End of the trail for army chief

THE retired army colonel largely responsible for the High Country Rail Trail on the old Wodonga-Cudgewa line, John Hillier, has died at Westmont in Baranduda.

He was aged 85.

Colonel Hillier spent 37 years in the Royal Australian Survey Corps, including a period as chief instructor at the Army School of Military Survey at Bonegilla.

He finally was colonel commandant of the corps.

He had several overseas postings including Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Jakarta and advised several Pacific island nations on survey matters.

Colonel Hillier and his wife, Joy, and their three sons, all originally from Adelaide, first lived at Bonegilla in 1966.

They loved the area and after Colonel Hillier worked as a civilian in Darwin and Canberra, they moved back to Border in 1997.

One of the reasons for that move was that it allowed him to indulge a love of sailing.

Colonel Hillier, an engine driver’s son who lost his mother at seven, left school at 15 to work as a clerk and then a draughtsman.

After joining the army in 1946, his early cartographical duties included helping to map the Kosciuszko area for the Snowy Hydro project and working at the Woomera missile firing range in central Australia .

He was commissioned in 1951 as a lieutenant and married Joy Harford in Adelaide in 1952.

While stationed in South Australia, Colonel Hillier was off work for 18 months with TB before serving in the survey school at Balcombe, survey headquarters at Bendigo and in Papua New Guinea in 1962-63.

Colonel Hillier returned to Balcombe as chief instructor and moved with the school to Bonegilla in 1966. He was seconded to the British Army in Singapore in 1967 to head its survey corps with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

From 1969 until retirement from the service in 1983 he held senior roles in Canberra and Jakarta. In civilian life, he worked for the Northern Territory Government and the Mineral Resources Bureau in Canberra.

From 2000 he worked tirelessly to preserve the disused Wodonga to Cudgewa line as a rail trail, lobbying governments to ensure this Crown land was not sold.

He founded advisory groups, lobbied for support, and negotiated grants of hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop the trail and restore bridges.

Parklands Albury-Wodonga once described him as: “Bower bird, map-maker, planner, recruiter, chaser of sponsors and grants, designer of signs, history and heritage adviser, working bee co-ordinator, risk management assessor and implementer and much, much more.”

Colonel Hillier is survived by his wife, sons, four grandchildren and a great-grandson. A private funeral was held last week.

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