THE grief of the Port Campbell and Timboon communities was palpable on Friday where mourners paid their respects to two heroes.
About 2000 people poured into the Timboon and District Hall, attending a touching tribute to the town’s heroes – father and son, Ross (Po) and Andrew Powell – who tragically lost their lives during an Easter Sunday marine rescue.
It was the setting where Ross had first met his devoted wife Val, before settling down into a life of service to the farming community, as well as to the lifesaving and Victorian State Emergency Service (VIC SES) organisations.
His legacy includes being instrumental in getting a new clubhouse for the Port Campbell Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC), being involved in countless rescues, as well as developing the Coastal Marine Search and Rescue Map Book, which features over 180 GPS-recorded locations to enable emergency services agencies to accurately locate incidents.
Ross and Val, who described herself as his ‘lady-in-waiting’ because he gave so much of himself to his community, brought up five children in the small Port Campbell township they were an integral part of, including their youngest, Andy.
Daughter Natalie (Po-ette), remembered Andy as “the glue that held us all together”.
“He was the best student and his greatest teacher was our father,” she said.
“They went everywhere together.”
By all accounts, Andy was in the prime of his life and the happiest anyone had seen him: He had won Young Farmer of the Year 2017, met the love of his life Amber Griffiths, taken over the family dairy farm and was expecting his first child, a daughter due in August.
His friend Tom Westmore described him as the type of mate you look up to so much that you feel entirely unworthy of the friendship.
“Picture the most generous person you know. Now think of the most involved. Now the most successful, and finally the most revered member of your own community,” he said.
“Imagine if each of these accolades belonged to just one person. This is what Andy was to his people.”
Life Saving Victoria chief executive Nigel Taylor, who knew Ross for over thirty years, read a eulogy at the service, saying Ross and Andy were “two peas in a pod” and embodied the soul of the lifesaving movement.
“When people have lived in and around the ocean for long periods of time, they acknowledge that it has a rhythm and a spirit,” he said.
“Po and Andy will now forever be part of the spirit of the ocean in these parts.”
In closing the funeral proceedings, Father Lawrie O’Toole said “Well done, Ross and Andy on a life well lived. Together.”
The pair had their lifesaving patrol hats and VIC SES helmets laid on their caskets, before a procession through a guard of honour, which included VIC SES members from the Western region, lifesavers from Port Campbell, Port Fairy, Warrnambool, Portland, St Kilda and Mildura, as well as heads of emergency services agencies, including Life Saving Victoria personnel, SLSA president Graham Ford, SLSA CEO Adam Weir and RLSSA CEO Justin Scarr.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp and Minister for Police and Emergency Services Lisa Neville were also at the service to pay their respects.
Port Campbell SLSC has been overwhelmed by support following the tragic Easter Sunday passing of two of their most beloved members. Continuing the support, schools across the Corangamite Shire, as well as lifesaving members around the state and country wore the club colour, red, as a mark of solidarity.
After the ceremony, mourners headed to the Port Campbell foreshore, where a special tribute out at sea was held, including a paddle out by the local surfing community, as well as lifesaving surf boats led by the Victorian Surf Rowers League (a passion shared by Ross and Andy), with an ‘oars up’ ceremony and flyover by the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter.
Life Saving Victoria president Paul James said the fact they could lose their lives in such a way highlights the dangers lifesavers and lifeguards around the world put themselves in to rescue others.
“The loss of these two highly qualified and active lifesavers has been felt by all – the Powell family and Amber, the Port Campbell SLSC, the special community here in the south west and our friends at the SES, who share the loss with us,” he said.
“We are all indebted to those who perform such lifesaving duties.
“Today (Friday), we heard so many heart-warming stories of two remarkable men. Two men who shared so much. And gave so much to serve their community. They will forever be in our hearts.”
To donate to the family and community, please go to www.slsfoundation.com.au/portcampbell.
A crowdfunding campaign has been set up to raise funds for Andrew Powell’s partner – Amber Griffiths who is currently pregnant with their child.
To make a donation, visit www.gofundme.com/support-for-andy-powell-family.