by Pam Crowe for 5THE FM newsonline wattlerangenow
The Millicent Library History afternoon guest speaker, Ern Bentley, drew a large crowd on Tuesday 16th September. Mr Bentley reminded some and surprised others with his account of a murder in Millicent where the tennis courts were until recently, on Ridge Terrace. Many years ago it was the site for the E&WS workers camp and after much bullying, a worker decided he’d had enough and shot the bully, a fellow worker.
Mr Bentley came to Australia from Fiji when he was 22 years old and spent much of his working life in the South East, at Naracoorte, Millicent, Penola and Beachport working for the Engineering and Water Supply Dept (E&WS). He worked with the RED Scheme – Rural Employment and enjoyed working with the boys. However some of the girls were another matter until he gained the services of a retired school teacher who had experience in handling young people.
“Some of the communities we worked in used to call us gypsies,” he said. “We’d come into town, set up camp, do the job and move on.”
“The pubs loved us.”
The former Millicent Tennis Court site was the E&WS camp site and for the first 6 weeks after Mr Bentley arrived he experienced the South East winter chill, a far cry from the weather in his homeland of Fiji. He drove to Millicent from Adelaide in car whose top speed almost reached 50 miles per hour he said.
His working life with Council included building the road into South End as project manager. The project was estimated to take about 1 month but he was still there 3 months later and 12 month later and it eventually took several years to complete. He worked in Mt Gmabier in earthmoving, volunteers with St Johns Ambulance, practiced Bowen Therapy for 10 years, is a Lay Preacher and find baptisms and funerals interesting.
“At funerals you usually find out a lot about the person you didn’t know,” he said.
After one funeral an older gentleman approached him and said, “you left out the bit about him and me getting a weekly whalloping from the headmaster.”
Mr Bentley is married and has a son and daughter. His son is in the RAAF and designed the program used to operate un-manned planes and his daughter is decorated detective.
Mr Bentley was awarded the Senior of the Year Award 2013 in recognition for his outstanding contribution to community.