Ron Barnes grew up in Casino and now lives in Byron Bay
Ron Barnes grew up in Casino and now lives in Byron Bay Susanna Freymark

A life of hard yakka for Ron Barnes

WHEN Ron Barnes woke up on a Friday morning in October 1969, he was completely blind in his left eye.

The doctor gave a diagnosis of a cerebral haemorrhage.

He had to stop work. Immediately. Every blood vessel in the 38-year- old's body was bursting, the doctor said.

That was like a death sentence to a man who had worked from the age of 13 driving the bread truck for the family business, delivering bread to Barraba shops each day before going to school.

The youngest of four children, he was expected to help where he could.

"I had to crank the truck to start it," he said.

In 1945, the Barnes family moved to Casino. Two years later, his parents who moved around a lot were on the move again. The young Barnes wasn't going anywhere and when his family left, he stayed put.

At the age of 15 the young Ron was asked to be a clerk at the Casino Saleyards because he was good at adding up.

He knew nothing about cattle, Mr Barnes admitted.

To survive he had to get a second job as a book-keeper's clerk at the dog races, a job that was illegal for anyone under 18. He drove a cab at nights to make ends meet.

"Nobody knew who I was then," Mr Barnes said at his home in Suffolk Park in Byron Bay.

He worked hard, he saved hard.

At 21 he took over Alexander and Co Auctioneers and in the first three weeks of owning the company, took 16 pounds in commission.

"That's how bad it was," he said.

He joined forces with school friend Kevin Clarke and traded as Barnes and Clarke. Within six years the business was at a stage where it sold 46% of the livestock at the saleyards among nine agents.

"We pushed for the introduction of hereford bulls," Mr Barnes said. "When dairies were changing over we thought herefords would become a popular breed."

Mr Barnes married and had four children. He worked long hours and was also treasurer for the Casino Memorial Hospital.

"When there were problem at the hospital I paid the wages of all the staff for two weeks," he said.

The auctioneering business boomed and with four staff, Mr Barnes could finally take more of a back seat. That was when he woke up blind in one eye.

Tragedy struck his business when three of his staff were killed in a car accident at Deep Creek.

"My decision then was - if I was going to die I might as well help recover Barnes and Clarke and I went back for three years," he said."I forgot about my health. There were families involved."

Despite his time in Casino being "the happiest in his life" Mr Barnes never got over the tragedy and moved to Byron Bay in 1973 and worked at the abattoirs buying livestock. He later built the Suffolk Park Hotel with Vince Farrell.

Retired at 86, Mr Barnes still climbs onto his tractor to check the cattle at his Ewingsdale property and has time to enjoy his nine grandchildren.

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