and the foundation stone of serving the community was laid, an association that spanned the best part of the next four decades.
Ken was elected deputy shire president of Gnowangerup in 1984 and president two years later, serving until 1994.
He was Gnowangerup delegate to the Country Shire Councils Association, Great Southern zone, and elected president in 1992 after serving on the State executive.
This was followed by similar positions on the Western Australian Municipal Association, the forerunner of the Western Australian Local Government Association, consequently becoming a delegate to the Australian Local Government Association.
Each position required a two-year term commitment.
Maintaining safe local roads remained prominent in Ken's lobbying, he was active in ensuring a percentage of the fuel tax was allocated to the State to be spent on local government roads.
A determined advocate at a Federal level, he was involved in the Roads to Recovery initiative where funds were directed to local government regions, by-passing State and Federal road budgets.
As a result a number of roads in the Gnowangerup Shire were bitumised and upgraded, including Ken's favourite - the Formby South Road.
Ken also advocated for telephone towers, country health services, sporting facilities, and was a contributor to the Royalty for Regions program, exemplified by the construction of the Gnowangerup Sporting Complex.
The list of his associations and support of community groups knew no boundaries.
Including, but not limited to, a member of the Gnowangerup Local Emergency Management Committee; the Great Southern Development Commission and Development Authority Advisory committee; Great Southern Regional Road Group and the South Coast Regional Initiatives Planning Team.
As well as State representation on the WA Bushfire Board, Animal Welfare Board, Regional Road Funding State advisory Council and Local Government Insurance Services and Local Government Superannuation Board.
Ken retired from the Gnowangerup Shire in October, 2013, after 32 years of service.
The list continues, as did Ken's endless commitment and passion.
He was a member of the Gnowangerup Police, Aboriginal and Community Liaison Committee; the Gnowangerup delegate to the Ongerup Football Association tribunal panel; a member and past president of the Gnowangerup Rotary Club; a board member and a past chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Gnowangerup Ag School; an inaugural trustee of the Country Medical Foundation and also served on the boards of Healthway and the WA Centre for Remote and Regional Medicine.
Fittingly, in 1990 Ken was awarded the 1990 Gnowangerup Citizen of the Year and in 1999 the ultimate acknowledgement for a lifetime of service to local government, Ken was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 1999 Australia Day honours list.
Ken's honour roll continues with various life memberships and awards, but the support of family, especially wife Judith, was always a key factor that enabled Ken to devote such a substantial amount of time and energy to supporting his local community.
Ken's emphasis on the importance of family, community, farming, the environment and his strong belief in the value of giving and embracing all people along life's journey embodied an inspirational example of a life well-lived.