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Central West Queensland since 1923
Central West Queensland

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22 July, 2020

Bonnie Doon hero honoured 80 years on

NEARLY 80 years after rescuing a small child from a burning homestead on Bonnie Doon, a sheep station 74 kilometres south of Blackall, Robert (Bob) Pickersgill has been posthumously awarded a Bravery Medal (BM) for his actions.

By Hamish Hart

Braving the flames…Queensland Governor, His Excellence the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC (left) presented Robert Pickersgill’s posthumous Bravery Medal to his son Douglas.

The announcement of the award was made by Queensland Governor, His Excellence the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, in August last year. Bob’s son Douglas accepted the medal on behalf of his deceased father two weeks ago during a private ceremony at Government House.

“As the only child in the family, I was greatly honoured to accept the award,” Mr Pickersgill said. “I’m very proud and more than happy to have received the medal on behalf of my father.”

On November 26, 1940, Bob Pickersgill was working on the station when he was alerted to a fire at about 12.15pm. He rushed to the house and tried using a garden hose to extinguish the flames but that proved futile.

During the panic it was discovered four-year-old Aileen, daughter of the McWilliams who owned the homestead, was missing. Fearing the worst, Bob stormed into the burning building without hesitation and began searching for the child.

He found a scared Aileen in the bathroom where the ceiling was on fire. Bob grabbed the four-year-old and rushed out of the house which was completely engulfed by flames and destroyed shortly after.

Mr Pickersgill said a reunion between himself and Aileen McWilliams (now Harrison), the person his father rescued, was delayed due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

“Aileen’s daughter heard a talk I did on radio and that’s how we got back in touch,” Mr Pickersgill said. “They live between Toowoomba and Dalby. We tried to catch up but the pandemic stopped that and it’s also a bit of a drive.

“We keep in touch through email and phone, and the Governor said he was going to pass his regards on to Aileen which was great to hear.

“She is a nice person who has been heavily involved with the coal industry in the Dalby region. It’s good to see her doing well.”

In a coincidental career move, Douglas Pickersgill established global fire protective company Fire and Safety Systems in 1993 during his over 50-year career in the industry.

He said he was proud of his father’s achievements, believing it fitting to have accepted the medal 80 years after the station fire.

“My father had been in the area for a considerable part of his life and he had a close bond with the McWilliams,” Mr Pickersgill said. “He was treated as a member of the family.

“My dad was a country person at heart. He worked on the land, was a sheering contractor and was a very humble person. He never spoke a great deal about his early life.

“With his passing in 1975, I read through his old papers where I came across a clipping of the fire story. It was great to find.

“He was greatly admired and a man’s man.”

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