Canowindra loses one of it’s finest – Charles McCarron

He was a “dignitary, character, car dealer and car enthusiast”.

Canowindra’s Charlie McCarron has passed away. He would’ve celebrated his 85th birthday on August 23.

Charlie McCarron had been an institution in Canowindra for more than 50 years.

He’s well known not just in Canowindra, but across the country for his passion for Holdens.

But there was a lot more to Charlie. 

From fossils, to Holdens, to local government and exchange programs, he saw the lot.

At the time of his 80th birthday in 2012 Charlie penned these words:

My name is Wilfred Charles Keith McCarron; born in Canowindra NSW on 23 August 1932. The forth child of Wilfred and Rosie McCarron. Older brothers Robert Graham and John Alexander (both deceased), sister Mavis lives in Cowra.

Charlie’s parents owned “Canberra” a North Logan block purchased under Closer Settlement Act 1910. Property situated 10 miles from Canowindra and the southern side of North Logan Station Soldiers Flat Road. (Now known as Windowrie Road.) 

Like other 80 year olds Charlie was born in the middle of the Great Depression (from 1929 to 1945) and it was very hard for the farmers to get a reasonable price for livestock or produce. The farmers’ wives raised Turkeys to get some extra income, however the families made the most of what they had. 

Charlie was enrolled in 1st Term 1939 at Bangaroo School (12 student total); and a 24” speecwheel Bike was purchased for him to ride three miles to school. When the Japanese bombed Darwin, Slit Trenches were dug in the school ground. For the war effort at Bangaroo school the boys made camouflage nets and the girls knitted socks. Charlie became able to make a net in one night; he made over 40 nets in total.

Charlie remembers the soldiers from the Cowra Army Camp having Root Marches and using Bren Gun Carriers on the road as he peddled his bike home. He considered that Mr Alf Richards, in this one teacher school, gave him his best start to education. The Bangaroo School was closed when the Japanese broke out of POW Camp and it never reopened. Charlie had to pedal the six miles to Billimari School (total of 30 students’) for the remainder of 6th Class; Mr Ticehurst teacher. About that time he had an eye test and had to wear glasses which he has worn ever since, and the Billimari kids gave him a bad time over it.

Charlie was enrolled at Canowindra District Rural School; 1st Term of 1945 and it was considered too far to ride a bike the ten miles to Canowindra, so he boarded with Mrs Alma Russell in Short St Canowindra. Others who boarded there were Val Butterick; Sylvia Mulligan and Richard Glasson. The first school bus too run from Cudal to Canowindra started at the same time with Mr Les Donn being the owner. Charlie being a 1st Year Class of over 50 students it was a big new world. Robert Hunter was the School Principal and took the English class himself. Due to my eye condition not being detected earlier I did not see the blackboard properly at Bangaroo School.

Herb Patterson who married my cousin Ruby; was the Agriculture and Science (Physics and Chemistry) teacher introduced me to Junior Farmers Club. The school farm was located in Waddell Street. They used to hire a Clydesdale Horse to pull a Single Furrow Mouldboard Plough and this is where the practical lessons were given. The Junior Farmers Clubs were very strong and had displays at local shows, Canowindra, Cowra and Grenfell. Competition was very keen with produce from local areas. We had trips to Sydney Royal Show and bus trips to Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and the Hunter Region and Central Coast.

My three years at Canowindra District Rural School were very rewarding as when I started in my first year I was about the middle of the class, but by the time I finished third year I was first in a class of 12 and obtained eight subject pass in the intermediate certificate. I did not further my education from when I was 15.

I went to work on the family farm to help my father. 1947 was the beginning of the wet years. I did some work on the bagging platform of a header, we still managed to get the crop off by January but some not so fortunate were still stripping wheat in March. I worked on the farm growing Lucerne and looking after sheep. The Lucerne work was all done with horses; mowing, raking and carting to the shed. The hay was sold in the shed . Then the chaff cutting contractor would come with all his gear being towed by a traction engine which was run on wood and water to make steam. There were about five of these plants working in the Canowindra district. We also grew Lucerne seed which was thrashed by EG Wakefield thrasher, build and manufactured by myself. I also worked by share-farming wheat, and was successful to win a wheat growing competition in 1954. By this time land was overrun with skeleton weed and it was near impossible to grow a crop.

The wet years from 1947 to 1956 created the worst rabbit plague with land holders having to employ professionals to dig out burrows. The Junior Farmers Club had a rabbit drive on our property. We skinned the rabbits and sold the skins to raise funds for the club. The rabbits were so thick that to drive from Canowindra to Cowra you would run over them. In 1950, the miyxomatosis disease was introduced to fix the rabbit problem.

The highest rainfall recorded was in 1952 when we had the big flood in the Lachlan; 52 inches of rain. Our Lucerne flats were covered up by 30 feet of water in an area that would have been two miles across. We had hundreds of tons of timber dumped on our place and large fish were caught in fences. My mother and father said the 1916 flood was as big as this one was.

In 1953, my parents sold the home property and retired to live in Cowra. I continued share farming for the new owner until 1954. 

In April 1954, I was chosen to be an International Farm Youth Exchangee to the USA, provided that I paid my fares to and from. I was one of the two Australians coshen in that year; Mort Hudson from Queensland was the other and we traveled together to the USA. Early 1954 we boarded a flight to San Francisco at Mascot. It took 28 hours to cross the Pacific via Fiji, Canton Island and Honolulu. On arrival, we found our own way over the Golden Gate Bridge to Oakland where we boarded the Sanafee Chief to cross America to Chicago, where we caught the Baltimore Ohio Train to Washington DC. We were met and taken to the IFYE Headquarters in Silver Spring Maryland for an orientation. We were informed of the states to visit then we were on our own with a string of Greayhound Bus tickets. My states were New York and Kentucky. I found my way to Cornell University at Ithaca for a few days and then on to my first host family at Penfold near Syracuse in the Finger Lakes Region of New York state. I was with the other host families for three months. I gave many talks with slides to farm groups, rotary and I was chosen to represent Australia at the 4H Congress at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago; it was a great honour.

I had some free time to myself, so I traveled to Detroit and visited the Cadillac Plant, the GM Technical Centre and also the Henry Ford Museum. Charlie then attended his second host state Kentucky. My next stage was three months with four other host families in areas from Blue Grass to Hillbilly and spending Christmas over there. Then I bussed back to New York City to meet up with Mort and boarded the Queen Elizabeth bound for Southampton. I took a bus to Scotland and visited Glasgow, across to Edinburgh and up to Banff. We stopped with ex-IFYEs on the way and then across to Northern Ireland to stop with John Cromie who I met at the 4H Congress. Afterwards I met up with Mort Hudson and then we left Southampton to board the “Oronsay” for passage back to Australia.

The IFYE was the greatest education that was possible to get to speak and mix with all the types of people, and I have never forgotten about it. Over many years I have attended eight out of nine world conferences in places such as Switzerland to Adelaide. Nor have I forgotten the Junior Farmer Motto of ‘I aspire I achieve’. Slideshows were very popular and I did a lot locally as well as 8mm films of the experience.

In 1955 I started to help my brother John at Canowindra Motors. I became interested in the motor industry which has become my life ever since. Charlie became the GMH Dealer Principal in August 1959 and commenced the sell out of the FC Model to become No.1 in Australia for Group 15. The trophy was a stirling silver tray. I have won many trophies and trips over the next 42 years of selling GMH products. There has been memorable occasions throughout this time. A few of these memorable occasions was my marriage on January 13, 1962 to Gloria June Melton in St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Sydney, and the birth of my three children Susan, David and Jennifer.

During this time, the Make Something Happen Campaign gave double points for selling Chevrolet LUVs so I hooked into it and sold lots and won the trip to Japan. They took us out to the ISUZU planet 40kms form Tokyo. We had the tour, they filled us with grog and drove back to Tokyo with everyone bursting. We had a victory dinner at the Tokyo Hilton and I was seated alongside Mr Susuki, who was the chief design engineer for ISUZU. In He asked me, what can be done to improve the product. I said, ‘build a four wheel drive.’ I asked how much it would be and he told me about $1000. This goes to show how smart the Japanese are at picking your brain. About six months later, the 4x4s were on sale in Australia and were a huge success. Make Something Happen Again was the next campaign which we won a trip to the Greek Islands and a cruise to Istanbul. The final trip we won was to the 2000 Sydney Olympics where was Cathy Freeman win her race in the 400 metre final.

Charlie became a Chamberlain Dealer in the mid 1960s and built the BP Service Station on 2 acres of land in Rodd Street. At that stage, employed 18 people to sell and service the community with BP Fuel, Dunlop tyres, Chamberlain products and GMH products. However when Chamberlain was taken over by John Deer they sacked their small dealers.

1959 is when I joined Canowindra’s Rotary Club and left in 1968 when I became Boree Shire Councilor. I then rejoined about 1978 and continued until the club closed last year. During that time I served as president twice, and organized several bus trips to Lightning Ridge and the Sydney Entertainment Centre. In 1996 I was the president for the second time and I attended the world changover in Calgary, Canada.

In 1965 Gloria and I had a trip around the world to attend the first IFYE conference in Switzerland. On our way we went through Rome and saw the Pope at his summer residence. I went to Rotary and Gloria went to the Louvre in Paris and then on to London and Belfast before flying to New York, attending New York World fair and then making a courtesy call to GM in Detroit. The executives called us in to find out why the HD Holden was not selling. I said, ‘It was okay when we left home’. Ford had said it had liver scoops and the press ridiculed it.

In 1977 we provided a car to the high school under GMH Driver Training Scheme. It was a new Gemini and later progressed to a new 4 cylinder Commodore. About 40 students got their driver’s licenses this way, until bureaucracy prevailed and the scheme was concluded.

Charlie was elected a councilor of Boree Shire Council in 1968 and served two three year terms. Also he was a Boree Representative on Central Tablelands’ Council for a three year period. Canowindra was dimly lit so I lobbied for Highway Code Lighting and got it. After the high school was built the old school farm in Waddell Street was vacant, so I convinced the council to borrow money to build five new houses on the site. So Gloria and I went to Grace Bros and bought ten new house plans for the council to choose from. In 1991, Charlie was elected to Cabonne Council for a four year period and I lobbied for a new bridge to replace Waddell Bridge. There was a lot of controversy but I prevailed.

My most important achievement and idea for Canowindra was when Alec Ritchie wanted to dig for fossils and he applied for council assistance. It was rejected by the majority of councilors, as they did not want to spend the money in Canowindra. So I came home and I thought about what I could do. I had a EJ Holden which I got painted with a new coat of paint and had a sign written on it: Canowindra first in fossils with a big Canowindra Grossi on each side. I kept it under wraps until the next council meeting. The result was astounding; they said if this silly bugger would spend his own money to do this for Canowindra then it must be okay. The dig cost about $40,000 and produced some of the best fossil fish in the world. Without my efforts, the dig may have never happened. 

My council contribution is only a small part of McCarron Family’s history and three of my uncles were shire presidents in Boree and Waugoola. Between us, we may have been in local government for over 60 years. It would have to be a family record.

Due to my health with deep vein thrombosis, I relinquished the GMH Franchise at the end of my five year dealership agreement in 2001. I was not able to sell my dealership because a heritage order was put on Gaskill Street prematurely, and no one wanted a premises with a heritage frontage. 

When we built my residence in Winton Street, a large brick shed was built with the ability to store 20 cars. This became the nucleus of my present day motor museum, which was now regarded as one of the best Holden collections in Australia.

An inspiration to collect the best 1948 build car came from Henry Ford Museum, which I visited in 1954. He had his first and last T Models in glass cases. When I became a Holden dealer in 1959, I started to look for the best genuine 1948 car. I found one on in 1970 and purchased it from Tanunda SA. It is 46 of only 163 cars build in 1948. Today only six of these cars still survive and has clocked up 22,000 miles.

In October last year Charlie sold off his collection of more than 2000 lots.