By CHRISTIAN KNIGHT
A LONG and continuing journey started by a love for fishing has led to Macksville's Owen Rushton being awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the general division in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.
The 49-year-old Bowraville Central School assistant principal said he was shocked and thrilled to receive the accolade for service to the community of Nambucca, particularly through his work for Marine Rescue NSW.
And even the heavy rain this morning couldn't put a dampener on the celebrations.
While his wife Helen had bought a croquet set on ebay and he'd mowed a paddock for a game of backyard cricket, the Rushtons quickly swang to an indoor themed party with family and friends to mark the achievement.
Mr Rushton works for the community in a number of ways: as commander of the local Marine Rescue squad, as a committee member for the Macksville Gift, and as treasurer of the Nambucca Bellingen District PSSA.
And it was his love for wetting a line that began the journey.
"I was born and raised out at Coonabarabran and my father and I loved fishing and at every opportunity we could get, we would head to the coast," he told the Guardian this morning.
"While I was a teachers' college I came across this lovely young lady who lived down here at Macksville and she gave me a good opportunity to go fishing and free board, and so with an opportunity like that it was too good to pass up so we got married and eventually moved back down here to Macksville after a stint out west."
Mr Rushton said wife Helen had been an active supporter in all of his community endeavours.
"She's a large part of the Marine Rescue organisation (as secretary), she's a large part of the Gift organisation (committee member) and she works in the same school (as a librarian)," he said.
The work involved in running the Macksville Gift extends to Mr Rushton's children, Lei, 22, and Luke, 19 - and the family are life members of the committee.
The young Rushtons are also active members of Marine Rescue.
Mr Rushton is well known to readers of this newspaper as a weekly columnist for Marine Rescue - but he laughed off suggestions that now he had an OAM he'd only cross the Nambucca bar in a dinner suit.
"The other members don't let me near the controls of the boat anymore. They feel as if they're safer if I keep pushing the pen," he said.
"It's a good arrangement because they're safe and dry and I keep the paperwork up to speed."
Mr Rushton said the Nambucca Valley was run by volunteers, and said the rewards of contributing were immense.
"Volunteering is a vital part of Australia, it's what keeps it running and there can never be enough volunteers out there.
""You don't get money for it, you get love. It's satisfying to know that another Gift has gone by and that you've had a small part in making it a success, or when we've had a rescue it's satisfying to know that while you may not have pulled that person into the boat, you've been behind getting a crew out there and getting them trained up to the task at hand.
"It's something that people need to experience if they're not already a volunteer."
Owen William Rushton, of Macksville, for service to the community of Nambucca, particularly through Marine Rescue NSW.
Unit Commander/Captain, Marine Rescue Nambucca Heads Unit, Marine Rescue NSW, since 1998; Member, since 1996.
Former chair, Marine Committee, NSW Volunteer Rescue Association; Member, since 1989.
Assistant principal, Bowraville Central School; Teacher, since 1995.
Zone Representative, Nambucca District, NSW Primary Schools Sports Association, since 1999; treasurer, since 2003.