Cobram loses one of its favourite sons

By Liam Nash

Charles Foster, a man who had an unconditional love for mother nature and an unspoken agreement with father time, has died, aged 96.

He held an almost otherworldly presence and, before his death, Mr Foster accomplished enough for two lifetimes and will forever be deeply ingrained in Cobram’s history for his work within the community.

Mr Foster was born and raised in the small town of Ballandella near Rochester and, with a father serving in World War I, his earliest aspirations were that of fighting for his country.

He grew up in and around the irrigation channel country, which sparked his love of boats, so naturally he registered himself for Navy duties at 17 – one year short of the legal age.

Enrolled as a stoker, Mr Foster's first steps into the world as an adult were at sea where he experienced World War II within the confines of corvettes, spending most time aboard the H.M.A.S Gawler.

Despite the grueling nature of the role, the adventure of Mr Foster’s wartime experiences and the friendships he made on board lasted a lifetime.

He remained enlisted until war finally ceased, he served as crew on a minesweeper – voluntarily, of course.

On his return to Australian shores, Mr Foster was recruited and trained by the Victorian Government where he joined the Department of Agriculture, responsible for the development of the dairying industry in the district.

Mr Foster was also part of the formation of the Murray Goulburn, which was noted in the minutes of the first meeting.

Mr Foster was an enthusiast in many pursuits – not only did he build the house he lived in 1957, he also created a haven for wildlife in his vast backyard.

In the 1960s, he took up snow skiing and built the chalet on Mt Hotham in the Victorian alps, as well as mapping out the ski runs, which are still used today.

Aside from his day-to-day obligations, Mr Foster had many interests, most of which many would certainly consider unbelievable.

He was an amateur gem and gold fossicker, enjoying panning and sleusing for gold along the goldfields and Ovens River, not for profit, but for pleasure.

He also bought an opal mine in White Cliffs, where he would wile away the days underground whenever he could, again not a profitable enterprise.

A fierce advocate for the environment, Mr Foster went from leasing the riverbends along the Murray River to fatten his Hereford cattle, to doing anything and everything to protect the landscape surrounding Cobram.

He was famous for blasting the tourists for lighting fires and not giving the bush the respect it deserved.

But Mr Foster had another love which surpassed his adoration for the outdoors; Lynette, his only child.

“It was an amazing relationship, the love he had for me made me feel always safe,” she said.

“Dad was very charismatic, he was so physically tough, I can’t tell you the injuries he has had endured without any complaints and that is why I thought he would last forever.”

After completing university in 1979, Mr Foster took long service leave and the father-and-daughter duo embarked on an 18-month trip across Africa. It was there he caught the travel bug.

Mr Foster would set aside three to six months each year to visit his home away-from-home in Africa, where he would traverse the Kalahari Desert, Namibia, Rhodesia and the South Africa veldt, camping and observing animals and enjoying one continuous safari.

On returning to Cobram, he would unlock the back door and life would go on until his next trip abroad.

A life member of the Returned Services League, Mr Foster was instrumental in the commissioning of the Cobram war memorial in the 1990s and led Anzac and Armistice day services for his comrades each year.

He also enjoyed editing and publishing a three-monthly newsletter called the Gawler Gazette, which detailed naval news and history, of which the 100th edition was published in June.

Mr Foster’s many achievements signified his belief in himself and, as a man of a different era, his legacy will live on through the town for years to come.

“Everyone is in disbelief that this invincible person has passed away, but he has left this legacy far and wide,” Lynette said.

“(He was) someone who was so much a part of Cobram, but always his own man.”

A memorial service is on Sunday at St Margaret's Anglican Church, Cobram, 9.30 am. A celebration of Mr Foster's life will be held at his home under the trees on the corner of Karook and Warhil Sts.