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A unique farewell to Lochiel’s Pink Lake legend

Photo – Lisa Redpath & Trippin With the Henrys

Remembering John Nicholls – the unofficial “Mayor” of “Loch-eel”

When I hear the word “volunteer”, my mind quickly takes me back to the little town I grew up in – the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” Highway town of Lochiel.

It was here that I learned about being an active part of a community – in-fact, it was here that I was raised not knowing there was any other way to make the town you live in survive and thrive, but to show up, speak up and get your hands dirty.

I remember the locals congregating each year for a feed at the Lochiel Pub, after every man, woman, kid and dog scoured the town for rubbish with their KESAB Tidy Town bags. And Sunday mornings were always saved for cleaning up around the oval after a home game at the footy. If you were lucky you might find a pay-off of a few silver coins and a half eaten packet of PK.

In a small town like Lochiel, if you wanted services to remain, if you wanted a playground for the kids or a tidy town to live, it was up to you and your neighbours.

One of our neighbours, on the farm up the hill, was John Nicholls. A larger-than-life, curly haired character who was born and raised in Lochiel.  He and my dad went to school together at the old Sunny Hill School between Lochiel and Ninnes. Neither of them were overly interested in schoolwork, but both excelled in their strong connection for community.

Sadly, John, who claimed the title as Lochiel’s “unofficial Mayor”, passed away after a short illness last month, but the incredible gifts left behind by his service to the community will remain forever.

Today, the theme for International Volunteer Day, is “If Everyone Did”. If everyone volunteered, the world would undoubtedly be a better place. And if everyone did just a fraction of what John Nicholls did, the future would undoubtedly be bright, fun and a little bit out of left field!

His farewell was as unique as the man himself – attended by close to 1000 mourners at the Lochiel Oval, where he had played and umpired footy, donned the cricket whites, taken the team photographs for his beloved Hummocks Watchman Eagles for decades, waved the white flags , was chief chip-cooker and played a vital role in the upkeep and development of the facilities through numerous club amalgamations.

Strapped to the back of his old farm ute, his coffin- hand-painted by Snowtown artist, Anna Herburt, passed through the goal posts one last time, as a local pilot gave a well-deserved tribute from the skies above.

“Well, I was born in a small town. And I live in a small town. Probably die in a small town. Oh, those small communities.”

A fitting farewell song by John Cougar Mellencamp echoed John’s sentiment for his community perfectly.

 

“John’s Pet” – a painting by artist Anna Herbert.

 

An excerpt from his funeral service read – “John was loud and bold. He brought colour, conversation and humour to all who had the pleasure of his company. Whilst his voice will no longer be heard above the crowds or his hair flapping in the wind, there is evidence of his presence everywhere we look in the community. His fingerprints touched nearly every project, some of which include the Lake Bumbunga Interpretive Trail, the Loch”eel” Monster Project, town History Book, Hall, Community Centre and Sporting Precinct.”

John was the driving force behind the tree trimming on Highway One, which quite literally opened Lochiel’s iconic Pink Lake up to the World. He became the region’s unofficial tour guide, hosting a team from RM Williams for a photo shoot, as well as photographers and models from Adelaide Fashion Festival and designer brand, Mimco.  Never one to shy away from spruiking the treasure that he called home, he also appeared on HelloSA, South Aussie With Cosi and Sunrise and shared some yarns with fellow-legend, Tim Minchin, during the filming of Foxtel series, Upright.

Between volunteering for the local CFS, SA Ambulance, Lochiel Progress Association, YP Field Days committee, Landcare, Rural Youth and sitting as an elected member of Wakefield Regional Council, its a wonder John had much time for anything else.
But for his four children, Holly, Bonnie, Nick & Mitch, learning the importance of volunteering has enriched their lives forever.

“Mum (Kathy) and Dad instilled in us from a young age the importance of volunteering,” his eldest daughter, Holly Cowan, said.

“Living in a small community, it became a way of life. Sport, church, aged care, the hall, the environment, school – we got carted around to all the meetings. But the enriching part became the friendships and pride which come as a result. Driving through the town and seeing the hall you painted, the tree you planted or the person you made smile made it all worthwhile.”

On this International Volunteers Day, it seems fitting to celebrate the life of John Nicholls—a man who truly understood the essence of community, leaving behind a legacy that will continue to resonate through the Lochiel lake and locals for generations to come.

Just imagine “If Everyone Did”.

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