Today I present a profile of one of my Panellists (who, as a group, help me with various aspects of mentoring the young writers) as a build-up to the young writers Aust / NZ annual conference on Saturday 13 September. John Skinner was a Vietnam Veteran, a journalist, a national rodeo, and these are his own words.
In June 1947 I was born in Dorrigo, NSW, 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 any one my age.
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 stability issues so when he wasn't around, I had to be the 'man,' often standing between mum and the younger ones in order to protect them.
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 away from home). This rather strange upbringing led me to leave school as soon as I was able 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 almost 44 years, Marion. In 1967, after a few problems at home, I left to join the Army. I suffered a smashed femur when accidentally shot by another trainee soldier, spent three months in traction, 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 elsewhere, 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, etc), mainly riding bullocks and encouraged by mum's brothers. It just happened that the local rodeo club in Huonville 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.
When, in 1982, the job as rodeo administrator for the (then) Australian Rough Riders Association became available in Warwick, RM (Reg) Williams himself rang me and asked would I consider the job. I started here 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 ran 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 (it will be 31st service in October this 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.
Unbelievably good medication and support from many sources 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, I 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. 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 seven published biography books later, I expect to write number eight before October this year.
For some years now I've been involved with the Rural Fire Brigade and am now the Second Officer (and acting First Officer for much of the time) of our local Brigade.
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 last had contact with Mark Tronson and the Sports and Leisure Ministry probably 10 years ago, shortly before he and Delma left Timeout in Moruya (AIS athlete respite ministry) for Tweed Heads.
Recently, a church elder mentioned Mark during one of his messages and we approached him to find out what and where the Tronson family were now. On Monday 12 May I received a couple of email copies with their news and I sent Mark an email on that Tuesday.
By Wednesday I had been 'hijacked' into being a sports panellist in his Young Writer's program as one of the current Sport Panellists was in the midst of their MA in Melbourne. On Thursday I did my first assessment and today I'm writing an introduction. "Ain't God Wonderful."
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.
Our second son, Chris, after many years in warehouse distribution and computer technology, is in his final year at Malyon Bible College and is the Associate Pastor at Warwick Baptist Church.
Our daughter, Kate, has her first bub just 18 months old and has returned to work part-time with a solicitor in Warwick and is 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 Jason's old job and was baptised in Warwick only two 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.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html