Raquel Stevens

Lifelong Daylesford resident, Russell Jenkin, has one word of advice for those seeking to be a volunteer: ‘Join!’

It’s International Volunteers Day on December 5th, and this year’s theme is ‘solidarity through volunteering.’

The former Glenlyon Group Secretary says his years spent chasing fire trucks all over the district were sometimes challenging, but it was also ‘a job we had to do.’

Although happily retired, he is a man not short of things to do.

What brought you to Daylesford?  

Probably, or most certainly, my great grandfather. I think there are five generations of us.  My great grandfather was of Cornish descent, of course they were all miners and farmers.  He was a Tinsmith, but he also bottled mineral water with his brother at Leitches Creek.  If you go to the Daylesford Museum you will see some cans with, ‘Jenkin Brothers’ on it.

Then my grandfather, Jack, attended Daylesford Primary School when it first opened in 1875.  Since then, my dad, myself, my wife, and our kids have also attended.

What are your earliest memories of growing up here?

As kids we built tin sleds, then would ride them down the huge mullock heaps which were down the end of Queensberry Street.  It was great fun, we’d go hurtling down, it was quite dangerous.  It’s all houses now. I don’t think my mum ever knew.  Probably best she didn’t.

Then there were the huge pine trees on Central Springs Road. We’d climb up them, and on one I built a platform.  We’d sit up there and watch people walk by, as there weren’t many cars back then.  I had a very happy childhood.

You ran the local hardware store for more than 50 years. Did you always envisage taking over the business from your father?

Dad opened the store in 1933. I have fond memories of riding around the store on my trike. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do leaving school.  I went off to Boarding School when I was 13.  I didn’t mind it.  I quite enjoyed the Cadets.

Returning home after school I went back to working with Dad, and eventually took over the business. I really enjoyed working in retail, as you meet so many people. It’s so diverse.  Particularly hardware. I’d hate to be selling men’s underwear all my life.

Any memorable customers?

I don’t think in my 55 years I ever had a cross word with anyone.  We might have had a customer who agreed to disagree, but I don’t think anyone ever said to me, ‘I’m not coming back here.’

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Be honest with others and yourself.  There was a situation with my father, where a bushfire ripped through Bryce’s Flat and a family lost all of its fencing.  Dad gave this particular family a price to replace it.  They went away and received several quotes.  They came back and said, ‘Jack, we’ve been to all the big supply places and you were still the cheapest.  Why?’  Dad told me, ‘You should never profit from anyone’s misfortune.’  I have lived by that ever since.

The CFA has been a big part of your life.  What attracted you to get involved?

The town had a huge fire bell, and it could be heard from Eganstown. I remember as an 18 year old, we’d go out to fires, and follow the fire truck.  We would help in any way we could.  Not necessarily in the front line, but even if it was moving furniture out of people’s houses.

The people of Daylesford should be very proud of their brigade.  They don’t just fight fires, they also rescue people from trapped vehicles.  All the volunteer, they are so dedicated.  They don’t seek praise and certainly don’t like being called heroes.

I had a colleague who attended the fatal car crash of Mary Payne.  He rescued the baby in a bassinette from the back seat.  The baby was Michelle Payne, the jockey, who grew up to win the Melbourne Cup.  He was working as a plumber at the time.  He doesn’t go around telling people.  However, he’ll never forget it.

What would the title of your biography be?

‘The life and times of Russell Jenkin.’  I don’t know, I am a retiring sort of person, so you won’t see it on any bookshelf.

 This year you celebrated your 55th Wedding Anniversary.  What is the secret to its longevity?

The secret is having a good partner. Respecting each other. Honesty is important.

 I’ll never forget meeting Barb.  I went to see the Marching Girls with my cousin, and I saw her. I said to Jeff, ‘Who is that?’  He said, ‘That’s Barbara Barron.’  That was that.

Something that has surprised you.

Who would ever have thought selling bottled water was a good idea.  Now you look around and everyone is carrying a bottle of water. My great grandfather was ahead of his time.

What’s next for Russ Jenkin?

I do love gardening,  hard work never hurt anyone. Always something to do.

A holiday to Queensland with Barb next year, we like to spend a few weeks up there in Winter.

Raquel Stevens is a former Network Ten News Journalist. She has been a part time local for more than 25 years, and one day hopes to be a full time local.