St Joseph’s Catholic Church was filled to overflowing as the Gunnedah community gathered to farewell well-known local butcher Gus Etheridge.
Family and his Catholic faith were the cornerstone of Gus’ life and his marriage to Majella Gurr in 1960 was the start of a long and and happy relationship. The couple welcomed eight beautiful children into their lives, raising Gerard, Bernard, David, Jenny and Emma. Sadly, however, Digby, Bede and Michael were premature babies and did not survive.
Their lives were also blest with the arrival of 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Born at Werris Creek on March 2, 1932, to Augustus James Etheridge and Emily Matilda Leonard, young Gus grew up on the family property, The Mystery, at Caroona.
Emily Leonard’s father James had plied a bullock trade between Morpeth and Moree and later won the homestead block in the middle of Breeza station which they named The Mystery - so called because “it was a mystery how he won it”. Gus Etheridge’s parents began their married life in Newcastle and moved to The Mystery in 1927.
Gus began school at Caroona and when the property was sold after a prolonged drought, his parents moved their family to Gunnedah where Gus Etheridge senior purchased Gardiner’s Butcher Shop next to O’Young’s Cash and Carry store in Conadilly Street.
Young Gus attended St Xavier’s Primary School until the tragic death of his 12-year-old sister Joan from appendicitis in 1942 - his grieving parents had already buried younger brother John at the age of six weeks.
The butcher shop was sold to the Finlays and the family moved to a dairy farm at Hallsville near Tamworth. Gus attended Christian Brothers College in Tamworth and indulged his love of rugby league and horse riding also helping out on the farm.
After leaving school, Gus worked as a telegram boy in Tamworth. When the family returned to Gunnedah, Gus put his skills and inherited love of horses to good use, riding track work for horse trainers and competing in local shows. He began his trade in the meat industry when this father bought a boot-maker’s shop in 1946 and converted it into Mornington Butchery.
Before the abattoir opened in 1957, Gus was responsible for helping in the slaughterhouse on the Curlewis Road followed by a day’s work at the butcher shop. When the Mornington Butchery was sold to Merv Newcombe, Gus began working at Namoi Meats and took over in 1959 - the year he met a young nurse who had recently arrived in Gunnedah to work at the hospital.
Majella Gurr was a Lochinvar girl who had recently completed her double certificate in nursing at The Mater Hospital in Newcastle. She was introduced to Gus at the Sportsmen’s Ball and they married at St Patrick’s Lochinvar on November 26, 1960.
Prior to his marriage, Gus had been involved in the Young Catholic Workers (YCW) movement with Bill Clegg who went on to become Mayor of Gunnedah. The friends were foundation members of the group, and helped run the housie at St Joseph’s Hall on Friday nights. Gus also played rugby league for YCW in the local competition.
After three years at Namoi Meats, Gus’ love of horse racing saw him work for a year as a bookmaker, followed by 18 years as an owner-driver carting stock and grain.
Gus Etheridge senior died in 1974 and when the opportunity arose in 1980 for Gus to buy Mornington Butchery from Peter Clayton and Les Smiles, he was the losing bidder at the auction. Luck fell his way, however, when the purchaser pulled out of the sale. After taking ownership on a Saturday, with the help of abattoir manger Jim Rintoul, Gus was able to source meat for a Monday opening.
Son Gerard was released from his apprenticeship to local butcher Doug Pritchard and with his brother Bernard joined his father in the shop, becoming the fourth generation of Etheridge butchers. Although he was still at school, youngest son David was also involved in the business as “wash-up boy”. When Gus retired due to declining health he sold the business to Bernard on January 1, 1998.
Although health problems slowed him down in retirement, Gus and Majella embraced with joy the arrival of grandchildren and took an active interest in their lives. Their faith became even more important as Gus’ health continued to deteriorate and they attended daily Mass at St Joseph’s.
Gus Etheridge’s life journey ended peacefully at Gunnedah Hospital on September 23 and his final farewell at St Joseph’s on September 28 was followed by interment at Gunnedah Memorial Park.
The late Gus Etheridge is survived by his wife Majella, sons Gerard, Bernard (Gunnedah) and David (Tamworth) and daughters Jenny Watterson (Gunnedah) and Emma McAuliffe (Karabar) and their families. He is also survived by his sisters Betty Scot (Gunnedah) and Barbara Scott (Tamworth), 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Read also: Peter Johnson was a dream on the green