John Crowther.
John Crowther. Nev Madsen

Family remembers 'gentleman and scholar' John Crowther

JOHN Kenneth Crowther was "a gentleman and a scholar, musician, multi-linguist, raconteur, courageous family man, world traveller and old-school hard bastard", according to his family.

These descriptions along with many others form his story of life from August 24, 1924, to March 2, 2018.

John was born of English parents of naval families, from Portsmouth England in a small hospital in Batu Gaja Malaya, where his father, a rubber planter and his mother, a lyrical soprano, lived for the first eight years of John's life.

Here, he and his younger sister Patricia went to school with Malay and Chinese children, were looked after by their Chinese Amah, and generally enjoyed life with pets that ranged from a baby elephant, a deer called Binki and even for a short while a tiger cub.

The family moved back to England when John was eight, where he attended school in Ealing and later Lancing College in West Sussex.

During these years he made life-long friends, began learning the violin and developed his love of choir singing and the outdoors.

John may have also acquired his renowned frugality during this time when he discovered that he could spend his pay from being a choir boy on broken chocolate bars which were cheaper than the whole ones.

After his school years John joined the Navy where he trained as an aeronautical engineer before being posted to India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

The lure of excitement, independence and the opportunity to farm saw John head to Kenya after the war, where he eventually managed a coffee plantation and dairy stud.

He loved the countryside, the wildlife (except for the occasional leopard encounter and destructive elephant or baboon), the people and the climate.

He enjoyed working alongside his farmworkers - nicknamed "The naked one" as he had never heard of skin cancer and never wore a shirt; and established great camaraderie with fellow rugby players.

It was in Kenya in 1953 (when hospitalised with a bout of dysentery) that he met and married his lifelong bride Alice Mary Grene, an Irish midwife (now deceased) and raised their family for the first 10 years of their marriage.

In 1964, John and his wife Almary reinvented their lives, courageously deciding to move the family to Australia to dairy farm in near Pottsville; beef farming in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and ending up on a cattle property near Roma.

As was usual with his first two farms, the worst property in the area became one of the best - described as a parkland.

John's lack of care of what others thought of him or how he looked was mortifying for his teenage children at the time - he would wear wide legged khaki shorts held up with baling twine and bright African print shirts to town.

His thriftiness would also be a problem to teenage daughters - "You've got a dress, why do you want another one?"

However, this later became one more endearing part of his nature to his family.

The classics, arts and music were an integral part of his life.

He took up the violin again at 53, and later the viola which he played with the children of the PCAP program in Roma and then with his music group once retired in Toowoomba, sang in the St Luke's choir, ran a music appreciation group for the U3A and continued to listen to his much-loved classical music tapes and records until very late in his life.

His love of history meant any question could be asked by his nine grandsons would be answered with an accurate story - many of them continue this interest because of his influence.

It also manifested in a strong political manner (he has been described by his Irish great niece as a third-generation activist) where letters to The Chronicle would implore our politicians to use common sense and decision making for the betterment of the community.

He could still speak fluent Swahili at 93 some 54 years after leaving Kenya in 1964; and some French, German; and the Malay that he remembered from childhood.

John is survived by his children, Nicholas, Helen, David, Richard and Bridget, their families, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and a plethora of friends and acquaintances who celebrated his life on March 9.


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