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Drew Kettle Dies

Drew Kettle Dies

31st May 2004
Swagman Drew Kettle, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity on long distance outback walks, died in Colac on Sunday, aged 84. Mr Kettle had been battling cancer for 12 months.

Fellow outback trekker Geoff Burge, of Moriac, said yesterday Mr Kettle had collected at least $400,000 for charity on his long distance treks. "Given that a lot of charities receive government concessions on a $1 for $1 basis, it's reasonable to say that Drew raised at least $600,000 for charity," Mr Burge said.

A short, wiry figure with a ginger beard, Mr Kettle became a legendary Australian with friends across the length and breadth of Australia, Mr Burge said. He was the subject of a 50-minute television documentary titled The Last Swagman in the early 1990s. On his treks, Mr Kettle always slept in a swag, a canvas sheet lined with a blanket, and had a dog as a companion.

Mr Kettle was awarded the Order of Australia medal for his fundraising in January, 1998, at which time he had walked 25,000km for various charities. He was also a foundation member of Colac Lions Club.

He would spend about three months of each of the past 20 years away from his dairy farm at Yeo where he grew up. His first long distance walk was in 1983, from Cape Otway to Broken Hill, a distance of 1200km, and raised $12,000 for hearing dogs. That year he also walked from Wilsons Promontory to Adelaide.

In 1985, he walked from Victor Harbour to Darwin, via Ayers Rock, and in 1988, he took part in a camel race from Ayers Rock to the Gold Coast, a distance of 3700km, and finished 28th of 68 starters.

He recorded his walks with lines drawn on a map of Australia, Mr Burge said. "There's lines going in all directions. He made friends wherever he went. At the end of a day's walk he would do a pub crawl around the town, but he was a dreadfully slow drinker and by the end of the night he'd have his billy filled with donations," Mr Burge said.

Mr Kettle was a typical Aussie battler who was always willing to lend anyone a hand, had a chirpy sense of humour and was inspirational, Mr Burge said. The Flying Doctor service and the Lions Club were his favourite charities.

Mr Kettle did 15 long-distance treks with Mr Burge over the past 15 years.

Despite ill health last year, Mr Kettle joined Mr Burge on an 1800km trek from Norseman to Port Augusta, travelling in a vehicle driven by long-time support man Charlie Pye. In 2001, they trekked 2730km from the Tanami Desert to Torquay to raise funds for heart walking machines. "Drew used to say he went on his first long walk because his late wife Ina had asked him to paint the house. He didn't like painting but liked walking," Mr Burge said. "One time he walked from Port Lincoln to Alice Springs and then rang Ina and said, `It's a nice day, I think I'll walk on to Darwin', and he did," Mr Burge said.

It is with great sadness I announce the passing of another Great Australian Ultra Icon in Drew Kettle. Drew was 84 years old and died peacefully yesterday in Colac, Victoria on the 30th May 04 after a long illness. As you can see from these links, Drew was famous for his Overland Treks with his faithful Dog along with the eleven times he competed at the Australian 6-day race in Colac. Drew was also famous for his battles with another Great Australian Icon, Cliff Young, who as we know passed away last November.

There will be a Service for Drew at the St Andrews Presbyterian Church in Colac this Thursday 3rd June 04 starting at 1.00pm.

In 1992, Drew was the feature of a 50mins TV docmentary "The Last Swagman". Swagmen used to be a common sight on the roads of Australia, carrying their swags from homestead to homestead, living off odd jobs and stray food. Drew Kettle, a 72-year-old wanderer, takes to the road again, and another two thousand kilometres to add to his tally of 10,000 or more. His delightful insights and Australian bush charm show us the remote Kimberley region and the folklore surrounding "swaggies" as we travel with the last swagmen.

Drew is still the Australian record holder for an over-80 year old to travel 50km by foot.

My last memory of Drew was at Cliff's funeral last year, when Drew got up and read a beautiful poem about Cliff. People could see that every word was a struggle, but I likened it as a Tribute to a Fallen Comrade.

Phil Essam

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