In a small church near Pejar Dam, grazier Jeff Prell’s family and friends celebrated his extraordinary life. Jeff died on 5 May, 2022, aged 91 years.
In his mid-teens at boarding school in 1946, Jeff contracted polio and spent 10 weeks on his back in an isolation ward. As nurses and physiotherapists helped him walk twice daily, he staged an amazing recovery. The experience shaped the remainder of his life according to his son, Charlie.
Two years after contracting polio, Jeff had recovered so emphatically he captained King’s College’s 1st XI cricket team and played in the school’s 1st XV rugby side, absorbing the culture of both codes.
Charlie said he never took anything for granted and was driven to help other people. He loved to teach young people how to prepare sheep for a show and how to fly fish.
Following his education, he returned to ‘Gundowringa’ where his pioneering father Charles had earned a place in Australian farming history through the introduction of superphosphate. Jeff maintained the property’s corriedale sheep flocks and in 1975 started a cross-breeding program with merinos to produce a finer wool while maintaining the corriedale carcass.
Jeff met his future wife Jess Marshall at Royal Sydney Golf Club Matrons Ball in 1949. “I looked into those eyes and was absolutely smitten, my life had changed forever,” his handwritten letter to his daughter recounted in later years. After travel and a four-year courtship, they married in 1954 and had their four daughters and son over six years.
Family life revolved around Jeff’s three passions: the world of corriedale sheep, fishing and cricket.
An aunt taught him to fish and he stocked the Wollondilly River, which runs through Gundowringa, with fingerlings. When nearby Pejar Dam was established in 1980 as a back-up for Goulburn’s water supply, Jeff saw it as a fantastic fishery. But it never reached its potential because of the terrain.
“With fly rod in hand, off he would go to the Wollondilly River, Pejar and open ground dams to perfect the cast that his mother taught him aged 10,” daughter Libby said.
His children recall family holidays at Narooma every January when the Prells negotiated the Clyde Mountain in their loaded Valiant with boat in tow.
Grazing corriedale sheep opened many doors.
“We had quite a successful export business, mainly to South America, New Zealand and the African continent,” Charlie said.
“It was an important part of Dad’s life, the connections he and Mum made. They travelled to South Africa, Kenya, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Argentina specifically to market corriedales and create friendships all over the world.”
Jeff was chair of a state council when its charter for the Pastures Protection Board changed to the Rural Lands Protection Board.
“The Pastures Protection Board was all about farmers, the Rural Lands Protection Board was all about the land,” Charlie said.
Jeff played for Colts Cricket Club in Goulburn, won selection for Southern NSW and continued playing well into his 50s with long-term teammates Ray Leeson and Jack Thorburn. One of Jeff’s proudest moments came when Charlie played alongside him at Colts.
Charlie said life on the land was rife with enmity between father and son, but the tension experienced was insignificant. His sister Sandy observed during her eulogy, difficult times were underpinned by enduring love and respect for each other. Jeff had carried a photo of his father, Charles, in his wallet to the day he died.
In 2007 Jess Prell died suddenly from a heart attack leaving Jeff so traumatised his children wondered whether he would recover. In time he did and later formed a second 13-year partnership with long-time family friend Marg Shepherd. “In the words of my sister, he had a second innings,” Charlie said.
Jeff Prell died on 5 May, 2022.