The colourful life of Joseph Francis Hodges came to an end just before midday on Tuesday, March 28. He was not fearful of going, things were in order, and he was looking forward to being re-united with his wife Shirley, the love of his life.

Frank, as he was known, was born at Goondiwindi on June 23, 1935, to Cliff and Estelle Hodges; and with his strong family connection to Gunnedah, he came back to live on a number of occasions.

He grew up with his sisters, Doreen and Joan, and brothers Cecil, Albert, Les and Fred. The Hodges family lived mostly in the Gunnedah area, but travelled extensively for farm work and timber cutting. After Frank was born the family moved back to Gunnedah and settled for some time in a small cottage on the common off the Carroll Road. 

Cliff and the eldest boys were always heading off to remote farms and the bush for extended periods for work leaving the younger brothers Frank and Fred at home with their mother. During 1941, Frank’s father secured a job at the local coal mine and the family moved into town for the first time.

Their youngest sister Joan was born in 1942, when the family was living in Little Conadilly Street and soon after they moved out to live on an acreage along View Street which was then the edge of town. The family dog Snow was often sent out to bring the two younger boys home if they were out in the paddocks too late. 

Frank’s mother Estelle died in June 1943, a few days before his 8th birthday, and life would never be the same. The Hodges family stayed on in View Street for the next few years with Cliff working and older sister Doreen looking after the youngsters and managing the house. Cliff never really settled after losing his wife, and when his brother Percey contacted him to say that there was work available cutting timber and railway sleepers at Tullamore they loaded up the truck and headed back to the bush. Young Frank was taken out of school in fourth class, while big brother Cecil decided to go to Sydney to further his boxing opportunities and Doreen stayed in Gunnedah to work. 

The rest of the family arrived to work on Abe McCulloch’s farm sometime in 1946 and lived in a tent in the bush for the next few years. Joan was sent home to live with Doreen in Gunnedah later in the year. 

In the eulogy at Frank’s graveside farewell at Gunnedah Memorial Park on April 29,  Frank’s son Marlon said life must have been tough for everyone, but especially for the two youngest boys Fred and Frank. 

“Days were spent cutting trees and splitting logs by hand with axes and crosscut saws and loading truckloads of railway sleepers day after day. He told me a few years ago that he had the job of leaving the timber site early to get back to the camp to make sure the fire was going and the boiler was hot and ready to cook dinner. He got into all sorts of trouble if the fire went out,” Marlon said.

“He was taken out of school when he was 10 years old, and was largely self-taught. He loved language and learning – I remember him always with a notebook in his shirt pocket, and if he came across a new word, or a phrase he was not sure about he would write it down and go through the dictionary or Thesaurus when he got home to figure it out, see what it meant. That’s how he got through study at Bible School and how he learned and dealt with life. His old Bible is full of notes and references in the margins. He was not afraid of hard work and paid his own way through college by mowing lawns, gardening, and cleaning houses. 

“He found a job cleaning the Glad Tidings Tabernacle Church in Fortitude Valley after hours, with Mum helping. It was a very big church, lots of late night mopping and sweeping for him and also Mum …. and back to college first thing next morning. Dad was always very proud of graduating from Bible College.”

Frank Hodges was only 14 when he decided that it was time to leave the bush and he moved into Tullamore to work for the local stock and station agent. The new job included board and keep. He worked just long enough to save enough money for a brand new push bike and then pedalled on gravel roads to Gunnedah to stay with Doreen at 48 Conadilly Street. Little sister Joan was going to school, and Doreen had married Kevin MacIntosh. This was to be home and family for the next few years, and a period where lifelong friendships were made. His brother Albert was living nearby in a boarding house and he introduced Frank to Pat Nelson who became a lifelong friend. Frank was doing farm work, Bathurst Burr cutting, trapping rabbits, and bee keeping through this period. He started training and boxing at the Gunnedah Police Boys Club and went on to become North West NSW Welterweight Champion, known as the ‘Kangaroo Kid’.

He did a couple of seasons fighting in the boxing tents of the travelling show circuit to earn money to purchase his first motorbike. It was at the Gunnedah Rodeo in September 1950 that Frank was introduced to a young Shirley Small by a mutual friend Shirley Dewson. Life changed immediately for the Kangaroo Kid – Shirley was just 13 years and nine months old and Frank was 15. Shirley’s father John Small had returned from fighting in the war in New Guinea and was working on farms in the area to make ends meet for the family. Frank and Shirley began meeting up in town to go to the movies –  always chaperoned by Shirley’s younger sister Carmen. Early in 1951 Shirley moved to Sydney to live with her grandparents in Darlinghurst and Frank would ride his motorcycle to Sydney almost every other weekend, leaving on Friday after work, riding all night to visit, often camping in his sleeping bag at St Leonard’s on Saturday night before meeting with Shirley at her grandparents on Sunday. Long sightseeing and exploring trips around Sydney were the usual order of the day, on the motorcycle or with Nasho’s friends Bert Everingham in his old Plymouth car. 

Eventually Shirley returned to live with the family in Narrabri, and often travelled to Gunnedah on the train to spend the weekend, staying with Frank’s sister Doreen. On occasions when Shirley couldn’t make the train trip Frank was again on the Royal Enfield heading to Narrabri whenever he could. The couple married at the Presbyterian Church in Tamworth on November 19, 1955 and honeymooned at the Armidale motorbike races the next day as Frank had recently ended his boxing career to go motorcycle racing on the new Porcupine motorcycle speedway. He competed at the inaugural meeting of the new short circuit track and eventually added a sidecar to his old Triumph. He won championship events around Northern NSW over the next few years. His love of motorcycles and riding in the open air stayed with him his entire life. 

Frank and Shirley lived at 39 Conadilly Street, Gunnedah, for the next few years, running a firewood yard. Their son Marlon arrived in 1956 and was often carried around the paddocks in a galvanised bath full of water to keep cool in summer while Frank and Shirley cut and loaded firewood ready to deliver. Frank found a new job operating bulldozers and heavy earth moving equipment on the rebuilding of the Gunnedah Airport in 1960 and this led to a move to Narrabri with the same company for the construction of the Narrabri Airport. During this time, they attended a Church Evangelistic meeting in Narrabri and became committed Christians. They moved to Brisbane in 1963 to attend Bible College for the next three years and life again turned in different directions.

When Frank completed his training at Bible College the family loaded up the old VW Kombi van and trailer and moved to Shepparton in Victoria to look after a new church. This was the start  of  a period of travelling church ministry far and wide, with ministry at Mirboo North in Gippsland, Esperance, West Australia, followed, by many years of travelling in a caravan in country Queensland looking after the local fellowship. They also made trips to India to work with local pastors. Shirley and Frank always worked as a team – Shirley usually helping to set up and look after the local Sunday schools. They were always out and about together, helping and counselling as part of the Hodges team, and were never far apart. 

When Shirley’s Mum Louisa became ill, they returned to Narrabri where they lived with the family at 19 Wee Waa Road before building their first house in Ugoa Street. This also allowed Marlon to finish school. 

Prestige Motorcycles was set up, and for many years the dealership sold new and used motorcycles, restored vintage bikes, and built competition bike projects. Frank organised motorcycle rallies and riding treasure hunts for local riders, and these were often attended by friends riding up from Gunnedah. 

These runs were usually around the Pilliga Forest tracks and roads, and a barbecue and a campfire always followed along with many tall tales. In the early 1980s, Frank and Shirley decided to close the motorcycle shop so they would have more flexible times to continue making their trips into Queensland for church ministry.

They purchased a house at Tooraweenah where Frank took up furniture restoration, vintage car restoration, general and specialist upholstery work to support the travelling pastoral work. 

The warmer Queensland weather was the impetus for a move to Eagleby in 1994 and a new chapter in their life at Tarlo Street. 

Frank dealt with many medical issues over the years, but never stopped caring and loving. He cared for Shirley until her death on October 2, 2020, just short of their 65th wedding anniversary. Frank missed her every day, and life was never quite the same without the girl he had spent his life with.

“I don’t think he ever really recovered from the loss and the experience of separation during the COVID lockdown,” Marlon said of his father.

“My dad was outspoken, he hated hypocrisy, inequality, and untruths, and often called it out to his own detriment. He saw things very much in black and white, right and wrong. He understood some of the greyer areas in life as he got older, but his belief in honesty and leading by example never changed. 

“Dad taught me to appreciate the things we had in life, and to show respect. We didn’t have a lot of money in the house growing up and through the Bible College years. I didn’t realise that we were doing it tough because I was always surrounded by love and fun, always felt that anything our family did was something special and travelling anywhere new was always a great adventure. 

“Maybe the lives of the Hodges trio have been a bit odd at times, but if love, caring, compassion, loyalty mean anything at all, then I have been blessed to have Joseph Hodges as my Dad, and I will miss him.”

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