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Farewell to a force of nature: 'Tom and Noah not gone, they’ve just ridden on ahead'


Tragically lost in a light aircraft accident five weeks ago, Tom Strachan and his son Noah have left an indelible mark on the lives of thousands – most of whom turned up to say goodbye last week. Michael Blucher remembers a true force of nature.

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The crowd at Eagle Farm was enormous – remarkably so, given there were no races and just one horse.

And she wasn’t even a racehorse. “Peppyphalair” was Tom Strachan’s prized cutting horse, trucked seven hours from her home near Wallumbilla, east of Roma, to lead the tribute to her departed master who, alongside his 20 year-old son Noah, died tragically in a light aircraft accident in the Lockyer Valley on August 29.

The celebration of Noah’s life had been held several days before in the same venue, the popularity of the pair – perhaps more accurately the Strachan family – necessitating a larger than normal memorial setting.

Now it was Tom’s turn. And what a turnout it was, an eclectic mix of local business heavyweights, captains of industry, graziers, gardeners, stock agents, busted arse ringers, Brisbane Grammar old boys, and of course a heaving mass of family and friends, gathering to celebrate the comparatively short but gale force life of Thomas Anthony Strachan , AKA Straco, AKA Straight Jacket.

They filled the members’ grandstand and for two and a half hours, listened intently to the heartfelt tributes, the songs and poems that had been penned in his honour, speakers scrolling through the different dimensions of Tom’s life, and reflecting on his astonishing list of achievements.

Ground-breaking businessman, entrepreneur, cowboy, philanthropist, mentor, mate, larrikin, lodge man, red neck, gentleman, marathon man, spear fisherman, hunter, heli-skier, skipper, story-teller extraordinaire – the list was extraordinary. Then of course there were his most important roles – proud and involved father of Bella, Noah, Lewis and Rosie, loving husband of Anna, loyal brother to Helen, Scott and Margo, dutiful son of Roderick and Glen. Did he ever stop? When did he sleep? And are we sure there was only one Tom Strachan? Perhaps he had a couple of stunt doubles?

You could sense the men in the grandstand, squirming a little uncomfortably on the wooden bench seats, harbouring pangs of guilt and adequacy. “Shit – he did all that in 49 years? I’m struggling to get my socks on in the morning without putting my back out….”

Yes, Tom Strachan was an utter force of nature, a category one cyclone with the power and preparedness to challenge the status quo, even tip it on its head.

It was more than a little ironic that one of Tom Strachan’s most recent (and by accident, public) deeds was to donate $500,000 to his old school, Brisbane Grammar, to help fund rural bursaries.

In his time wearing the light and dark blue of BGS, he spent a good portion of his days in detention. He was not a spiteful teenager, just excessively spirited, a wild kid with an even wilder imagination, and precious little regard for boundaries.

But there was never a teacher who dared utter the words, “you’ll never amount to anything, Strachan” because even in the context of his unruliness, it was abundantly clear, Tom the terror was destined to make his mark somewhere, doing something. You couldn’t have your boots that full and not leave a footprint.

And pretty quickly, he did. Returning to his rural roots at the end of high school, in 2000 he co-founded AWX, a labour hire firm initially conceived to address employment short falls in the agriculture sector.

In no time at all, AWX would also have tentacles in the mining, construction, health and hospitality industries . Within four years, he was at the helm of a booming business with some 2000 contractors on its books. Tom Strachan was on his way.

As his cousin and best mate Andrew Shearer-Smith told the gathering, “Straco never saw problems, only opportunities, and pursued them with unquantifiable passion and energy”.

“Ask Tom how his day was going, and the response was always the same – ‘never had a bad one!’ he’d say. In his eyes, every day was a cracker,” Shearer Smith reflected. “His enthusiasm, his determination, his courage, it was contagious. He stretched people, he took them outside their comfort zone, had them take on challenges they would have never even contemplated. Tom believed in people, more than they believed in themselves.”

His constant eye-out for others underpinned his approach to business. “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want” – Zig Ziglar. And Tom Strachan.

This spirit of abundance was a consistent theme of the discussion during the festivities that followed the formalities at Eagle Farm.

“How’dja know Tom?” “Didn’t know him that well but pushed me to set up my own blah blah blah. Never would have done it if he hadn’t challenged me. The bastard was relentless – used to check in every month to see how I was going. There was no way I could retreat. He helped people be the best versions of themselves. Totally selfless.”

One of the primary reasons Tom Strachan could blaze the trail he did was the support and strength he had around him. His wife, Anna for instance. Just as capable but a lot less voluble, Anna was the Ying to Tom’s Yang, the scientist who complemented – completed – the story teller. Her facts, his bullshit. While Tom danced, Anna listened. Tom went looking for the good in people, Anna kept a tally of any wrong-doings. His big plans, her long lists – in every sense, it was a marriage made in heaven.

Tom was enormously proud and supportive of his wife of 23 years – he’d travel with her all over the world on her crazy long distance swimming adventures. She was about to tackle a “double crossing” of the English channel – Tom and Anna were made of the same flint-hard stuff.

“Tom got enormous pleasure out of seeing Anna achieve what she did,” Michael Tritton, another of his great mates explained. “On a lot of levels, Tom was a paradox. He was as tough as nails, yet he had tremendous empathy. He was simple in some ways, and yet complex in others. He believed everybody needed to stand on their own two feet and have a go, but was always incredibly generous to those who couldn’t or wouldn’t. He picked them up. He was a freakish leader, yet always put himself last. Tom could be impulsive and spontaneous, but at the same time, he was a strategic thinker who you just knew had a long term plan. These contradictions and plenty of others only added to his appeal as a wonderful human being.“

The day after the celebration of Tom’s life at the “Farm”, I was scrolling through my phone, reflecting on all the text messages I’d exchanged with Tom over the years. For no particular reason, I’d kept them.

“Met a bloke the other day you gotta meet. Will be in touch. Hope ya having a cracker….”. he wrote. I, like so many others, had long been a beneficiary of Tom’s generosity of spirit, his penchant for connection and collaboration.

A little eerily, there were also details of where I needed to be and when, to fly with him out to Lighthouse, the prize 18,000 acre cattle property that he and Anna purchased in 2015.

The address of the hanger at Archerfield, even the mobile number of Gary, the pilot who so frequently ferried him between Brisbane and Wallumbilla. The pilot who, along with Tom and Noah and the Strachan’s sausage dog Woody, died in the Lockyer Valley crash.

It was all a little close to home.

While clearly devastated by the events of August 29, those closest to Tom, his large but tight inner circle, seem accepting of the horrid reality. At one level, the way he lived life – on the edge, at speed, in planes, on horses, on motor bikes, herding giant beasts, spearfishing among sharks, ski-ing off piste in Canada, wrestling the odd poisonous snake – it was a blessing he lived as long as his did.

But as his best mates know, there’d be no regrets. As he reminded them regularly, “If you’re not breaking gear, you’re not going hard enough”.

Tom Strachan broke a shitload of gear.

There are others in that inner sanctum who have decided it’s all a bad dream, that Tom and Noah have not gone, they’ve just “ridden on ahead”, and are waiting patiently in a quiet spot for everybody else to catch up.

That’s what people do in situations like these. They learn to cope, any way they can.

One thing’s for certain, no matter where Tom Strachan is, you can guarantee he’d still be having a cracker.

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