Centenery: Bert's ready to celebrate glorious ton
By BELINDA SCOTT
BERT Veness looked at the 9kg jewfish hanging up in Jack Henderson's Jetty backyard and thought 'Lordy, lordy, what have we got here - this is the place for me.'
It was 1936 and Bert Douglas Veness had arrived in Coffs Harbour to work at the Jetty Post Office, where he had opened the front door to find a bullock team grazing on the footpath.
It was a bit of culture shock, because he had moved from prim and proper Gordon in Sydney, where he said things were so starchy he couldn't even chat to the girls across the Post Office counter.
But from his Coffs Harbour lodgings in Korff Street, he could look across the road to see three pretty Brewis sisters in their garden.
Bert Veness decided then and there Coffs Harbour was a bit of all right.
And on Monday he will celebrate his 100th birthday with family, friends and former work colleagues in the garden where the Brewiss sisters played he married Edna Brewis, the youngest sister.
Born in Manilla on August 27, 1907, Bert Veness is one year older than the late Sir Donald Bradman, who shares his birthday. And he is a bit of a legend himself.
He represented his town in cricket, tennis and rugby league and formed Manilla's first swimming club.
He learned to do every job at the post office from messenger boy to postmaster and ended up relieving at every post office from Coffs Harbour to Wingham.
Not long after marrying Edna May Brews in 1939, he was transferred to Sydney, where he was made officer in charge of the Strathfield Mail Exchange, the largest in the state outside the Sydney GPO but World War II had begun and he wanted to join the Army.
He finally bullied his reluctant superiors into letting him go and in 19542 he was posted to the Ninth Division's 2/13 Battalion (the Devil's Own) as a signalman because he could read Morse, lamps and other signal codes "but I wasn't so good at flags."
He was on the other side of the world, in Palestine, when he opened a box of tomatoes and found on the box 'S Brews & Sons, Boambee' - his father-in law.
He managed to explore the Holy Land and spend Christmas Day in Bethlehem before being brought home to fight in the Pacific.
He was sick with malaria and wounded by shrapnel when he arrived back in Australia from New Guinea, but he found himself a job in the Army's District Finance Department and so impressed the Army that they tried to send him to Treasury.
But his wife was having none of it she wanted to come back to Coffs Harbour so they returned in 1948.
The returned soldier was immediately drafted into the Coffs Ex-Services Club, where he is now a life member.
He served on the garden club, the repatriation committee, on the Board and as the club's Treasurer.
When he retired as Treasurer in 1978 the club was debt-free and had a million dollars invested.
He retired from the post office in 1972, one of the last people to receive an Imperial Service Medal from the Queen for his work for the public service.
He received it at the hands of another old soldier, Sir Roden Cutler.
Mr Veness and his wife were both keen fishers and prize-winning gardeners and flower lovers with a special interest in orchids.
Bert Veness also built and cared for the Ex-Service Club's waterfall garden and wishing pool for 20 years, with Lester Smith, raising thousands of dollars for Legacy and Birthright along the way.