William Gilbert (Bill) Astill OAM, 11/11/1925-2/5/2021
WELL-known Sale resident William (Bill) Astill died on May 2, 2021, aged 95.
He connected with numerous people over those years and only a few years ago, lamented that if you live long enough, all your friends have gone.
Over the years, many traumas or tragedies have occurred and Bill’s character was such, that he could always be relied on to ‘put it in your pocket and get on with life’.
He loved life and had a great sense of humour, which endeared him to many, and that sense of humour remained with him to the end.
Bill greatly enjoyed social occasions, and he loved people.
Perhaps that came from being the seventh child of a family of eight children and also, from growing up in a boarding house.
Bill’s mother Caroline ran a boarding house in Macalister St, Sale, while his father worked as a yardman at the Sale Hospital.
Bill had five older sisters, one older brother and a younger brother.
When Bill was eight years old, his mother bought the old National Bank building at 27 Foster St, Sale and turned it into a boarding house, naming it Centenary House.
Bill had contracted polio when he was about two years old, the illness leaving him with much -reduced strength in his right arm and shoulder.
Because of this long illness, when Bill began school at Sale 545 State School, he was in the same grade as his younger brother Stan.
The brothers were close friends, and partners in mischief a lot of the time.
Bill attended Sale Technical School for a couple of years before joining the workforce at age 14. He worked as an apprentice butcher at Newnham’s Bacon Factory in Stevens St, Sale, earning one pound a week, which was good pay in comparison to other trades.
Stan also joined the trade, working as a slaughterman at the bacon factory.
They were both interested in shooting, fishing, running and riding bikes, and kept ferrets and greyhounds, both used when rabbit hunting.
Rabbit skins were worth quite a bit in those days, and they received two shillings each skin when they sold a bag of them in Melbourne.
Bill played local football in his younger years and also played for a Longford team called The Southerners. He also played cricket for Sale B in the years circa 1945 to 1949.
In August 1946 tragedy struck when Stan was accidentally killed while handling a loaded gun which had jammed. The family was devastated.
Later in life, Bill was always very aware of safety when using firearms.
Bill met Betty Vaughan at the local Saturday night dance and they married in Hamilton in 1949.
Bill and Betty lived at Centenary Guest House until they were able to buy a block of land in Elgin St, Sale, and build a house.
Bill and Betty had four children – Suzanne, Robyn, John and Jennifer.
Robyn suffered from cerebral palsy and was unfortunately destined for a short life, dying from pneumonia at age five.
In the late 1940s to early 1950s, Bill had joined the North Gippsland Kennel Club.
He had a beautiful English Setter and attended numerous dog shows during those years.
During the 1970s, he became interested in Weimaraners, as he loved to go duck shooting and an obedient dog was a wonderfully helpful companion.
Bill and Betty registered the name ‘Fieldman Kennels’, and a few litters of puppies found new homes.
Bill had first joined Sale Rifle Club in 1947 but had not been a regular shooter as he was still involved at that time with various other sporting interests.
In 1955 he took up shooting regularly, and it became an absorbing interest for him.
An enthusiastic supporter of the sport, he devoted countless hours to keeping the local shooting clubs ongoing.
Bill felt that shooting was a wonderful sport in that many disabled people were able to compete equally with the able-bodied.
He even travelled to Canberra to the Institute of Sport to become an accredited coach in the sport of rifle shooting.
In 1993 he was awarded life membership of the No. 9 Central and West Gippsland District Rifle Association.
He had served many years as president and as a team shooter, captain and coach.
As well as being a member of the Sale Rifle Club, he was also one of the earliest members of the Sale Small Bore Rifle Club and was a founding member of the Sale Pistol Club in 1961.
Bill was awarded life membership of the Sale Small Bore Rifle Club in September 1975.
He wrote small booklets on the histories of both the Sale Rifle Club (in 2000) and the Sale and District Small Bore Rifle Club (in 2003).
Before that, in 1988, he had written a booklet History of Sale Bacon Factory and my times with it. He enjoyed writing the stories of the incidents that had occurred there during his 40-year association with the factory.
In about 1968, while still working at the bacon factory, he studied to become a meat inspector.
Later, he obtained a job as a grade two meat inspector win the immediate district, and was responsible for inspecting at four different slaughter yards.
Over the years, those yards all closed.
He then travelled widely over a vast area of greater Gippsland to wherever his skills were needed.
He was issued with a government car, and at most places he would have to arrive by 6.30am to check out the stock and the cleanliness of the yards and machinery and to write reports.
Bill was required by state government rules to retire at age 65, but he remained on call for several years after that, filling in for other meat inspectors when needed.
He was initiated into the Masonic Lodge in 1976 and was installed for his year as Master of King Edward Lodge No.189 on November 26, 1983, at the Masonic Temple in Maffra. He had since attained Grand Lodge rank.
Bill was named as a recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia in June 2003 for his “service to the sport of shooting through the Sale Small Bore Rifle Club and the Central and West Gippsland Rifle Union as an administrator and coach and for the community”.
An active member of the Sale community, he was also an operative member of the Probus Club in Sale and of his local Neighbourhood Watch, also taking an interest in the Safety House program.
After battling prostate cancer and declining mobility for many years, Bill finally made the difficult decision to leave his home of 66 years and moved to Opal Aged Care in December 2018.
He did not want to be a burden to any of his family, or anyone for that matter, always doing his utmost to just ‘get on with life’ as best he could.
He retained his great sense of humour to his final days, and will be missed greatly.