If you're local to Heathcote, it's likely you knew John Hall.
Brother of Fay Lyall, John was born in town. And he was 84 when he passed away earlier this month at Warramunda Aged Care facility in Kyabram.
Even if you didn't know John, the story of his final days is humbling and moving.
You see, it's the story of his dying wish.
It’s the stuff of Hollywood, of romance authors and, more closer to reality, of dreams that never quite turn out. Except sometimes we do get everything we wish for.
Making John Hall a rarity.
The 84-year-old retired farmer and passionate amateur horse trainer died earlier this month. In his sleep, peacefully. But with a smile on his face.
A man described by daughter Michelle as once having been “ridiculously active” had a series of health setbacks late last year that saw him end up in hospital.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, he was cut off from his land, his animals and his life. Condemned by age and health to a world shrunk down to a bedroom and constant medical care, and then the transition to the aged care home.
Where, miraculously, a chain of events would be triggered that would give this old-school Aussie bloke the farewell he so badly wanted — and that he assumed would never have.
Michelle said the amateur trotting trainer had become something of a recluse later in life, and that his farm meant the world to him.
“He always felt safe there (the farm),” she said.
A resident at Warramunda Aged Care, he was talking to after-care services manager Melitta Zobec, who asked a simple but compassionate question.
“John was very sick, and we had a frank conversation about if there was anything we could do for him, or anything he needed before something happened,” she said.
She still has a chuckle at his first response: for dancing girls.
But then he mentioned his farm and his animals, how could he not have them when they meant so much to him (along with a cold beer).
“I told him I would do everything I could to make it happen,” she said.
John’s condition meant it wasn’t simply a case of walking out to the car and enjoying the drive; Melitta said his health meant there was no way to get him anywhere without an ambulance.
But given the strain on emergency services, Melitta didn’t think that would be an option. It hardly seemed reasonable to tie up something so important for a trip down memory lane.
Then Melitta had an epiphany — the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It was a flash of inspiration.
“I just messaged their Facebook page and they were really excited and willing,” she said.
Immediately on board and determined the trip would be at no cost to John or his family, the RFDS had within an hour broadcast a call for help and several mobile patient care team members had signed on as volunteers before the clock ticked over that 60 minutes.
RFDS chief executive Scott Chapman described the trip for John as “one of compassion and humanity — two of the principles that have driven the Royal Flying Doctor Service for more than 90 years”.
“We are proud to support the needs of country Victoria and feel privileged to be part of the local communities that help people every day,” Scott added.
Warramunda EN Faye Robinson also went along for the ride and was with John when, for the first time in six months, he saw his horses again.
Faye and the RFDS volunteers agreed their participation in this short outing had been incredibly emotional and humbling.
“It was an honour,” she said. “It wasn’t a perfect day weather wise, but it was the most perfect day for John.
“His eyes were fixed on the horses for a long time. They were so expressive, you could literally see him just lighting up.”
She said the RFDS team went above and beyond to help John have the best day, including getting his bed across gravel lanes to get him as physically close as possible to his favourite horse.
And, of course, making sure the beer was nice and cold. No one could have known it would be his last glass.
Warramunda chief executive Sandi Websdale said she felt a deep sense of satisfaction John had been ‘home’ before dying just hours later.
“I really believe he found closure,” she said. “We got to grant him his dying wish. Through the years we have seen many people wait for that someone, or that something, before they let go.
“We couldn’t have asked for more from the RFDS and their staff, they went above and beyond and we are all so very grateful for their participation and efforts.
“I am also so proud of our staff. Melitta is such a delightful case in point that Warramunda is an organisation that cares.
“To take the time, and to not only ask the questions she did, but also to act on them – that is compassion.
”It’s a reminder of our purpose and why we are doing this.”
Melitta said it was hard to find the words that truly explained how she felt, knowing her actions had helped John find peace.
“I just kept thinking that it is what I would want to happen if it was my dad, or my grandad.
“I know how old farmers are with their farms. He was holding on until he got back there, and I’m so glad we could all help make it happen.”