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Augusta, Sicily, Italy. September 1943. Pilot Officer (PO) John Hooke, No.3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF,
of Melbourne, Vic, sits on an Italian seaplane captured by the Allies. PO Hooke was shot down over Sicily
during the initial phase of the campaign and was helped by Italian civilians, he returned to his
squadron in time to take part in later operations from Pachino. [AWM MEA0313]
John Hooke embodied the quintessential attributes of a great Australian. He did not court publicity but was a man of modesty who toiled endlessly for his country and, when it became necessary, battled courageously overseas.
He was a man who represented rural interests in public affairs; he possessed prodigious energy and worked hard physically round the clock. Yet Hooke was also a man of intellect and one who loved poetry and art. His mind was immersed in classical mythology and he retained a detailed knowledge of European history. His son Cameron has noted: "Although dad left school at 14, he was among the best educated people I have known."
Hooke was the eldest of five children born to a farming family at Buangor on the northern edge of Victoria's western district. His father, Harry Hobson Hooke, was a farmer and his mother Olave (nee Anderson) an artist who, with her parents, was a member of the Heidelberg School of artists.
Hooke attended the local Ararat Grammar School until he was 14. At this stage he nursed ambitions to become an artist. It was, after all, in the blood. In 1931, Australia was in the grip of the Depression. Hooke Snr. offered Hooke Jnr. a share in his Dorset Horn stud sheep property, known as 'Yerabin'. [A local Aboriginal name for Swallow birds.] John Hooke's financial share In the first year of the partnership amounted to one guinea. Undaunted, he built a woolshed without the benefit of training in carpentry or building techniques. (After the war, when he settled on his own property, he fenced 22 paddocks, hand-digging every post hole at 3-metre intervals.)
Hooke Joined the Victorian Light Horse Troop, on a part-time basis, in the late 30s and was attending camp at Torquay (Victoria) when war was declared. The troop was considered redundant for modern warfare and Hooke enlisted in the RAAF as an Air-Gunner. He trained as a pilot in what was then Rhodesia (as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme) where he flew Tiger Moths and Harvards. He received advanced operational training in England before joining RAAF No.3 Squadron in the Egyptian Western Desert. This squadron had converted to Kittyhawks.
In all, he flew the Kitties in 256 sorties for a total of 983 hours. He rose rapidly in rank to become a Squadron Leader in 1944. On December 9, 1944, Hooke's local Australian newspaper, Ararat's The Advertiser, proudly reported: "The first time Hooke was shot down was when his plane was attacked —after the landing — by the enemy, with cannon fire. On the second occasion, when he was reported missing for five days, he was wounded with shrapnel whilst in the air but managed to crash-land his plane."
Sicily, Italy. 1943. Pilot Officer J. Hooke, No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF, crouches beside a cart
while he talks to two women with whom he stayed with for several hours after crash landing his
aircraft nearby. [AWM MEA0335]
Hooke was honoured with an (British military) OBE in addition to a Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1946, he was appointed the RAAF's representative to march in the Victory Contingent in London. He became renowned for not losing either a man or an aircraft.
Back In Australia, while still serving in the force at Tocumwal in NSW, he met and married Sydneysider Patricia Thomas, a science graduate from the University of Sydney who, as a soil specialist and member of the WAAF, designed aircraft landing strips.
For five years following the war, Hooke served as a pilot with Australian National Airways and for two years with Air Ceylon. In 1953 he took up a 200-hectare Soldier Settlement block in his home district and, in time, established the largest Dorset Horn stud in the country. Until a standard soldier settlement home was built for the Hookes, they lived for 18 months in a corrugated iron garage.
Hooke soon became involved in civic affairs. In 1967 he was elected to the Ripon Shire Council and in 1970 became President. He organised a competitive walk to raise money for a swimming pool. He won the walk, then strode a further 15km back to the property to finish off the day's work. Five children were born in these early married years.
In 1970, Hooke became a Commissioner to the Melbourne Harbour Trust (subsequently Port of Melbourne Authority) representing Victorian primary industry. He served for 15 years as senior commissioner, often as acting chair, when the chairman was out of the country. Hooke's son Andrew recalls those years. "Dad would be up around 5am, breakfast, drive around the entire property checking for stock problems, change, drive the 2½ hours or so to Melbourne, arriving between 8am and 9am. He would leave the office at about 6pm, drive home, attend to any problems with the sheep, then dine around 10pm; he would repeat the process the following day."
During Hooke's tenure at the Port Authority, wide-ranging changes took place. A campaign was established to clean up the Yarra River; radar was Instituted between the port and the heads of Port Philip Bay, and the World Trade Centre was constructed.
Hooke was president of the local branch of the RSL from 1953 and senior country vice-president of the Victorian branch between 1972 and 1978. He was made a life member in 1978. He frequently addressed schools and services on Anzac Day.
He was president of the Beaufort State School and a group scoutmaster. Hooke was a fine horseman and an excellent shot. He could identify hundreds of eucalypts and acacias. When he took his children to cut firewood, he knew what would burn the longest and which smelt the best. He cared for his animals. He told stories and recited poems and painted pictures.
Hooke remained a man of the bush and fought authority for the rights of country people. He leaves his wife Pat, children David, Cameron, Mitchell, Brondwen and Andrew, and 12 grandchildren.
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