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 From The Coastal Passage, issue # 15

Geoff Henry, Person of the year!


 By Keith Owen, SV Speranza

Geoff Henry, the person behind VMR East Mackay, was included in the recent Queen's Birthday Honours list with an award of an OAM for his services to boating safety. The OAM is a national award being an Australian Medal General Division for services to the community.

Geoff, who is 82, has been involved with VMR for 25 years. His has a fascinating background. Leigh Campbell (SV Harley Street) profiled Geoff in an excellent article which appeared in a previous edition of TCP. Suffice to say Geoff has a colourful and diverse background.

We first encountered Geoff as we nervously picked our way up the Queensland Coast on our first coastal foray during 2000.

“VMR East Mackay, VMR East Mackay this is Speranza on Channel 80, over.”
“Speranza, Speranza this is VMR East Mackay good morning Speranza its good to hear you, over”

After logging in with our details, Geoff came back with
“That's fine Speranza, do have a safe trip and we'll be listening out for you”.

Professional, courteous, cheerful, reassuring and confidence-building are lasting impressions that still stick with us until this day and are always reinforced whenever Geoff comes on the radio.

A few like-minded yachties thought it would be appropriate if Geoff were nominated for an award in view of his dedication. The general reaction was “if anyone deserves an award it is “Geoff of VMR East Mackay”. But when we approached him with our plans, he was seriously stunned “why me?” was his immediate reaction.

So let's respond to the “why me?” question.

Geoff has, of now, 25 years of voluntary service. At the time of the nomination he was on duty 150 hours per week. 5 days for 24 hours and nightime watches at the weekend. (He attempted to do his supermarket shopping on Thursday mornings, but more often than not, continued to field calls on his mobile VHF from the checkout counter at the local IGA!) His average log on's over a 3 month period during 2003 was a staggering 1,200 per month with four to five actual rescues per month.

It is true to say that Geoff watches over a big stretch of water between the Percy's and the Whitsundays, not without its problems, which can involve large tides, strong winds and problematic anchorages. I remember listening to Geoff in November 2003 where he coordinated the rescue of a dismasted yacht which was towed into Mackay Marina at 9pm at night. Next morning, Geoff received his first log on call at 5.30am and then proceeded to record position reports for 20 or so other boats over the next couple of hours. He was his usual cheerful professional self (but did sound a bit tired!)

Geoff joined the then Air Sea Rescue when he arrived in Mackay in 1973. He held various executive positions before moving onto Keswick Island as caretaker. He set up a radio base on the island and in conjunction with another operator on adjacent St Bees was involved in a number of tricky rescues where lives were at stake.

After a stint back in New Zealand (running a ski lodge just for something different), he returned to Australia and set up home at Halliday Bay with a VMR station as an integral part. Long term yachties still talk about VMR Halliday Bay as being the best rescue station on the coast at the time.

Geoff moved to his current abode in the RSL Village in Mackay in 1993. This is the current home of VMR East Mackay. He has a radio room set up in the garage and a large flagpole in the front garden with antennas and flags (when not pinched by the local yobbo's ). Some yachties went past on the local bus and were authoritatively informed by the driver that this was the place where “the rescue bloke lives”. A taxi driver told us he had no trouble finding Geoff's address because Geoff was “a bit of a local hero”. Such is fame!

Corry, his feathered companion is always in evidence and controls the interior of the unit. While on Geoff's shoulder, he devours Smith's Thins chips (plain) during sundowners.

Geoff has not been in the best of health in recent times. “The paintwork's fine but the engine is stuffed” is the way he describes himself. His condition has meant that he now has a listening watch for emergency traffic only (but in true Geoff style it is every evening 7 days a week of course). Despite the restricted hours, it is still great to hear Geoff come on each night with “to all ships at sea this evening, do have a safe night”. Let me tell you, if you happened to be anchored at Digby Island when it's blowing dogs off chains on a cold and moonless night, it would be very reassuring to know that Geoff is in your corner.

The nomination for Geoff's award was supported by many, many yachties. I intend to pass on details to Geoff around the time of his award ceremony which will take place in September in Cairns. Thanks to all who contributed. The gong is a great outcome and a reflection of strong support from coastal cruisers.

And the most important outcome is that Geoff is very, very proud of his OAM.

All that is left to say is:
Thanks Geoff and congratulations!


 The "Jar Guards" of Macaky Marina. .

Leiann, Erin, Rhiannon, Jess and Ben. Not in photo are Karen and Alice.

 Here is how it went….

By Bob Norson

I got word from Keith that Geoff had been awarded the OA. All Right!! Finally to some one who really deserved it. Kay and I stopped by for a visit and to convey congratulations. In conversation Geoff mentioned the financial difficulties in making the trip to Cairns to accept the award. I would have assumed that such an award would come with a free ticket to the ceremony but such is not the case. Complicating that, Geoff requires a carer to assist in such an endeavour which adds to the expense for a pensioner. He was going to have to do a long drive with family members, one night in a motel and back the next day to save money. Especially considering the gentleman's age and health, this was clearly not acceptable.

Back to the marina with an idea to find a way to solicit donations from the Boaties to help out their mate. I checked in with Peter Hansen to get permission to put in a money jar at the marina desk and maybe signs on the gates and bulletin boards. Peter listened to my idea, smiled and within two minutes had me on the phone with channel 7 TV in Mackay. Later that day I was contacted by Jessica Howard who knew Geoff and was keen to do the story. Next morning it was all happening at the marina. Jessica and camera crew were there and interviewing me and that evening a brilliant piece was featured. As a writer I'm fair to half arsed, as an interviewee… well, I'm not much to work with so Jessica and her crew deserve high marks for making a silk purse out of sows ear. There is no doubt that everyone on this part of the coast watches channel 7 news, the next day it was already happening. The crew at the marina desk were keeping an eye (nervously as the pile of bills grew!) on the jar and other offers of help were coming in. The Game Fishing Club of Mackay passed the hat at a weekend affair to collect $250 and added another $300 from the treasury for the total of $550!

I contacted Matt Trevet-Lyall, area manger for Qantaslink to see if they could help stretch the money. Matt authorised a specially discounted ticket. Andrea and others at Harvey World Travel at Wood street in Mackay made the arrangements gratis. (They had been in contact with the airline as well) We picked up the jar at the marina yesterday (24 August) and with final donations from the crews of Helmsman and The Catch the total was a bit over $900. That put the total donated nearly $1500! Geoff will fly and have time to enjoy the event at a leisurely pace. He has been looked after. Congratulations To all who pitched in to help, to the boating community and the town of Mackay. Not everyplace looks after it's own just because they should. Thanks to Dr. Leigh Campbell of Harley Street who wrote a very good feature for TCP on Geoff last year that brought the gentleman to our attention. Well done all!

 Kay Presents Geoff with the cash jar.