John Skinner is one of the young writer panellists. John Skinner is a Vietnam veteran, a journalist, a national rodeo judge, and these are his own words.
I was born in Dorrigo, NSW, on June 1, 1947, to Harold and Olive Skinner and I became the oldest of five. My dad’s family were dairy farmers from Deer Vale, outside Dorrigo; my mothers were wool growers from west of Armidale, NSW, and as the saying goes, ‘never the twain shall meet.’
Both my parents had been ‘man-powered’ during the war and met through a war-time correspondence program. In later years I became a skilled teenage dairyman as well as knowing more about sheep and wool than I had a right to.
We lived in Armidale for some time where my dad joined the NSW Government Railway, later becoming a steam engine fireman and driver. We later moved to Broadmeadow (Newcastle) and when dad was promoted onto the Electrics in Sydney, we moved to Hornsby.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a Christian family, led by my dad, who was perhaps the kindest, most gentle soul I have ever known. Mum on the other hand, had some mental health issues after their fourth child so when dad wasn’t around, I had to be the ‘man’ of the house, offering protection to the younger ones.
It became easier at Hornsby as dad’s work was only just through the back gate and he was home more often (steam work meant barracks and long hours, often days, away from home). I left school in 1963 and I too, joined the NSWGR.
We belonged to the Hornsby Baptist Church where, aged 17, I was baptised and where I met my wife of 47 years, Marion. In 1967, ready to break-away from home and start a new adventure, I joined the Army. Four months later I suffered a smashed femur when accidentally shot by another trainee soldier. I spent three months in traction at Concord Repatriation Hospital, a further three months rehabilitation and then back to the military where I resumed training in September ’68.
I left for Vietnam in February ’69. I served as an infantry rifleman and did what all infantry soldiers do — carried a rifle and a heavy pack, walked miles through jungles, swamps, rivers, over mountains, dug in to the ground and ambushed for days on end, shot and was shot at.
I was wounded by a landmine and was meant to be sent home but ended up seeing out 13 months ‘in country’ and travelled home aboard HMAS Sydney, the ‘Vung Tau Ferry,’ in March 1970.
Marion and I married six months later and I remained a Corporal Clerk with my battalion until 1972 when I took a posting to Tasmania. Our two boys were born there and I left the Army in 1976 to join the Tasmanian Police Service, a job I enjoyed very much, particularly when drafted into the Stock Squad. However the weather in Southern parts wore us down and we decided to look for work closer to family, northern NSW or Queensland.
As a teenager, I had dabbled in the sport of rodeo (as well as every kind of football, cricket, swimming, surfing, tennis and squash), mainly riding bullocks, encouraged by mum’s brothers. It just happened the local rodeo club in Huonville, Tas. where I was stationed, needed a secretary, publicity officer and treasurer and I ‘fell’ into the job. I was also competing in several events and the prize money was a welcome addition to family funds. I started writing for the Rodeo News and became well-known to the rodeo fraternity.
When, in 1982, the job as rodeo administrator for the (then) Australian Rough Riders Association became available in Warwick, Qld., RM (Reg) Williams himself rang me and asked would I consider the job. I started in May that year.
Two things (perhaps three if you consider the birth of our daughter in 1984) happened in Warwick. My faith was revitalised, my life turned around, my conviction as a Christian changed from a walking pace to a long-distance sprint and, in 1984, I met Dr Mark Tronson who founded and headed the Sports Chaplaincy ministry two years earlier.
It took quite a few years but we eventually had an official chaplain on the Pro-Rodeo circuit, praise God. While I administered the Australia-wide rodeo business from Warwick, I also competed, became a Deacon in the local church, and started leading the children’s ministry there.
I worked behind the scenes with the rodeo cowboy ministry, mainly as a mentor, logistics and support person while also arranging cowboy church services throughout the country towns, including Warwick, where we still have a rodeo service in October every year.
By 1987 I was working two jobs, the second as the weekend roundsman for the local newspaper which eventually turned into full-time work but the little known (then) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was taking a toll on my life and by 2000, I could no longer work full-time and became a TPI (Totally and Permanently Incapacitated) which, in its own way, was a blessing.
Good medication and support programs enabled me to continue as a casual rural reporter/photographer for a further 10 years, I was able to increase my voluntary work with the local RSL Sub-branch where I am now president, was able to do more church work and I was able to be of more assistance to the rodeo ministries.
Ministry and Community
I also work with our Girls and Boy’s Brigades doing projects and devotions which I really enjoy.
In 1999, I was asked by the Warwick Show and Rodeo Society to write a biography on a famous campdrafting personality, Theo Hill from Quirindi, NSW, and this has now grown to eight biographical books.
For some years now I’ve been involved with The Glen Rural Fire Brigade south of Warwick and am now First Officer, secretary and Fire Warden for our area.
God’s work in my life has never finished and I’ve found God doesn’t leave you ‘on the shelf’ while he seeks out another role for you.
I had lost contact with Mark Tronson and the Sports and Leisure Ministry probably for about10 years after he and Delma left Timeout in Moruya (AIS athlete respite ministry) for Tweed Heads.
One of our church elders mentioned Mark during one of his messages and we approached him to find out what and where the Tronson family were now.
The next day he sent me a couple of email copies of their news and I sent Mark an email that day. By the next Wednesday I had been ‘hijacked’ into being a sports panellist in his Young Writer’s program. The very next day I had my first assessment to do.
Our eldest son Jason, after spending 20 years in the pig industry in genetics and breeding, is now a full-time school chaplain in Warwick, Inglewood and Texas.
Our second son, Chris, after many years in warehouse distribution and computer technology, is the Associate Pastor at Warwick Baptist Church having completed his degree through Malyon Bible College in Brisbane..
Our daughter, Kate, a para-legal, is also heavily involved with church work as you would expect.
Both daughters-in-law, who happen to be sisters, are involved in church work and our son-in-law, a Dane she met in Montana, USA, is working in agriculture and was baptised in Warwick only five years ago.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html