Stories-Current

Adventurous teacher who rose to great heights 
- John Damian Taylor

23-7-1953 – 10-8-2005

By PETER CAMPBELL.
Published in The Age, 1 December 2005

JOHN Taylor, a teacher and a natural leader who took on myriad challenges – from route-finding through a whiteout in deadly crevasses on a glacier to flying to remote areas across Australia, fighting fires and building a mud brick house – has died in Alexandra of a short battle with cancer. He was 52.

Taylor, who came to Australia from England with his family when he was seven, embraced his new national identity and loved Australia’s rugged challenges.

He lived in Eltham in the 1960's and attended Our Lady Help of Christians primary school. He was drawn to outdoor activities and joined the 2nd Eltham Sea scouts and took part in their camping and water activities.

Taylor’s life was focussed on the outdoors. He was a committed and capable rock climber, bushwalker and mountaineer who introduced many people to these activities. In turn, they trusted him with their lives; his natural enthusiasm for the challenge of the outdoors was infectious.

For five alpine seasons he climbed in New Zealand, scaling among others Mt Aspiring, Malte Brun, Mt Sefton and Mt Avalanche. In Europe, he climbed Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Monta Rosa. In Switzerland’s Bernese alps he climbed the Fiescherhorn, the Finsteraarhorn, the Monch and the Jungfrau in the space of four days.Taylor’s exceptional climbing ability and motivation, coupled with his reliability and focus on safety made him a much sought after climbing partner.

After reaching the summit of the Matterhorn, his descent was halted for a rescue below. Overtaken by darkness, he spent the coldest and longest night of his life tied on a ledge looking down at the glittering lights of Zermatt in the valley far below – thinking he would perish. Great strength of character and toughness saw him greet the next sunrise and continue down.

Many of John’s companions over the years appreciated his camaraderie and ability to always see the humorous side of situations, even when things looked grim. His cheery side shone through in the face of adversity and lifted spirits. He developed an incredible toughness; he was the one to help you out of a crisis.

After graduating with honours in agricultural science at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, John married Helen Godfrey in 1983. He experienced a challenge to his sometimes gruff exterior with the arrival of his two daughters Emma and Laura, of whom he was very proud.

Living near Alexandra, John impressed the locals with his care of the land, stock selection, farming and building his substantial mud-brick house with Helen. When his steers topped the market the word “hobby” disappeared from his farm, which made him very proud.

Taylor joined the Acheron Fire Brigade in 1986 and then broadened his knowledge of firefighting by joining the Alexandra Urban Brigade. He became a popular and inspiring captain and leader at Acheron: not afraid to initiate new ideas, he excelled at training and in encouraging members to join and attend, then tutor them for management roles.

His motivation, patience and persistence earned him great respect.His leadership and determination was instrumental in maintaining the Brigade at Acheron when numbers where down and the CFA was considering closing it down.

Taylor not only fought fires around the district but major campaign fires in New South Wales, the Strathbogie Ranges and the Northeast fires in 2003. But his main priority was always to the Acheron Brigade and the local community.

In later years, Taylor developed a keen interest in flying. Not satisfied with local flying he obtained a commercial licence and embarked on numerous Australia-wide safaris. He flew to Birdsville via Bundaberg, across the Tanami desert to the Kimberley, and across the Simpson Desert to Alice Springs. He flew over Lake Ayer, around Ayers Rock, the Olgas, the Bungle Bungles, the Buccaneer Archipelago, Prince Regent Gorge, and up Cape York to Thursday Island.

Taylor was also a great ambassador for Australia. While on teaching exchange for a year in Canada he presented slideshows and talks about Australia and struck up many friendships with his Canadian colleagues and flying friends.

Taylor displayed great commitment to his teaching career, his colleagues and his students. With great perseverance and dedication he established and administered the computer network and computing education at Alexandra High School. He enjoyed playing games of cat and mouse on computer security with the students.

His favourite teaching method was to set his students a challenge, which they always rose to. He pioneered and established an introduction to aviation subject for students to experience and learn about flying at a nearby airstrip.

Taylor had the ability to draw the best out of people. He changed many people’s lives for the better with his example of living his dreams and constantly striving for excellence.

His funeral was attended by his family, many students and staff from his school, many friends, and the Acheron and Alexandra Fire brigades who provided a guard of honour.

He is survived by his wife Helen and their daughters Emma and Laura, his parents Irene and Aelred, and his three brothers and five sisters from across Australia.

Peter Campbell was a friend and climbing partner of John Taylor