Paddy Maguire has a million stories, mostly ending with a deadpan punchline, a wry smile, and a wink. As an engineer, he helped build the first heart and lung machine in Australia, invented the familiar three-wheeled stand transfusion recipients cart around, and designed and fabricated the first safety rails for yachts.
For pure design and ingenuity you can’t beat mother nature, and from a young age Paddy was drawn to the bush. In 1958, when he heard the Victorian Field & Game Association (FGA) was being formed in Gippsland, he rushed to join.
“In 1951, at 19 years of age, after cleaning the bush alone or with my camping mates I joined my first volunteer group along the Murray River near Echuca,” Paddy said.
“In 1958, on a trip back to Melbourne I read about the formation of the VFGA but because I was living in Sydney all I could do was donate some cash.”
A year later Paddy moved back to Melbourne and became an active member.
“It was an opportunity to join with others to repair the environmental damage of the past,” he said.
“In our early days a Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) representative came to our meetings to talk about their work. He said they were nearly broke, so I gave them a good donation and they made me a life member. A lot of our members dug deep to keep them afloat.”
For years Paddy was active with both organisations but he eventually tired of the “social” outings with a little work on the side conducted by the VNPA.
“There was no comparison with FGA working bees which were well planned and organised, the members were not afraid of hard yakka,” he said.
One early effort at Kerang involved a controlled burn at a 1200 acre wetland which had been used as a dumping ground. The clean-up was a slog, but after several weeks the light rubbish had been collected and bagged and the larger junk like old water tanks, car bodies and bathtubs, removed with heavy machinery and crushed.
The work continued with 15 000 trees and plants planted by Field & Game volunteers.
“Years later I revisited the swamp, it was healthy and thriving and alive with birds and wildlife,” Paddy said.
“As an Irishman would remark, it was as if the hand of man hadn’t set foot there since creation.”
Paddy had always been drawn to the bush, and from age nine, when graduated from slingshot and bow and arrows to his first firearm, he was a hunter.
A second-hand slug gun received as a birthday gift at age 10 wasn’t a licence to hunt anything. A family version of the pest animal bounty was in force.
“The ammo was restricted because of the cost,” Paddy recalled.
“I had to hunt some pest birds or rats to get extra ammunition.”
At 15, a Harrington & Richards 16-gauge shotgun was just the ticket for a trip to Werribee with some mates to hunt ducks.
“My first real duck opening was at Kow Swamp near Gunbower; my two brothers, one 15, the other 16, myself and four ex-servicemen who were relatives of my mates,” Paddy said.
“The men slept on the grass with a tarpaulin over them in case it rained and the seats from the old Chevrolet were taken out for the boys to sleep on as best we could.
“We had no training at all, not much sleep, no waders, mosquitoes as big as blackbirds and we got no ducks although the men got quite a few.”
Around 1950 Paddy went to Third Marsh near Kerang for opening, he recalls it was filled with live trees, good cover and birds.
“I got 15 ducks before lunch.”
A good result soon spoiled by a youthful mistake. Paddy had not thought ahead and they spoiled while he was off checking the progress of the rest of the hunting party. The next day he cleaned a fresh bag of birds and headed straight home via the ice works in town.
Jack Drewitt, a fine gun and bushman, became an early mentor and a partner on regular hunting trips.
“He instilled the golden rules,” Paddy said.
“Work hard, do your best, only hunt for food or for pest animals and above all, respect the bush and the wildlife.”
Campsites had to vanish, leaving the area as if you had never been there. Spare time was spent cleaning up after less principled campers. It was the basis for Paddy’s lifelong interest in conservation.
For Christmas 1953, after finishing school, Paddy was given a Renault 750 and the following year he quit his job to go exploring in central Australia. His equipment was rudimentary, but a .22 Mossberg rifle, some fishing line and tackle, tinned food, powdered milk and a box of matches seemed enough to get by.
“I hung a water bag on the front bumper like I’d seen the bushies do, and I did buy a sleeping bag along the way after finding the stones an uncomfortable bed when no grass was available,” he said.
Roads were gravel or dirt and mostly single lane; but the road from Adelaide to Alice Springs didn’t exist.
“I was young, fit and adventurous and I reckoned on learning from my mistakes,” Paddy said.
“My system worked but I fell into every trap along the way and carry the scars to prove it.
“The water bag died a disastrous death on the rough roads but a kerosene tin made a good substitute apart from the nasty taste.”
Mixing with rough and tumble bushies, indigenous communities, farmers, drovers, prospectors, drifters and the odd criminal seeking to remain undiscovered gave Paddy a real education. Life skills, philosophy, self-reliance and bushcraft were collected on his travels, along with a host of stories to be told and retold.
“I once came across an Aboriginal man 100 miles from anywhere who had a fire going, some bellows, an anvil and a hammer,” Paddy said.
“He was sharpening the bit for a large water boring drill, working in the heat and flies to get it ready before the foreman arrived with the rig. The indigenous people were great hunters and survivors.”
Paddy describes Tennant Creek in those days as a town at the end of a lumpy track too rough for cars.
“It had two pubs, a store and a café with food, mostly inedible,” he laughed.
“I ordered ammunition from Harris Scarfe in Adelaide and my pastime was hunting something to cook on the open fire. I was able to hit rabbits on the run and even a few wild duck en route to Mt Isa.”
Paddy returned from his outback adventures to take up a position as a maintenance engineer at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital.
He became fast friends with a fellow in the workshop called Charlie Dixon, a trained gunsmith who repaired and modified guns for clients across Victoria.
“He made “Dix” compensators and variable chokes but he didn’t have a car so I used to run him around to pick up and drop off jobs. Through Charlie, I met George Biggs (Hartley’s Sports in Flinders St), Horrie James (Donald McIntosh’s in Lonsdale St) and Fred Shearer in Malvern, all champion shots.”
Paddy’s father came from Gippsland and he found himself returning regularly to an area close to his heart.
“I met Dr Hugh Martin in 1957 or 1958 and joined the VFGA,” he said.
Because of odd work hours Paddy wasn’t able to join committees but he loved the working bees, nest box projects, fox drives and clay target shoots. He helped establish the Serendip sanctuary and has been a generous benefactor of conservation and other projects over the years.
Paddy describes a lot of conservationists as “walk and gawk”, he much preferred getting his hands dirty with the sort of practical work done by Field & Game. He helped with the establishment of ibis rookeries at Rhyll on Phillip Island and at Kerang, the restoration of important wetlands and the establishment of shooting grounds at Ararat, Sale, Lysterfield and Cape Schanck (Port Phillip).
“I’ve had a few pats on the back but I lift my lid to all the others that have given so much more,” Paddy said.
“My real reward is to see how far Field & Game has developed. It is great to drive through the farming areas and not see holes in every sign and windmill blade. We give young people the opportunity to become involved in an organisation where they learn safety and respect for the environment and wildlife.”
Paddy’s final word is on hunting and the activists who oppose it.
“To me, ethical hunting is not cruel and it poses no threat to sustainable wildlife populations, it is just another method of gathering food,” he said.
Now in his mid-80s Paddy is finding it more difficult to contribute in the hands-on way he prefers but he encouraged FGA members to keep doing the hard yakka.
“As a strong organisation we will always be a wonderful help to the Aussie environment,” he said.