Stawell's Harold Blake a living treasure

STAWELL - Known for his loud, booming voice and love for all things sport, Harold Blake is one of Stawell's living treasures.

The second youngest of 11 children, 89 year-old Harold was born at "the bottom of the hill" in Navarre. Together with his wife, June, they moved to Stawell in the mid-1940s where he has lived ever since.

After leaving school aged 13, Harold went cutting wood with his brothers at the Navarre woodmills before turning his attention to wheat carting and shearing.

Harold moved to Stawell, he says, to avoid working at the woodmills all his life.

"There were 71 (children) on the Navarre school roll, and nearly all of them were working on the wood. Others were farmers," he said.

When they first arrived in Stawell, Harold and June made their living out of cutting fence posts.

The couple would take one end of the cross saw each, front cut in the axe and fell the tree. They would then split the length into posts.

In conjunction with this business, Harold would head back out to the farm at shearing time to help out and then in 1948, he and his brother Eric bought a farm at Dadswell's Bridge.

"That was a different kettle of fish," Harold said.

Harold and June enjoyed living in Stawell, buying a three bedroom house in Seaby Street for 220 pounds. The couple's favourite treat was to go to the movies every Saturday night.

Harold and June have four children (Gary, Rosalie, Christine and Martin) who were all born and raised in Stawell, and each one was involved in sport around the town, including athletics and football.

Harold himself was a member of Stawell Golf Club, and is one of two surviving original life members of the Stawell Harness Racing Club, the other being Ken Crouch.

He is also a life member of the Navarre Cricket Club and more recently, was honoured with Life Governorship of Stawell's Eventide Homes, his place of residence for the past eight years.

Arguably Harold's most amazing feat occurred in 2009 when, aged 84, he rode more than 500 kilometres in the annual 'Murray to Moyne' bike ride.

He started the ride in Swan Hill and finished a day later in Port Fairy, a special place for himself and his late wife June, who had passed away a couple of years before.

The then-84 year old raised $17,000 for the Eventide Homes, and now has the 'Blake Lounge', part of the Currie Wing, named after him.

Harold is full of praise for the Eventide Homes, ending up there with June (who passed away with Alzheimer's) in 2005.

"They are terrific. There are plenty of things to do here, the chefs are top class and the board is made up of wonderful people," he said.

"We're very, very lucky to have them I reckon."

Harold didn't have to think twice when asked if he had ever considered leaving Stawell.

"No, I never thought about leaving Stawell. Mainly because I love the place and the people in it," he said.

Harold said the biggest change to occur in Stawell over the years has been at what is now one of Stawell's premier sporting venues, North Park Recreation Reserve.

"North Park was called the Pug, where miners dumped stuff that was useless," he recalled.

"They used shovels and levelled it all out into an oval. That's the biggest difference, there used to be heaps of muck on it."

Harold believes the Northern Grampians Shire Council is doing a good job in maintaining Stawell.

"The trees in the streets make it look nice. If they keep making the town lovelier, it should attract new families here. They say 'Sleepy Old Hollow', well, there's nothing wrong with Sleepy Old Hollow.

"Stawell's a great place to live and bring up a family."

Celebrating Stawell's Golden Gifts is a series of six stories that is featured in The Stawell Times News over the 2013 festive season.

This series is brought to you by Navarre Minerals, who are proud to be part of the Stawell community.

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