Gilbert Bennion: One of Australia?s pioneers.
Gilbert Bennion: One of Australia?s pioneers.

Tribute to pioneer Gillie


October 1, 1898 - January 27, 2005

BORN in the Queensland gold mining region of Croydon where his father was a miner for over 40 years, Gilbert Edward Bennion was the third-born child of Thomas and Annie Bennion's family of two sons and three daughters.

The gold reef that Thomas Bennion worked through the years provided a living for his family and Gilbert remembered having a very happy boyhood as a result of his father's labours.

"At Christmas time my father could afford to give me a football, or cricket set or something like that.

"He didn't waste his money too much for me but he did give me things for my own use and I lived a very happy boyhood while going to the Croydon School."

Gilbert Bennion left home at about 13 years of age. He went to Townsville to live with his uncle Ben and work for the Queensland Railway Department for two years, on a wage of 25 shillings a week.

The department paid for Gilbert to learn shorthand two, or three, nights a week at the technical college where he also learnt telegraphy.

After passing his examination, Gilbert became a night station master and received a rise in pay.

The department allowed Gilbert to balance the books for the railway stations and they sent him all over the country.

Starting with Innisfail, Gilbert lost all his possessions in a cyclone that hit the town on March 10, 1918, that also destroyed his hut.

Gilbert was left with only what he stood up in and was forced to start again.

A promise, made to his parents to stay in Australia until his brother, Thomas Archibald Bennion, came back from the war, prevented Gilbert Bennion from enlisting for service during World War I as early as he would have liked.

Gilbert's older brother Thomas joined the AIF in April 1916 and the brother's parents were loath to see Gilbert join up for the fight as well.

Only Thomas's safe return home to his family in March 1918 allowed Gilbert to enlist which he was finally able to do with his parents' permission in Townsville on August 1, 1918.

Gilbert was aged 19 years and 10 months and he became part of the 4th Reinforcements AIF.

Gilbert Bennion had previous military experience as a 2nd Lieutenant in the senior cadets in Townsville.

Following his enlistment he undertook a course at the Non Commissioned Officers' School.

After a time spent drilling and training, Gilbert applied for home leave to see his family whom he had last seen six or seven years earlier.

He asked his commanding officer did he have time to slip up to Croydon, before sailing, and he was told: "Yes there was time".

The day before Gilbert returned to camp his company embarked for New Zealand. Within a couple of days word came through that the war was over so his battalion returned home having only travelled as far as New Zealand.

Gilbert said: "I didn't miss out on much but I did regret being left behind as I wasn't a returned soldier. That's my history."

After discharge from the AIF on December 30 1918, and once more working for the Queensland Railway Department, Gilbert realised that his life was going to be in the country.

When he was ready to marry Gilbert Bennion looked for a country girl and not a city girl to be his life-long companion.

About marriage Gilbert said: "So I kept my eye out for a girl who could share my troubles and be able to work.

"I was at Torrens Creek when I saw a nicely dressed girl go between the post office and a house across the railway line.

"I thought 'Gee I haven't met her before'?."

Gilbert Bennion asked the station master's wife for an introduction.

This was achieved and the pair began courting.

Not long after his 21st birthday, while relieving at Townsville Railway Station, Gilbert married his Nellie and in 1921 their son Neville was born.

Tragedy struck when the couple's second son, Keith, died in Warwick Hospital of diphtheria at only five years of age.

According to Gilbert getting married was the best thing he ever did as he had many years of wedded bliss with Nellie until she sadly passed away in 1973.

Gilbert served at 35 different railway stations throughout Queensland during his working life and he waited until 1950 for the chance to be transferred to Tweed Heads where he served as station master at Coolangatta and at Tweed Heads until the line was closed in 1961.

Three years later he retired from the Queensland Railway Department.

It was the lure of the good fishing which he had enjoyed previously while stationed at Tweed Heads that made Gilbert want to spend his retirement years in the town.

At the age of 92, Gilbert Bennion remarried and his bride Rene was just a slip of a girl being 20 years younger. Gilbert and Rene had 10 happy, companionable years together until the death of Rene in 2000 left Gilbert alone once again.

In retirement Gilbert had remained active. He enjoyed fishing with his mates. He helped to establish the Tweed Heads Senior Citizens Group, was a member of the Twin Towns Services Club and after celebrating his 100th birthday he became a member of the Gold Coast Mayor's 100-Plus Club.

Gilbert looked forward to his birthdays when a fuss was justifiably made of him and he was able to hold court to a growing circle of friends and admirers.

Gilbert Edward Bennion, who was affectionately known as 'Gillie', was endowed with the happy ability to charm all who came within his orbit. It was a pleasure to sit on the verandah of his old wooden home which he shared with his daughter Shirley and listen to his stories.

His eyes would glaze over in remembrance of happenings in his a long rich life.

Two years ago Gilbert said in a conversation: "I've had a good life. I've really enjoyed it."

Our nation will be the poorer at the passing of one of its true pioneers and one of its last tangible links with World War I military history.

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