ONE of Muswellbrook's most decorated residents is saying farewell to the town he loves.
After many decades of serving the community, and helping anyone in trouble as a member of the Muswellbrook SES, Muswellbrook Lions Club or numerous other organisations, Mark Elsley will start a new life with wife Lynda on the Central Coast.
And, the man who accepted the 2003 NSW Government Community Service Award, was named Muswellbrook Shire Citizen of the Year (2006) and received an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2012 leaves some big shoes to fill.
"I'll miss the area but, probably more so, the team at [Muswellbrook] SES," Mr Elsley said.
"It's been a big part of life, especially as Unit Controller for 12 years.
"Just the support from local people has been brilliant - and, for that, I say thank you.
"When I was younger, everyone wanted to help each other.
"So, after growing up in that kind of environment, I guess it rubbed off on me."
The soon-to-be former NSW Soil Conservation Service employee moved to Muswellbrook in April, 1980, when he started work with the River Improvement Branch of the Water Resources Commission (located at 7 Industrial Close).
Ironically, the site is now owned by Muswellbrook Shire Council and the Muswellbrook SES occupies the building that was his office.
It wasn't long after his arrival that he began volunteering within the community.
He started with The Salvation Army, helping out with cutting up old clothes for rags and assisting with their emergency services.
Mr Elsley then became interested in First Aid and qualified as a First Aider with Red Cross, going on to be a trainer and assessor.
He was a member of the Voluntary Aid Service Corps (a section of Red Cross), providing First Aid at sporting events and being involved with training the Cadet Unit.
He was involved in non-emergency medical transport through Red Cross, St John's and finally Upper Hunter Non-Emergency Medical Transport Inc. for more than 20 years.
He also lent a hand painting many of the walls within the old Bayswater Training Centre in Carl Street, which later transformed into the Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC).
In September, 1984, Mr Elsley was invited to join Muswellbrook Lions Club - and he will soon clock up 35 years of active membership with the organisation.
During his time with them, he's filled just about every board position including president, secretary and treasurer.
He has also served many terms on the Lions District Cabinet mainly as zone chairman and environment chairman.
His service in Lions has been recognised by being awarded a Melvin Jones Fellowship, named after the founder of Lions (Melvin Jones).
Although he will step down as secretary and assistant treasurer at the end of June, Mr Elsley will remain in the Muswellbrook club for a period of time to assist in the transitioning of the old board to the new.
Through his work in river and floodplain management, he became involved in many projects throughout the Hunter Valley.
One initiative, in particular, was the upgrading of the river monitoring network.
The use of computers in observing river levels was new and Muswellbrook SES was the first headquarters to gain the technology.
He assisted with its installation and training of the volunteers.
As a result, in 1991, Mr Elsley joined the Muswellbrook Unit of the NSW State Emergency Service (SES) with the main aim of using his knowledge of rivers and flooding for operational activities within the shire.
He was one of the main operations personnel responsible for coordinating the SES response to the 2004 hail storm that went through Muswellbrook.
It's something he recalls clearly, even to this day.
"That's probably the event I remember most," Mr Elsley said.
"We received in excess of 600 calls for assistance at the local headquarters.
"I believe there was also a $10 million damage bill, just in the car yards.
"We had 15 'out of town' units, as well as Rural Fire Service and NSW Fire Brigade (as it was known back then) crews, helping out.
"Ray Butchard was the Local Controller at the time - and we were very pro-active during that event.
"If the volunteers were on a roof, and noticed damaged on a neighbour's property, we'd inform them, too.
"I think people appreciated that.
"We received great feedback from the visiting units.
"Everything fell into place; I can't recall too many issues."
In 2005, Mr Elsley was appointed Muswellbrook Unit Controller and Muswellbrook Shire Local Controller, taking the reins from Mr Butchard.
In these dual roles, he had responsibility for not only running the local unit but also SES activities within shire.
He undertook a variety of training, which enabled him to become a qualified Incident Controller.
Mr Elsley coordinated the SES response to many significant storm events within the region, as well as disasters in other areas of the state.
He stepped down from these positions at the end of July, 2017.
His work in the SES has been recognised many times with several Commissioners' Commendations, collecting the State Service Medal (10 years) and National Service Medal (15 years) along the way.
Mr Elsley's volunteering deeds are widespread.
In 2000, he was a media assistant at the Olympic Games in Sydney.
Here, he abetted many of the journalists reporting on the Games, which included data entry, delivering emails, mail and newspapers.
He also assisted at the Help Desk, competitor registration and security at press conferences.
In 2003, he leant a hand at the Rugby World Cup, again as a media assistant but, this time, involved in after-match press conferences, being a liaison person between team managers and conference coordinator.
Six years later, Mr Elsley returned to Sydney for the World Masters Games where he was a supervisor for the Sydney Aquatic Centre at Olympic Park.
He looked after the volunteers including rosters and meals.
He worked with VIPs, media, medical and general information throughout the centre.
He's also completed a number of stints at the Sydney International Tennis tournaments where he again worked as a media assistant.
Then came the acknowledgements.
"I don't do what I do for the plaudits," Mr Elsley said.
"I think I was the eighth person (at the time) to obtain the NSW Government Community Service Award.
"I was also honoured to be named Citizen of the Year.
"It's nice to be recognised for things I've done around town.
"But, the biggest surprise [for me] was receiving an OAM - and being recognised nationally for my service to the Muswellbrook community.
"That was truly humbling.
"I really enjoy volunteering.
"It's interesting to meet people and provide assistance, more so in the local community where there is always a need.
"Take, for instance, the current drought in the Upper Hunter.
"Lions have delivered in the order of $150,000 worth of emergency food hampers.
"Muswellbrook Lions have purchased more than $40,000 worth of hay for Upper Hunter farmers.
"Through Muswellbrook/Merriwa local Len Kelman, both hay and water has been delivered to the men and women on the land experiencing these conditions.
"I was quite shy as a kid and through my volunteering I have grown in confidence.
"Many local community service organisations, such as Lions, are struggling for members.
"There doesn't seem to be willingness to help others like there was years ago."
Mr Elsley mentioned that at the Rugby World Cup, he asked young people about volunteering in their own community.
"The response was they wanted to be paid for everything they do, which I thought was the wrong attitude," he said.
He will call it a day at the NSW Soil Conservation Service - and retire on Friday, July 26, after more than 39 years stabilising and planting river banks.
His main achievements have been the development of a river management program called Rivercare.
Mr Elsley worked for a number of years in the Manning catchment developing plans with various Landcare groups and the Manning Catchment Committee.
He then went on to set up Rivercare in the north-west of NSW.
He was also involved in a revolutionary way of growing and planting trees known as Longstem Tube Stock.
Mr Elsley was a co-author of a scientific paper presented at a River Management conference in Adelaide on the Longstem trees.
He also presented a poster on the planting methods at the same forum.
"Although Lynda and I are transferring to a Lions club and SES unit in the Central Coast area, to continue our community service, we're looking forward to a bit of down-time, too," Mr Elsley said.
"We both like travelling, including ocean cruising, and attending concerts such as Elton John, Human Nature, Marcia Hines and John Farnham.
"So, we've already booked a number of trips and shows over the next 12 months."
Muswellbrook's loss is certainly the Central Coast's gain.