William Donald (Don) McNab–one of God’s gentlemen.

Sometimes it’s the littlest things that create the biggest obstacles. This turned out to be true for thirteen-year-old Don McNab when an ant bite on his left leg became infected. It caused no end of pain and suffering until he finally had the leg amputated when he was in his early thirties.

Don was the third child and eldest son of William and Mary McNab. He spent his early childhood at Trafalgar South before the family moved to Cathkin in central Victoria. Don attended Cathkin State School before boarding at a private school in Malvern. His infected leg hampered his mobility and Don did not complete his education to the level he and his parents might have hoped for. But all was not lost, sometime later Don studied accountancy with Hemingway and Robinson by correspondence.

The McNab family moved to Lyndhurst (now Cranbourne West) in August 1918 when Don’s parents purchased the Ercildoune dairy farm on Hall Road from the estate of Frederick Hall. Ercildoune was a model dairy farm, one of the best in the state. Frederick and Elizabeth Hall had farmed there from around 1860, Fred died in 1896 and Elizabeth in 1916. Shortly after Elizabeth’s death, the family put the farm up for sale. William and Mary McNab had been watching and waiting for the right property in the Cranbourne or Lyndhurst area for some time, and when Ercildoune came up for sale, they bought it.

Ercildoune 2023

Ercildoune continued to flourish under the McNab’s care. Don and his brother Charles farmed the property after their father’s death in 1930. Charles married Fred Hall’s great granddaughter Mabel McLellan in 1938 and Charles and Mabel established Strathlea, a Guernsey stud property on one side of Hall Road (now the Lochaven Estate) and Don and Annie, neither of whom married, remained on the other side at Ercildoune (now the Alarah estate). Don was a practical hands-on person, farmers had to be. When Don and Annie sold Ercildoune in 1959 and built a home at 11 Stawell Street in Cranbourne, Don dug the foundations for the house himself. In his spare time he maintained a flower and vegetable garden that gave him a lot of satisfaction and pleasure.

The City of Casey have restored the Ercildoune homestead, it is available for community use at the Ercildoune Court Reserve off Hall Road.

Cranbourne Folk Weekly Times 1948

Don’s accounting knowledge and experience allowed him to manage the family’s financial affairs and those of quite a few local organisations that he was a member of. He served as secretary of the Cranbourne Recreation Reserve Committee for twenty years and secretary or treasurer of the Cranbourne branch of the Australian Primary Producer’s Union for many years.

The earliest report of his involvement with the Cranbourne Recreation Reserve found so far is in the KooWeeRup Sun’s report of the May 1926 meeting of the Cranbourne Shire Council when Don wrote to council asking them to convene a public meeting to elect four representatives to the Recreation Reserve Committee. The next report of his involvement with this committee appears in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal of 25 August 1927. Don was elected secretary and treasurer at about twenty-seven years of age. At that meeting the President thanked him on behalf of the committee for his services in connection with the reserve, noting that very few people, except for the committee, knew how much Mr McNab had done. Don replied that the success of the movement to improve the reserve was sufficient reward for anything he had done. Don was still writing to council in 1946 as secretary of the Cranbourne Recreation Reserve Management, no reports of his retirement have been found to date.

The Cranbourne Sports Club held a sporting competition each January. The Cranbourne Gift, a 120 yard sprint, was the highlight of the day. The 1929 meeting drew runners from as far as Queensland and New Zealand. Supporting events included races for boys and girls under ten and under fourteen, a young men’s race and a married men’s race. Horse events included a potato race, a bending race, a flag and barrel race, musical chairs, horses over hurdles and ponies over hurdles races. There were also two motor car events – the liquid race and musical chairs. Hats off to Miss R Reid, the winner of the motor car musical chairs! The newspaper report of the day noted that the club had an ideal secretary in Mr McNab.

Don announced his inability to carry on as secretary at the club’s annual meeting in November that year, but his association with the club was not over. In 1933 he and Cr J Taylor convened a public meeting to discuss the future of the club. There had been no meetings for some time. Those attending the meeting decided to disband the club and donate the money in hand to the Cranbourne Recreation Reserve to be used for improvements to the ground. The club reformed sometime later as a newspaper report of their 1950 annual meeting lists him as being elected to the position of treasurer.

He was an active member of the congregation at Scot’s Presbyterian Church at Cranbourne. The earliest report of him serving on the church’s Board of Management is in 1933 when he was elected for a two-year term. He was re-elected in 1935. Don must have become treasurer around 1950 because when he resigned this position in 1975 the Koo Wee Rup Sun reported that he had served the church as treasurer for twenty-five years. He must have loved to be busy because he also duplicated the church’s newsletter, The Triad and managed the subscriptions.

Scot’s Presbyterian Church Cranbourne Centenary History 1855-1955

In fact, the whole McNab family were active members of the congregation. Don’s mother Mary opened her home on 15 February 1934 in aid of funds for the church. Ably assisted by her daughters Annie, Ettie and Muriel and her sons Don and Charles, together with Mabel McLellan and her mother and sister, they provided a large room for dancing and another for a euchre tournament. Lawson Poole was there to mystify the partygoers with magic tricks. On being thanked by Rev. Bruce for the party, Don replied that the pleasure derived from the party was ample reward.

Don played an integral role in the building of the present church when appointed to the position of secretary of a small committee formed in 1950 to build the new church. The church’s centenary history tells us that in this role, ‘he did a masterly and painstaking work in organising the supply of materials and thinking out the details of the situation.’ He often travelled miles to find scarce building materials.

The Cranbourne Shire Hall was the centre of community life in Cranbourne. It hosted all sorts of social and fundraising events, but in the late 1940s it could no longer function as the centre of administration of the shire because of a lack of working space. Consequently, the council decided to convert the hall into municipal offices. While this solved the Shire’s space problem, it created another for the community who no longer had a building to function as a public hall.

Don offered the benefit of his opinion about this to the Cranbourne Shire in October 1949. His letter gives some insight into the person he was. His letter directed the shire’s attention to the need for facilities that would promote the community’s social life. He saw a need for a public hall, a library and reading room, restrooms, a health centre and a children’s playground. But he didn’t stop there. He suggested the facilities should be grouped together in a park with lawns and gardens for the community to enjoy. He made special reference to the needs of the younger people of Cranbourne. He went further and challenged the Shire to build ‘something worthwhile’ if they saw merit in what he said. If not, he invited constructive criticism in order to get somewhere. He didn’t expect a handout. He thought funds could be raised by direct donations, public fundraising entertainment, a special rate from the shire or funds from ordinary council revenue.

At the next meeting of the Shire Council, the President of the time commented that there was quite a lot of sense in Don’s proposals. However, he thought it was a matter for the people of the district, not for the shire considering the then high costs of building. It was not a good time to take the matter up. However, they knew something had to be done soon, so the Shire suggested they call a public meeting and invite Mr McNab to outline his proposals ahead of a general discussion. It was noted at the meeting that Mr McNab was secretary of the local Recreation Reserve Committee and had always taken a keen interest in the town and district.

Don’s response to the shire’s invitation was published in the Dandenong Journal on 7 December 1949. He did not hide his disappointment that the council had not begun moves to provide public facilities for the people of Cranbourne. He pointed out that his suggestion had been a long-term one, but plans should be made now, and a fund started. His response to council’s offer of a public meeting, if desired by the public was, ‘Gentlemen, I ask you if such a public body as council is not prepared to play a leading part in the creation of such public utilities, what chance has an individual? Therefore, gentlemen, at the moment, as far as I am concerned, this matter rests as it is.’

A public meeting was held nearly four years later to discuss the building of a public hall for Cranbourne.

Cranbourne Public Hall 2012

Don lovingly cared for the Cranbourne Public Hall for about twenty years as secretary and treasurer of the hall committee. His dedication knew no bounds. Besides managing the hall’s finances, he carried out any necessary repairs and general maintenance work within the hall and the grounds. As a result, the community benefitted from a well-maintained hall that was financially self-sufficient. He believed in running the hall without asking the council for help.

It is no surprise that Don put plans in place for Annie’s well being should he die before her. A year before he died, he made out a will, leaving everything to Annie during her lifetime, and after to be sold and divided among family members. Each niece and nephew were specifically mentioned and given a gift of money.

What was a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been, was that Don’s will directed his executors to make gifts to the community as well:

  • $3,000 to the Cranbourne Presbyterian Church for equipment or furnishings for the church or Sunday School Hall
  • $3,000 to the Shire of Cranbourne for children’s playgrounds within the area of the township of Cranbourne
  • $2,000 to the Continuing Presbyterian Church of Victoria for the general purposes of any Babies’ Home conducted by the church
  • $3,000 to the Continuing Presbyterian Church for equipment or furnishings for Old People’s Homes
  • $500 to the Cranbourne Red Cross Auxiliary
  • Dandenong & District Hospital – a 2/3 share of the remaining estate
  • Berwick Hospital – a 1/3 share of the remaining estate

In his spare time Don enjoyed lawn bowls with the Cranbourne Bowling Club and audited their accounts. He was also a member of Cranbourne Senior Citizens Club. He is said to have enjoyed good health from the time his leg was amputated until the last few years of the life when he developed angina. Don died at the Dandenong and District Hospital on 15 December 1979 from heart failure. Both Don and Annie wished to be cremated and their ashes interred at their parents grave in Dandenong Cemetery.

The Koo Wee Rup Sun’s obituary called him ‘one of God’s gentlemen’ and a man who had left his mark on Cranbourne. They honoured and saluted him and his service, noting that his favourite saying was ‘Always do good for your fellow man’.

When the Cranbourne Shire Council met on the 23 January 1980, the Shire President, Cr Campbell referred to the passing of three of Cranbourne’s prominent and well-respected citizens over the Christmas break, Don McNab, Father George Todd and Mr E Donnelly. A minute’s silence was observed as a mark of respect. The Shire Secretary also referred to the passing of the three men, noting that all three had given outstanding service to the community and would be badly missed. Letters of condolence were sent on behalf of the Council to the relatives of each family.

The Koo Wee Rup Sun’s report of that meeting indicates that Cr Campbell spoke about each of the men’s contributions and how they had worked consistently in their quiet, unassuming ways for their community. Other councillors apparently added to what had been said, and they decided that the men should be remembered in some way for being such outstanding citizens. One suggestion was that their names should be considered in the naming of future parks. It’s unfortunate that the minutes of that meeting do not carry such detail.

No one hears a minute’s silence and the community’s memory of their mark has long faded in 2023. Perhaps it’s time for us to honour and salute their service too.

Advertising. The Dandenong Journal 15 July 1953
Cranbourne. The Dandenong Journal 7 November 1929
Cranbourne. The Dandenong Journal 18 May 1933
Cranbourne Council Seeking Permit Per Shire Hall Conversion. The Dandenong Journal 8 October 1947
Cranbourne Public Hall really jumps. Koo Wee Rup Sun 26 June 1974
Cranbourne Folk. Weekly Times 10 November 1948
Council Rebuked for Not Taking Lead To Give Cranbourne Public Hall. (1949, December 7). The Dandenong Journal
Cranbourne Shire Council. KooWeeRup Sun 6 May 1926
Cranbourne Shire Council. KooWeeRup Sun 6 February 1946
Cranbourne Sports The Dandenong Journal 24 January 1929
Cranbourne Sports Club Has Raised £150 For Ground Improvements (1950, December 20). The Dandenong Journal 20 December 1950
Ercildoune Court Reserve
Ercildoune – a farm at Lyndhurst – the McNab family days
Ercildoune – a farm at Lyndhurst – the Hall family days
Here and There South Bourke and Mornington Journal 27 January 1927
Minutes of the ordinary meeting of the Council of the Shire of Cranbourne 23 January 1980
News and Notes The Dandenong Journal 3 January 1929
Obituary-Our Don McNab. Koo Wee Rup Sun 20 December 1979
Party at Cranbourne The Dandenong Journal 1 March 1934
Public Record Office Victoria. VPRS 7591/P0006, 875/635. William Donald McNab: Will; Grant of probate
Scot’s Presbyterian Church, Cranbourne: a record of 100 years of congregational life and work, 1855-1955
Shire President calls for one minute’s silence. Koo Wee Rup Sun 5 February 1980
Special Rate Advocated for Public Hall at Cranbourne  The Dandenong Journal 12 October 1949

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *