Remembering Michael Excell

ANOTHER connection with the Derwent Valley’s past was severed last month with the passing of Michael Excell at the age of 81.

Born on July 15, 1938, he was a son of Sally and Allan Excell who had a well-known bakery in Burnett St, New Norfolk.

He attended primary school in New Norfolk before becoming a boarder at The Friends’ School in Hobart, where he was once suspended for a week for using his bed as a trampoline.

Michael contracted polio at the age of nine and lost a year of his schooling, spending much of that time in bed. After finishing school he went to work in the family business, which included driving the bread van.

“When it was time to get his driver’s license the policeman said that he had already seen him driving around for the last two years, and thought he already had a license,” grandson Matthew James said when delivering Michael’s eulogy at the New Norfolk Bowls Club on March 19.

Michael as a boy.

With his licence in hand without the trouble of a driving test, Michael went on to drive trucks on the West Coast. He had his own truck at one stage, before going to work George Johnson. Returning to the valley in 1961, he began working with Ayers Coaches and this is where he met his wife-to-be.

Michael married Irene Joan Menzie in August 1962 and moved into their newly-built home at Lawitta. “This is still their home today, and has very much been a central point for both the Menzie and Excell families as the location of many Christmases and family dinners,” Matthew said. “Nan has always been the love of Pop’s life. Married for almost 60 years, he well and truly chose a partner that he would love and cherish forever.”

The couple’s daughter Donna Maree  was born in July 1963, and 11 months later came son Raymond John. “There’s a tale that a very young Raymond once ran inside to tell his mother: ‘Dad’s broken all your flowers down’. What he didn’t say was that Dad’s just fallen off the roof!” Matthew said.

In February 1964 Michael started working at Australian Newsprint Mills. Boyer, with various tasks in the pulp mill and grinder room. He moved to the pump station at Lawitta in June 1978 until he took early retirement two weeks before his 55th birthday, in late June 1993. While working at ANM he had the Golden Fleece petrol agency delivering fuel to farms and logging companies.

Michael with his children
Raymond and Donna.

Other jobs for Michael included driving for Bernie Ross and Alan Hanson, and being a farmhand at Tribolet’s dairy at Magra. After working on other people’s farms, Michael decided to buy 75 acres at Lachlan in the early 1970s, which he named Don–Ray after his children. “Many hours were spent picking up rocks and replacing fences. Michael ran cattle and turned a lot of overgrown unusable land into workable pasture. The farm was later sold in 1978,” Matthew said.

In earlier years, Michael’s sporting life consisted of cricket, rowing and badminton. Later in life he found interest in fly fishing and lawn bowls. “Lawn bowls was a sport he loved, although I don’t know what he enjoyed more, the bowls or hanging out with his mates.

“The New Norfolk Bowls Club was a very special place for him and that’s why it was his request that this service be here. He really loved this place. He would bring me here as a kid all the time, in fact I remember pouring beers for some of you when I was something like eight years old.

“He was rostered on for ‘Sunday school’ as they called it, which was volunteer bar duty. I got behind the bar once, and found it heaps of fun, so did it every week when I was here in the school holidays. “Pop and his mates thought it was a great laugh – the pint-pouring eight-year-old – although questionable now, at the time nobody batted an eyelid.”

Michael with grandson Matt.

Michael won numerous bowls club championships, was a Southern Tasmania Bowls Association Delegate, a national umpire, and travelled to NSW annually for the Peet-Kay series. “He spent time as a board member and was club president in 1980-82 and again in 1994-96. He is a life member of this club and I thank the New Norfolk Bowls Club and its members past and present for giving so much purpose and enrichment to his life.”

Matthew recalled a day spent painting a wall at the bowls club when he was about nine, with Michael insisting that the job be finished. Not feeling the best when he got home, Dr Sweet was sent for, and Michael was soon being rushed to the Royal Hobart Hospital by ambulance. “He’d had a heart attack, and finished painting the bloody wall,” Matthew said. “He had triple bypass surgery shortly after.”

Matthew described his grandfather as a man who loved helping people, often going out of his way to visit and provide company to those that were unwell and sometimes unable to leave the house. “He was a compassionate man that was at his happiest when he would see his family succeed.

“Pop was an absolute larrikin. While a naturally confident person, he also had no shame and was always the first person to take the mickey out of himself. Although not a big joke teller, he did love making people smile and feel good about themselves. He was genuinely a good bloke.”

Joan and Michael Excell and family.

Michael Excell died at New Norfolk on March 12. He is survived by his wife Joan, their children Donna and Raymond, grandchildren Sydney and Matthew, and their families.

The funeral service at the New Norfolk Bowls Club was conducted by the Reverend Celia Hooker.

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