Ken and June Stapleton with Mick Willis. Photo: Christopher Tan.

At the end of last month, the Board and Staff of the Cootamundra Ex-Services Club took the time and presented a clock to Director and long-serving member Kenneth Stapleton for almost three decades of service.

At the age of 88 years, Mr Stapleton is still going strong, especially with his frequent visits to the club.

Last week while speaking to The Times, his recollection abilities seemed immaculate too as he was able to remember dates and retell certain moments in his life.

Mr Kenneth “Stapo” Stapleton was born in the year when the first traffic lights were installed in Sydney and in the era of the 1930s Depression where unemployment was almost at 32 per cent in mid-1932 in NSW.

When Stapo began his schooling years in the 40s, Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister and in the 50s, he moved to Cootamundra with hs family as Dad Oscar landed a job as lockup keeper.

Also in the 50s, many would get around on push bikes as cars were not common yet.

Stapo accomplished a number of odd jobs during his early years in Coota and this included being a milkman and getting up at 4am.

In 1953 he decided he wanted a permanent and secure job in the government and it was either the police force or working on the railway.

The latter was chosen and it was a 43.5 year career with Ken having many fond memories of this time.

Ken in his 20s standing infront of a steam trian in his uniform. Drivers were the last ones to get their uniforms. Photo: Christopher Tan.

“I’ve driven them all, from steam engine and then diesel electric,” he said.

In the first few years of his career he drove the unique 3801 locomotive as well as smaller trains on round trips from Cootamundra to Tumut.

On September 1983 Stapo was involved in one of the heaviest and longest trains ever to pass through Cootamundra.

It was a trial train with two new 81 class locomotives, carrying 3,200 tonnes and a total of 39 wagons laden with wheat bound for Newcastle.

Ken was the driver with Robert Maher as the observer, for the run to Goulburn.

The 81 class locomotive ended up replacing the 44 class engine, which had been restricted to hauling around 2,000 tonnes.

On another instance Stapo was invited to ride through the Indian Pacific as a passenger and view it from the front of the train, this route included going through parts of Alice Springs.

“I knew all the bosses and I still do. From time-to-time I ring them up and just have a yarn with them,” Stapo said.

Stapo on the front of The Land in 2005. Photo: Christopher Tan.

And one legacy that still remains today is a little engine train that carts 24 children, most famously utilised today around the oval during local fairs.

Project instigator Ken had help with construction from Kevin Rogers, Peter Cullen, Doug Power, Doug Watson, Jim Walsh, Doug Williams, Jim Slattery, Ray Annetts, Max Eccleston and Terry Patterson.

Additional assistance included Noel Bruce for mechanical work, Kevin Gordon donated the light, Vic O’Neill with steel and technical assistance, Frank Walker with upholstery, Cunningham’s for lino, Ray Taprell for painting, Bob Benson with wiring, Bob McFarlene with tyres, Frank De Britt for the garage and Mowall Engineering for the funnel.

Hundreds of hours of work had gone into the engine, all on voluntary basis by the good friends, most whom worked on the railway too.

The train’s first run was at the Railway Picnic at Fisher Park and is today managed by the Lions Club Cootamundra.

Since getting married to June Stapleton and settling down into a home here in Cootamundra in 1958, Stapo has built upon new friendships, and many hold him in high regard and respect.

The Stapleton’s residence today was also previously owned by Don Bradman’s father.

He was also a union delegate for a number of years which resulted in him being well known all over the country side.

During Christmas he would gather a couple of kegs of beer and store in his shed and besides inviting his family, he would also open his place to anyone else who would like to drop in and have a yarn with him.

“He is a very outgoing person and I am the complete opposite,” June giggled.

“He likes to know when everything is going on and a very happy-go-lucky person and has not changed since then.”

One long-term friendship in particular still ongoing is with current Ex-Services Club President Mick Willis.

Mick has been on the Board since 1985/86 and has been the President since 2000.

He has been away with Stapo for a number of occasions, to work functions and social evenings.

“For the past 30 years I have enjoyed his company, and I respect him very highly,” Mick said.

“The Club is Stap’s territory. He is one of the icons of the town. He just needs to put his finger up to the bar staff to get another beer, and they’ll bring it to him. They respect him that much.

“’ll never find a closer family member than Stapo is to you.”

Mick moved to town at the end of 1966 and ended up living next to Stapo’s parents Oscar and Catherine on O’Donnell Street.

Mick recalled how Stapo ended up as Director in 1995, a funny story he would usually recount to others.

“They used to have AGMs on a Friday night at 8pm where everyone would get there and get a skin full of grog in them and there would be arguments at the meeting,” Mr Willis said.

“Stapo wasn’t on the board at that time but would often get in disagreements with the President at that time, and the President thought, ‘If I can’t beat this bloke [in an argument], I’ll just put him on the Board to shut him up.”

Being arguably the Board’s greatest critic and one of the most vocal members in town, Ken was appointed the Town Crier in 2001 on New Year’s Eve at Jubilee Park.

The Cootamundra Development Corporation dressed him up and that caught a lot of attention at the Centenary of Federation celebrations, Ken was making a number of shouts and had a bell in his hand.

Stapo was also known as Mr Raffles for years at the club, always being there on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights and loved running the weekly raffles.

On many occasions Stapo was said to be an excellent dancer with June.

“Stap’s in his younger days was a brilliant dancer,” Mick said.

“Even though he was a big man, honestly he can dance well.

“Ken would often say to June that he is coming home in half-an-hour, and she would have to get ready quick and put on her dancing shoes ready to go. It was great.”

The six decade long marriage and romance between 88-year-old Ken and 84-year-old June has never died down over the years, as up until a few years back, the couple would sit by their garden in the evenings and open a bottle of red.

Today they have five children, 12 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Kenneth Stapleton has been on the board for 26 consecutive years, where he has served as a General Board Member and Vice President, and is today still on the finance committee.

Plaque reads: “KEN STAPLETON. Thank you for your service and dedication. Cootamundra. Ex-Servicemens Club”. Photo: Christopher Tan.

He has overseen many changes over the years, including the dance floor extension and the current bistro and bar upgrade.

The Cootamundra Ex-Services Club has been a major sponsor for a number of local sporting codes over the years, including the Cootamudnra District Cricket Association since 2000 and the Cootamundra Strikers Soccer Cub since 2001.

Cootamundra sporting stalwart Pat Kerin remembered having lots of conversations with Stapo over the years about local sport and him being interested in how the local clubs were going with their seasons.

Mr Kerin also worked in railway during his working years and accomplished a total of 32 years.

Mr Kerin recalled being on duty during Stapo’s last day of work.

“I remembered when I had to sign Stapo off for his last shift of work, he shed a tear,” Pat said.

Christopher Tan