In memoriam of Bimby John Martin

While they did take up leases in and around the Brindabella’s at various times, most of their time was spent behind a slow moving mob of sheep chasing grass. Eventually his parents took up a lease at Mt Domain, where Tidbinbilla Nature reserve is now, near Canberra. Bimby’s mum told a story of bad weather coming in after they’d shorn the sheep one year while they were there. After filling all the other shelters with sheep, the last of the mob were bought into the house, filling the rooms. The sheep were all they had, they couldn’t afford to lose them. They stayed put at Mt Domain and Bimby made himself useful trapping rabbits through the winter and assisting other locals mustering or moving mobs of sheep to Queanbeyan or Goulburn, all on horseback with packhorse of course.

At 16 he took a job pressing for a Queanbeyan contractor on a Riverina run for 3 months. Hard work, but he had been well prepared for it through his childhood working in the bush. When he was 18 he joined another young bloke from Wagga, Alec Brain, they caught a train to Brisbane, then to western QLD where they both started their shearing careers. Its funny how fate works and when Bimby contracted tetanus while working near Muttaburra, you might might have thought that being on deaths door in the outback with a wife and small child left on their own might be all bad luck, but it had a silver lining. Well, Brainy and his mates looked after his family, Muttaburra just happened to have a doctor there at the time that had a lot of experience with tetanus after working around the pacific islands and, against the odds, he survived. He had no money so had to get back to work as soon as he could. Being left so depleted and weak, he was forced to rethink his shearing method and develop something that didn’t required so much strength. The Wool Board were trying to establish a formal shearer training program and Bimby’s easy flowing style attracted their attention. He was appointed one of 6 key instructors. One for each state, his being NSW. While his shearing ability was undeniable, it was his ability to teach and pass on these skills that made him one of the best known shearers in the industry at the time. While with the Wool Board, he was seconded by the International Wool Secretariat to go to Uruguay and train a selected local shearers to become instructors and improve their wool harvesting.

Time moved on and Bimby was attracted to a job with Sunbeam who were working on projects to improve shearing handpieces, combs and cutters. Bimby worked on the design, development and trialing of the new range and the result was a revolutionary handpiece that wasn’t just functional, it was designed to be easy to hold and control. Metallurgy was improved in combs and cutters and machining was refined so that combs had much finer teeth than ever before. It’s a bit technical I guess but the upshot was the Sunbeam team Bimby was a key part of produced the greatest advancement in shearing equipment in generations. ‘Supergrip’ handpiece, ‘Gem’ cutters and ‘Merino’ combs were what Bimby saw as his greatest achievements while at Sunbeam.

A project was being developed to showcase the Australian sheep and wool industry to the public and Bimby was head hunted and bought on board to manage the ‘Agrodome’ at the old Sydney Showgrounds. Here he managed the whole enterprise but also did shearing demonstrations and worked a few sheep in a yard to demonstrate the skills of a kelpie named Plum and working sheep dog demonstrations

The luster of working within a corporate structure soon wore off and Bimby left to run his own smallgoods distribution business driving a refrigerated truck around Sydney. It wasn’t really any surprise that after 3 or 4 years in the city, the smallgoods run was sold and the family returned to Cootamundra. Bimby and Gwen bought the Wattle Tree Motel which they ran and improved before being attracted to a much larger motel in Bega, the Princes. They ended up staying in Bega for over 10 years before retiring back to Cootamundra.

Its telling that even though Bimby spent many years away from shearing, running his own businesses, he always saw himself as a shearer. This was obviously where he found the most satisfaction and his greatest sense of achievement. This identity was reinforced in 2013 when he was inducted into the Australian Shearers Hall of Fame, an inclusion of which he was extremely proud.

Every family has that one person who can be relied on to offer constant strength and support whatever the situation. Bimby and Gwen were always that stable couple in our extended family who were there to support whoever might have needed it, whether it be refuge, finance or advice, Bimby could be relied on as a backstop and his council was always worth considering. He was a loving and protective father figure not just to his children but many others who came within his sphere of influence.

Its hard to imagine in this digital and urbanized world that people living such pioneering lives are still around. Young-uns today would have no concept of the realities and hardships of Bimby’s early life but then, I suppose, Bimby never saw the need for the internet or ‘streaming’ stuff, even mobile phones were just plain hard work for the likes of him. With Bimby’s death Australia is more step away from our pioneering past.

We are all a bit shocked at Bimby’s death. He was a substantial figure in our lives and you just never really expect people like that to die and leave us. Bimby was a constant figure at the factory, poking around and keeping his eye on things and doing any jobs that needed doing. He spent a lot of time sealing pouches on the band sealer, not a popular job here.

Any sadness we feel is tempered by the fact that he really did lead an extraordinarily full and satisfying life. As his wife Gwen, who stood by his side for 61 years points out; He wasn’t meant to survive tetanus that night in 1959, so he has had 60 bonus years. He honed his skills and reached the very top of his chosen profession, shearing and then went on to be successful in several other endeavours. He was well and widely travelled. He never had to bury any of his children and he had the joy of seeing his grandchildren grow up and knowing his Great Grandchildren.

Bimby really did have a fortunate and positive life and any sorrow we’re feeling is more to do with our own personal sense of loss. It will take quite a while before we stop looking for him for his help with sealing or other random jobs around the factory. Our lives and business are left diminished and we’re constantly reminded by the now empty space Bimby once occupied so fully, he will certainly be missed.

Recently we lost one of our leaders here at Billabong Jerky. Bimby Martin, one of the owners and workers here, passed away a few of days after falling ill. We’re still coming to terms with the fact that he suddenly isn’t here anymore. It wasn’t just that he was here working beside us most days, he really was a wise old elder in our jerky family. Always there to assist in times of strife, always a reliable confidant and advisor for personal troubles when they would befall us.

His life story really is a remarkable one and we thought we might include it here, Take the time, it really is worth the read.

Bimby was born in Queanbeyan January 1938.  His father, Arthur, was a bit of a mystery and his history uncertain. His mother Johanna was a Jones from up Cooma/Berridale way. He had two sisters, Annette and Gay. Bimby Married Gwen at Wallendbeen in 1958 and they had 5 children, Toni, Terri, Rick, Brett and Clint. Today they have 11 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren

Bimby’s early life was pretty transient because Arthur was a sheep dealer and drover. He would sometimes take a job and settle for a while but more often than not, the family would be on the road with sheep. Arthur would buy store sheep somewhere like Goulburn, then drove them up through the mountains or wherever there was grass and sell them whenever and wherever they were fat, often at Cootamundra. Bimby said once as a kid, he helped Arthur bring the sheep from Kiandra down to Tumbarumba via Cabramurra. He remembers staying overnight at Cabramurra and all the snowy workers shouting this kid from the bush soft drink and lollies, pretty good after being on bully beef and sardines for weeks. If you’ve ever seen that steep and heavily timbered country you’d know that it is hard enough to walk through yourself without bringing an old landrover and a mob of sheep with you. Arthur didn’t follow maps, he followed the grass and lay of the land, he knew sheep and he knew dogs. That was their life.