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A Tribute To A True Lover Of The Bush – Kevin Hill

Kevin at Gringer Creek Campsite
Kevin at Gringer Creek Campsite

Kevin Hill grew up at Deanmill near Manjimup and spent his whole life in that area, apart from two years of National Service. He loved the bush, happiest when surrounded by the robust smell of the undergrowth and the eucalypt trees, and he could never understand why everyone else didn’t feel the same!

“This is God’s country, why would you live anywhere else?”

In 2003 Kevin was diagnosed with diabetes Type 2 and he became dedicated to fighting it without medication, so he began walking.  Most mornings he would be out the door before daylight, walking up to seven kilometres on the heritage trail from Manjimup to Deanmill. Then home for a shower, breakfast, and off for a long day at work. He also modified his diet and was very proud that his sugar levels stayed low.

He had previously had cardiological problems and had a stent in a main artery which made him a bit nervous of over-exerting himself, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. He joined the South West Adventure Ramblers in Manjimup, where he met a couple of serious walkers with whom he had some wonderful treks on the Bibbulmun Track. He came home tired, but with a big smile and determination to do more.  He was hooked!

2008 was the centenary of Manjimup Shire Council and as part of the celebrations Kevin rallied a team of seven walkers to walk the shire from end-to-end—from Green Island near One Tree Bridge to Walpole. It took two weeks and during the first week the extended summer drought broke and it rained, and rained—and rained, real south-west downpours, but  nothing dampened their spirits and they all completed the 375km, which was the longest walk any of them had ever made.

Kevin’s long-time dream after retiring was to walk the Bibbulmun Track from end-to-end in one hit, and all through 2013 the excitement mounted.  He did months of planning and preparation, training with his loaded pack until he was sure he was ready.   His food drops were all lined up in order at home, nothing had been forgotten.

He had set the date months ahead, on September 1st he would be off and racing from Kalamunda.  We drew up a spread sheet of his food for the day, each night’s camp, and booked accommodation at Dwellingup and Collie. Family and friends, including family in America and UK, had a copy of his itinerary so they could follow his dream.  His brother-in-law was to meet him at Balingup and camp a night with him, the freezer at home had sausages, chops and bacon labelled all ready for the feast they would share over the camp fire. We waved farewell to him as he headed off. The beginning of his dream had arrived, he was fired. For the first time on any of his walks he had taken a journal with him, so we have a record of each day’s walk and in that we can see how hard he found those first few days.

He met up with a young couple from Victoria and had great camp fire fellowship with them.  When his daughter Julie met up with him on day four as planned, she had already had a phone call to bring extra meat,  he wanted to share the barbecue with his walking mates.  One of Kevin’s joys in life was to cook feasts to share.

Twelve days into the walk was a rest day at Dwellingup. Kevin was intending to make the most of this stop over at the Dwellingup Hotel, where he  met up with a niece who took a photo of him looking absolutely radiant, before he retired early for a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed.  Next day, daughter Julie drove down from Fremantle to spend the day with him.

But it was not to be. Kevin passed away in his sleep. We assume that something went wrong in those arteries of his, calcification may have been stirred up and escaped into his heart.  He was only 67 years old and should have been able to enjoy many more years of walking, but fate had a different plan.

Our consolation is that he had no warning, that he enjoyed his life to the last and never doubted for one minute that he would arrive triumphantly in Albany, completing his end-to-end dream.  The phone call he made home before he went to sleep on that last night was full of excitement and assurance that he was having the most fantastic, wonderful time and that he had found an inner peace he had never known before being out on the Track—perhaps familiar to other Track walkers?

So yes, we have a few consolations—this is one.

Over the years relatives had visited from England, and Kevin was in his glory taking them out in the bush for short walks to show them the Bibbulmun Track shelters. He wanted them to see his life’s High Street choice, so different from theirs. His enthusiasm fell on receptive ears—one of the rellies who visited in 2012 decided that on his next visit he would walk a section of the Track with Kevin and experience this Bibbulmun Track High Street for himself.

These are the relatives who have raised the money to adopt the Beavis dunny, on Kevin’s behalf. Initially, without consulting we Aussies, they contacted the BTF to ask if a commemorative plaque could be installed along the Track. This was not possible, but the dunny adoption project was suggested, and they then contributed $500 for the dunny dedication.

We Aussie Hills are humbled and very grateful to them for this tribute.

Kevin’s funeral was held at Deanmill Workers Club, where he was a Life Member.  A camp fire was lit in the grounds with the flames licking around a blackened tea billy and a camp oven, with attendees welcomed to Kev’s last camp fire. All who walk the Track will understand his pleasure at being out there, totally at one with nature.  Perhaps it might be asked, “what more could you wish for during your last days on earth?”

Kevin had been heard to say if he died on the Track he would be happy—we were just to go look for him, dig a hole and leave him there at peace with nature.