Condolence Motion: Mr Tom Kruse MBE


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (14:18): It is with sadness about his death but also with pleasure about his life that I speak today, on behalf of the people of Stuart, of the passing of one of our heroes, the late Tom Kruse MBE, who died on 30 June just two months short of his 97th birthday.

While I do not pretend to have known him well, I do consider myself very fortunate to have met Tom on two occasions. The first was in the year 2000, when he came in with a group of friends for dinner at Spud's Roadhouse at Pimba, where I lived and worked. He was an elderly man then but still full of life and internal energy and was engaging company.

Although completely unintentional on his part, he was instantly recognisable and obviously considered a star by everyone who saw him. I can clearly remember the excitement of a woman from one of the nearby stations, who rushed in from the bar and burst into the kitchen to tell everyone, with great enthusiasm, that Tom Kruse had come in for dinner. Well, as you can imagine our first thought was, 'Which one?' and as one sharp young staff member instantly quipped, 'Roast lamb or roast beef?' To everyone there that night, Tom came across as a friendly, down-to-earth, genuine person who was comfortable being the centre of attention but certainly did not yearn to be. He was open and welcoming to everybody who wanted to talk with him.

The second time I met Tom was in 2008 in Marree, a very important outback town at the southern end of the Birdsville Track, when a life-size bust of him was unveiled and placed at the Marree telecentre. This vivid and realistic sculpture is a timeless reminder to locals and visitors alike of the importance that Tom Kruse has had and will always have to the town of Marree and the outback more broadly.

That day Tom was physically frailer than he was at our first meeting, but he was certainly on the ball mentally and had lost none of his laid-back charm or his star attraction. We have heard much today from the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition about the history of Tom and his family, including his late wife, Val, sons, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and also about the tremendous achievements and accolades that he has deservingly received throughout his life.

Tom Kruse is a hero, and Tom Kruse will always be an Australian legend. He was one of the very rare people to deservingly earn both those titles during his own lifetime. He does not just stand out today as an icon of a romanticised, bygone era. Tom stood out among his contemporaries and was well recognised for this at that time. Just to put it into context, very few people have had or ever will have a movie made about them during their own lifetime and, because nobody else is up to the task, play themselves in the leading role.

Far more important to his family and close friends than these accolades is that Tom was a very down-to-earth, normal and decent man. He did not seek the limelight, but he did accept it with modesty and openness. He did not set out to be famous but became famous by doing what he did. For me, Tom Kruse is the best kind of hero: a grassroots hero. He achieved and became famous on the back of his own work.

Whether crossing the Simpson Desert, helping to explore for oil or gas in the Cooper Basin, delivering the mail and supplies along the Birdsville Track or, as most of his working life was spent, undertaking earthworks contracts throughout outback South Australia, Tom was recognised for his strength, resilience, determination, skill and, most importantly, his nature. This is so admirably demonstrated by his most notable quote, 'I'm simply doing my job.' Tom Kruse did not do his unique jobs so that he would be well recognised, but he was recognised for doing his unique jobs so well.

In this age of mobile phones, emails, internet shopping, computer games, 24-hour news cycles and virtual reality, and in a world where unfortunately so many people's self-esteem is based on how many website hits, Facebook friends or Twitter followers they have, I applaud a man who lived and worked for decades in the harshest of environments and whose personal capacity, dedication and character shone through above all else.

I have never lived on a cattle station. For several years I did live and work in a very small outback town with a population of 35. I understand how important having good relationships with the people who passed through is, and the people who provide a regular service are especially appreciated.

This is as true today as it ever has been on the Birdsville Track and throughout the rest of outback South Australia. Today, the people who live in these areas want their friends and associates to call in. They look forward to it, and they need it. I can only imagine how important that must have been back in the 1930s, forties, fifties and sixties, when communication with people from off your station was primarily based on rare conversations, letters, telegrams and two-way radios.

One of the most important aspects of the service that Tom Kruse provided to the people of the Birdsville Track is that, as well as delivering newspapers, mail, passengers, freight and supplies, he was also the conduit of communication between station homesteads. In many ways, to locals this was an equally important part of the service. It goes without saying that only a person of Tom's character could have been so trusted to do this for so long.

To Tom Kruse's family I offer my condolence and also my appreciation for their contribution to his life, including great care in later years. To Tom Kruse himself, on behalf of the people of Stuart: thank you for everything that you did for us through so many decades of your working life; thank you for being a real life, grassroots hero for the rest of your life and for being so accessible to all those who wanted to engage with you; and thank you for so deservingly being one of our outback legends forevermore.


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