7 June 2024

King’s Birthday honouree swaps organisational volunteering for epic ride in memory of his wife

| Kellie O'Brien
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Colin Rathbone King's Birthday

Colin Rathbone received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the King’s Birthday Honours list for his service to the Kiama community. Photo: Supplied.

Long-time Kiama volunteer Colin Rathbone has shifted his focus from organisational volunteering to his lifelong dream of riding the Bicentennial National Trail from Melbourne to Cooktown on horseback, raising funds for melanoma research in memory of his wife, who passed away from the cancer in 2020 and inspired much of his volunteer work.

However, Colin’s decades dedicated to the Kiama community, including his tenure as president of the Kiama District Sports Association from 1976 to 2021, have not gone unnoticed, being recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the King’s Birthday Honours list.

Colin said the honour was unexpected.

“You do what you do because you want to do it, not because of any rewards you’re going to get, so I was really thrilled,” he said.

“The first organisation I got involved with was the Kiama District Sports Association, and that was just through a love of sport and trying to see what we could do to improve the facilities for all the people in Kiama.

“Then as time went by, I’ve got to blame my wife Veronica, because she was in everything and decided she needed somebody there to move tables and chairs around, so I better join all these organisations as well.”

Those organisations included Australian Red Cross – Kiama branch, Friends of Blue Haven Aged Care Facility, Kiama Friends of Vision Australia and the Kiama Light Horse Brigade.

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“I was instrumental in starting a troupe of the Australian Light Horse in Kiama,” he said.

“We managed to get that done just in time for the centenary of the Light Horse in 2015.”

He said it involved chasing up replica uniforms and attracting three others with horses to be involved, with the troupe now in attendance at ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day and other important occasions.

However, it’s the Kiama District Sports Association he had the biggest impact on, which is an overall body with a representative from every sport that uses outdoor facilities in Kiama, coming together to prioritise project work and allocate grounds to clubs to avoid scheduling clashes.

Colin said he became involved in the sports association in its inaugural year, when Kiama alderman Ken Langstaff started it as a body of Kiama Council, and by the second year had been voted in as president.

He remained in the role for more than 40 years.

“It was the old story that elections come up, and everybody else steps backwards, and you’re the only one left standing,” he said of why he stayed in the role so long.

Colin Rathbone Bicentennial National Trail

Colin Rathbone is on the Bicentennial National Trail with three horses. Photo: Supplied.

However, he said he had stepped away from all volunteer organisations now.

“I’ve stepped away from everything at the moment, because I’m following my lifetime bucket list item of riding the National Trail from Melbourne to Cooktown on horseback,” he said.

“I’ve done the Victorian section which took me three months, and I’m having a bit of a break because the brumby shooting in the national park at Kosciuszko interrupted things.

“So I’m having a bit of a break now, and then I’ll be back into it in another month or two to go north to finish it off.

“I’m doing it as a fundraiser for melanoma research as well, because my wife passed away from melanoma.”

Veronica’s cancer first appeared underneath her toenail and resulted in her undergoing treatment and the removal of the toe, before the melanoma returned in the same foot 10 years later.

Colin said he was doing the 5330 km trail with his “three best mates”: a riding horse and two pack horses, with Colin fully self-sufficient without backup vehicles or people to assist.

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“I heard about it back in 88 when it was announced as a bicentennial project,” he said.

“I said to the family then, ‘I’m going to do that one day’ and then life gets in the way of these things, but now I’ve got no excuses, so I’m into it.”

He sleeps at designated campsites along the trail in a little tent in an open paddock or occasionally a shed.

As he reflected on all that he’d achieved through his volunteer work, he said it was the people that he most valued.

“I couldn’t have done it without all the help and support I got from all the committee people on every organisation I was in,” he said.

“It’s a great community down here.”

To donate to Colin’s ride and the Melanoma Institute Australia, visit the melanoma website or follow his journey on Facebook.

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