Joan helps Sydney celebrate his 70th birthday in 1990.
Joan helps Sydney celebrate his 70th birthday in 1990.

'Poppy' loved family and life

Sydney Andrew Johnson was a beautiful soul; a gentle man who always put his family first.

He loved life on the land and working on a cattle station near Planet Downs, in Central Queensland.

Called Poppy by his four children, Father by his second wife, Jane, and Syd by mates, he was born on September 14, 1920, at Charleville.

He was the eldest of six children – three sisters and two brothers.

Sydney spent his schooling years at Gunalda before at the young age of 13 he left to work on a farm, where he also learnt to dance.

In 1942 Sydney and some of his mates decided to bump up their ages by a couple of months to 19 so they could join the army and serve in World War II.

Sydney was in the 2nd/25th Battalion, which was posted to the Middle East, where he drove trucks and ambulances.

When he finished his duty in 1945 he would always tell many stories of his service, including when he would drive through mountains at night. It was an army rule not to have your lights on at night, so Sydney and his fellow servicemen would put a foot out the door and feel the edge of the cliff so not to make a wrong turn. It was during one of these times when Sydney was shot in his boot by the enemy.

After the war, he was no longer capable of working on the land because of a bad back so he moved to Rockhampton where he met and married Esmay in 1942. They had a son Desmond but eventually went their separate ways.

In the years following, Sydney met Laura Schneider and they married in the early 1950s. They adopted two children – Graeme and Margaret.

Sadly on March 17, 1961, Laura died of kidney disease.

With the courage that Sydney was known for, he continued on. Then in November 1961, he met Joan in Rockhampton, after placing an advertisement in the local newspaper for a live-in nanny to help care for Graeme and Margaret.

When the pair met it was love at first sight and in 1977 they married.

With Joan and her daughter, Cheryl, the family grew bigger and then the couple had another two children, Ray, who is now 45 and living in Brisbane, and Keith, who is 41 and in Hervey Bay.

In the following years Sydney and Joan were blessed with 19 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Sydney loved to travel and would often pack up the family and take off.

“The love that he gave us of travel and the love he gave us of waking up in the morning and going out and putting the billy on, and boiling the billy with the beautiful smell of the gum trees, will live with us forever,” said Margaret.

“He loved the night sky; he loved the dark.”

It was Sydney’s passion for exploring that led to the family moving to Mackay, Emu Park and eventually, in 2002, to Hervey Bay.

Sydney has been described as having a fantastic character.

After working with vehicles in the army, he enjoyed helping out family and friends by tinkering with their cars.

He was also fascinated with birds and owned finches, budgies, canaries and parrots. Fishing was another of his favourite past-times, while Margaret fondly remembers helping her dad load the trailer full of soil for their garden.

He was also a hands-on man and spent plenty of time building in his shed.

In December 2008, Sydney was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread to his bones.

During his battle he was brave and hopeful.

“His only big concern was Mum all the time,” Margaret said.

“He never worried about himself, he worried about us.

“He was not a selfish man; nothing was about him.”

Up until he was diagnosed Sydney was a very active man, however, after his first treatment of chemotherapy he came down with shingles and lost all of his energy.

It was not until a week or two before his death that he became frustrated with the illness because he could no longer hold books to read and could not write.

On September 20, 2009, aged 89, Sydney died at Hervey Bay Hospital.

His family is still deeply mourning but they are also reminiscing about the gentle man they loved deeply.

“He was just a beautiful soul; just gorgeous,” described Margaret.

“There will never be another one like dad.

“He was just the most kindest, most beautiful man. Dad is just going to be so missed.”


September 14, 1920 —

September 20, 2009

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