Lionel loves it
Monday, 13th May, 2013
The BHFL best and fairest medal is named after him, and so are the BHFL meeting rooms, but there’s more to living legend Lionel Johnston than just football, writes Paul Armstrong
Lionel Harry Johnston was born at the Broken Hill District Hospital on December 23, 1922.
He married his sweetheart Patricia and they had children Peter, Jennifer, Christopher and Suzanne. He now has 11 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. Sadly, Patricia passed away in 2004.
Lionel’s family lived in Silverton and his father worked for the Silverton Tramway before moving into Broken Hill during the war years.
His early education was at the Silverton public school before entering the Broken Hill High School and gaining the Intermediate Certificate.
Often he would travel by goods train into school from Silverton and on occasion did not return home until 9 at night due to the train timetable. On other occasions, Lionel would ride his bike over the rutted, dusty road back home.
During his schooling here he would stay with relatives and would later board with them when he gained work.
After school he studied accountancy, typing and shorthand at the Thompkins and Hoskins Business College. At age 17 Lionel gained employment at the North Broken Hill Limited mine and continued his studies at night.
At 19 he joined the RAAF and served for four years during those harrowing times. On joining up he was taken to Adelaide for medical tests (“Please cough, you’re in”) and was moved onto Shepparton for training then to Bradfield Park in Sydney before being posted to Townsville.
After a few months Lionel was posted to the Signals Security Section of 45 Operational Base in Port Moresby when the battle was taking place on the Kokoda Track. He spent his 20th and 21st birthdays in camp. Lionel said wryly, “We flew to Port Moresby by Short Sunderland Flying Boat and we were herded into a stripped out plane like a herd of sheep.”
During his service Lionel was involved with a number of American soldiers and was a cipher assistant who took care of the aircraft secret codes during combat.
Apart from travelling up the Kokoda Track to the Red Cross hut, Lionel was also at the base which was strafed by Japanese bombers on occasions, with his steel hat his only comfort. In one raid more than 100 enemy planes bombed the area, but he was not injured.
“In an effort to supplement our diet we bartered with the Fuzzy Wuzzies to take us out fishing,” he said. “We would catch 15 fish and in return give them tinned fruit.”.
After spending 17 and half months in the tropical heat, Lionel returned home on leave only to strike snow at Orange on the journey. Later he was posted to RAAF Eastern Headquarters in Double Bay, Sydney for a short period. He was then moved to Morotai Island by HMAS Kanimbla.
Lionel was then sent to an island between Borneo and the Philippines called Labuan, with the advanced echelon of the 1st Tactical Air force, in preparation for the invasion of Singapore.
With a faint tremble in his voice, Lionel said “The Atomic bomb was dropped in Japan while I was there. The invasion thus became redundant.”
He was discharged in 1946 and recommenced work at the North mine as a Pay Clerk. Later he was appointed as the Correspondence Clerk. With a smile he added, “I was in charge of the girl typists and was an assistant to the manager’s secretary.”
Lionel later moved to the Personnel Department as Registrar and continued his work until that fateful day in 1982 when he took retirement at age 59. He had worked for the North mine for 43 and half years, an outstanding effort.
Sport played a major part in the Johnston family’s life over many decades and the sound of red ball on willow bat is entrenched through three generations.
“I began playing cricket with my brothers when we were young lads and I played under the captaincy of my father in the Silverton cricket team. In the early days we would play against Cockburn in home and away matches. The travelling was a bit tough.”
After the war, Lionel, Ron and Allen Johnston played with the Austen and Tom Brown brothers in the St Peter’s team. Lionel then joined Central and played in Premierships in 1961-2 and 62-3. In the 1961 season Lionel created a long lasting record of 59 wickets in a season.
Because of his sensational efforts for Central over the years he became a founding member and No1 Life Member.
Through the decades Lionel played in tennis teams in Silverton, Broken Hill and the North mine with premierships resulting. Later he took on table tennis and acquitted himself very well over many years.
He is also a foundation member of the Eagles baseball club which was born from the Sunday morning tennis players. Then there is his passion for the art of golf.
“I love it. I am in the Sunrise Golfers squad but there are only two of us left as the others have passed away. My mate Neil Terrell and I hit off at daybreak and play three times a week over nine holes. It keeps us fit.”
In an outstanding effort, Lionel celebrates 50 years of involvement with the BH Football League this year. He continues to work at the Jubilee Oval and assists where possible at 90 years of age.
In 1964 he was requested to help the League when a secretary was required. “I agreed to help for a couple of weeks; I’ve been there fifty years.”
Also in his tenure he was on the SANFL Affiliated Leagues Council for 10 years.
Today Lionel volunteers his time to a sport much loved by him and for the youngsters coming through the ranks. With a wink, he said “I love driving the ride on lawn mower around the Jubilee Oval.”
The following awards were for meritorious service; SANFL merit award for service to football, National Australian Football council merit award for service to football, Commonwealth Award-Services to sport, BH City Council Australian of the Year 1987, Barrier District Cricket League Life Member, Central District Cricket Club Life Member, BH Football League Life Member, and BH Football Association Life Member.
In 1998 the Middleton medal was renamed the Lionel Johnston Medal for the BHFL’s best and fairest player and last year the BHFL meeting rooms were named Lionel Johnston House.
There are so many superlatives we can use in describing Lionel Johnston and his efforts within the community. I think we can agree that Lionel is an exceptional person and a wonderful Living Legend.