About 40 years ago a tourist bus broke down at Hyden, near Wave Rock, a town without a garage or mechanic. The 30 frustrated passengers were getting restless when Russel Mouritz came to the rescue.
Russel loaded his truck with dozens of hay bales to serve as seats, got the tourists on to this new "tourist coach" and drove them round his farm and the surrounding area. This led to a new business, Russel's Farm Tour Experiences, and led him to the Sir David Brand Medal for Tourism and the WA Citizen of the Year Award - This saw the dawn of a new life for Hyden as a tourist destination.
No one has done more for one place than Russel Mouritz did for Hyden and its main attraction, Wave Rock. In 1960 the town, 340km east of Perth, had no water for consumption, only 3 telephone lines, no road and electricity was provided by a generator for lighting and then only between 7am and 11pm.
"If you can't get through the wall, find a loose brick and chip at that until you get through the wall" was one of his favourite sayings. Premiers, Cabinet Ministers, Governors and Governor - Generals all know that he lived up to that as he battled for his home town.
Thomas John Russel Mouritz was born on October 16, 1931. He was the second son of Mick and May, following Ben and, in turn followed by Tony and Ted. The family had a farm, Wandilla, just outside Hyden. Russel and his brothers attended Hyden Primary School some 9kms away and did the trip every day by bicycle.
He was sent to Perth to attend Perth Modern School and delivered groceries around Mt Hawthorn to pick up some extra pocket money.
His father, helped by Italian Prisoners Of War, built a new house on the farm in 1945 before he and May left to live in Armadale (where there are still some streets named after family members). Russel and Ben then ran the farm before Ben moved out to build a contracting and land clearing business.
Valerie Thompson grew up in Hyden but did not attend the local school, being taught by correspondence at home. In her early teens, she attended Kobelya College in Katanning for her senior school. She and Russel married in October 1953 and were the first couple married in the Hyden Town Hall. They had 4 children, Sheenagh, Noriece, Vernon and Fiona.
It was after the incident with the tourist bus (it had a broken axle) that Russel became determined to get tourism up and running.
He joined the Hyden Progress Association and later became Managing Director of the Hyden Tourist Development Company. The company was formed after the Tourism Development Committee, established in 1967, restructed when 7 of its 12 members resigned on hearing that the committee would be responsible for fundraising. Russel and the rest of the committee stayed and went to work.
Not everyone shared Russel's vision for the future. At one early meeting of residents, 70 voted for a tourism push, 15 residents thought the town should stick to farming - voted against and 15 abstained. One government official, writing to tell Ben of his financial requirements when the caravan park was being built, scribbled on the bottom of the official paper "and best of luck with your white elephant".
With the late Phillip Lynch, Russel and Ben built the Wave Rock Motel, which with the adjacent roadhouse now has a staff of 50. In 1970, the caravan park was built, then came the Wave Rock Lakeside Resort and finally the airport and transfer station.
A local lady stated "without the legwork, vision, strength of character and personal commitment of these guys, Hyden would not be the town it is today".
For his efforts, Russel was awarded the Sir David Brand medal (1997), the WA Senior Business Leader's Award (1999). In 2001 he was presented with the Premier's Award for Legends in the Hospitality and Tourism Industry and in 2005, he was awarded the WA Citizen of the Year Award for regional development by the Governor, Ken Michael.
In additon to all this, Russel found time to indulge in his passion for rebuilding old cars. In his lifetime, he had restored 10 cars, including Buicks, Chevrolets and a Rolls-Royce. When he died in November 2006, he was restoring an Essex, a US Marque which stopped production in 1932.
Russel passed away in November 2006, however his legacy lives on. He will long be remembered by the Hyden community and forever loved by his family- his wife Val, their four children, eight grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
His son, Vern found a perfect summing up of his dad when he went to the local hotel and at the bar a patron said to him: "I am glad your dad went before me, because I know there will be a pub built by the time I get there. Russel will have it organized"!