The death of South Albury farmer Daryl Gray has come as a shock to his family and colleagues in the agriculture industry.
Daryl, 69, was working on his Willowbank property on Saturday evening when a grassfire started from his car’s exhaust and he was fatally wounded by the burns.
He died in hospital in Melbourne early Tuesday morning, surrounded by family.
Brother Gary Gray said the tributes offered to the family over the past few days had showed the respect people had for Daryl.
“Everybody just loved him because he spoke the truth, but he’d do anything to help anyone,” he said. “He was always willing to help.”
Generosity was also a character trait of the Grays’ father and grandfather, who were part of a line of family who ran the Willowbank property for over a century.
Daryl and younger brother Byron Gray worked with cattle and vegetables on the farm together as a good team.
“We always thought we didn’t have blood running through our veins, we had Murray River water,” Byron said.
He said Daryl was tough on the outside, but a “cream puff” underneath and loved a bit of grumpy banter with regular customers at the markets each Saturday.
Daryl was well known in the agriculture industry, but had also played football for the Albury Tigers in his youth – and went on to coach junior teams – and was a talented runner who competed in the Stawell Gift.
He is survived by a daughter Nadine and son Aaron, and sister Christine, along with his brothers.
Daryl and Byron were founding members of the Hume Murray Food Bowl and had attended almost every farmers market with their Willowbank vegetable stand since its inception.
Market committee president David Bryant said Daryl had an “amazing commitment” to produce on the Border.
“He always had time to share a cooking recipe with customers when he was selling his veggies,” he said.
“They shared the love of local produce with thousands of people and Daryl always enjoyed seeing parents come with small children to learn and experience that connection between farmer and plate. You can see in his eyes it bought a lot of joy to him sharing that knowledge.”
The Grays will plan a public funeral, to be officiated by family friend Father Peter MacLeod-Miller.
A minute’s silence was held at Northern Victoria Livestock Exchange on Tuesday morning as a tribute to Daryl Gray, who would rarely miss a week at the saleyards.
Site manager James Thompson said Daryl, a member of the advisory committee, would always stop by his office and he enjoyed what would often turn into an in-depth discussion.
“He was a very well-liked character in the industry,” he said.
“Daryl called a spade a spade – he was very open, very easy to have a chat to … He had the industry at heart.”
Former agriculture writer at The Border Mail and Gray family friend Mick McGlone remembered Daryl as a bloke with a tough exterior, but a big heart underneath.
“He liked to put on a grizzly, gruff persona,” he said.
“But the fact was he would go out of his way to help anyone.
“I doubt I would have been able to write about agriculture without his, and his younger brother Byron's, mentoring.
“And the many leads he gave me, always introduced by ‘you know what you should write about’. Trips down to Willowbank, personally or professionally, just won't be the same anymore.”