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Vale Paul McKinley: Life and Times of a Local Stonemason

It’s sometimes said that everyone dies twice – first when they breathe their last breath, and finally when someone mentions their name for the very last time. In the case of a stonemason, their craftsmanship often lives on for centuries and becomes an established part of the community, enjoyed and admired by successive generations.

Paul McKinley, well-known local identity and Wiseman’s Ferry stonemason, died last month aged 63. The funeral service was held at his home in River Rd, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, attended by more than 200 family members and friends.

The hearse was his beloved 1961 VW Kombi. At the end of the service, the Kombi was driven by his brother, Hughie, out of the driveway and slowly down the road, flanked on both sides by attendees in a guard of honour. Walking at the front of the Kombi were his wife, Lynette and daughters Karli and Belle. At the rear were his other brothers and sisters.

Some of the attendees commented that he would obviously have carved his own headstone, as any stonemason would in preparation for their own passing. In fact, he didn’t. Paul’s wish was to be cremated and for his ashes to be scattered at two of his favourite bush retreats, Tuross River and Colo River.

Paul Martin McKinley was born in 1960 at Darlinghurst, the fourth of eight children to Edward and Margaret. When he was a year old the family moved to Dural, which at the time mostly comprised rural properties and bushland. He loved riding motorbikes and exploring the bush with his brothers. One of his earliest household chores was to help his mother milk the family cow.

After graduating from Galston High School, Paul first job was at Robin’s shoe factory. But in 1983 he helped to build a large stone barn and two gate houses on a local property and fell in love with the rustic strength and timelessness of stonework.

Paul 24 Vale Paul Mckinley: Life And Times Of A Local Stonemason

He also met and fell in love with a young woman who was getting around in a 1963 blue Beetle. Lynette now claims that it was actually her doing to introduce Paul to the world of Volkswagens – but whether or not that bit’s true, no-one disputes the fact that he became so besotted with her and her crazy VW, he developed a lifelong commitment and fascination for both.

Paul became a licensed stonemason in 1986, after graduating from Granville TAFE. Over the next 37 years he built everything from beautiful stone houses to retaining walls and sea walls. He also engineered a machine that made stone spheres for water features.

Like all master craftsmen, Paul wasn’t just a builder, he was an artist. He brought his appreciation for traditional architectural design to all of his jobs and gave his clients not just a solid stone structure but also the enduring qualities of classic elegance and style.

On father’s day in 1992, Karli was born. Paul was bursting with pride, and at the end of the day he was told to ‘go home and rest his smile’. His second daughter, Belle, was born in 1994 while Paul was fighting a catastrophic bushfire in the area that was threatening many homes, including his own.

They bought the family home in Wiseman’s Ferry in 1993. If the local community hadn’t known much about them before they moved in, this was quickly rectified on the day they arrived with their possessions in a convoy of 10 Kombis and hoisted a VW flag in the front yard to announce that they were now ‘in residence’.

Paul was an eccentric, stubborn, sometimes-infuriating man with iron-clad principles and a strong sense of right and wrong. He was generous to a fault, and there were times when he would bring complete strangers back home to meet his long-suffering wife and be given dinner and a place to stay for the night. He wasn’t so much a glass-half-full as more of a glass-always-overflowing person. He tended to see the best in everyone, including those who were doing it tough or were at the lower end of the social scale.

One of his favourite pastimes was fly fishing, particularly on the Tuross River. He was originally taught the art by his great aunt in Tuross, using a traditional split cane rod. Aunty Bid was a formidable woman who lived to the grand age of 98 and was known to shoot snakes in the backyard from her bedroom window. Despite the huge age difference, Paul and Aunty Bid were peas in a pod, and shared the same values and outlook on life.

But Paul’s over-riding passions were his family and stonemasonry – and VWs. Every car he owned was a VW – work vehicles, family cars and vintage cars. He regularly went to VW car shows and swap meets, and would spend his weekends tinkering with cars in the back shed. He even made his daughters buy VWs as their first car.

In mid 2023 Paul was diagnosed with lung cancer. Although he tried chemotherapy and visited several specialists for advice, it soon became clear that the condition was inoperable and untreatable. In typical style, he made his mind up that the hospital circuit was not for him, and decided to stay home and see out his days on the front verandah.

Over the following months, many family members and friends came to see him. Right to the end, he was gracious and cheerful with visitors and always interested in their activities. Paul died on 18th February 2024, lying in bed holding Lynette’s hand. His last words to her were ‘I love you’.

At the memorial service held two weeks later, some of the attendees commented that he was one of the most honest, principled and idiosyncratic people they had ever met. He will be remembered as an expert craftsman and devoted family man, with values and standards just as enduring as the centuries-old trade that he practiced.

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