DEREK Melhuish will turn 96 years old on 8 December and he is carefully considering how to celebrate the occasion.
The Clarkson resident wants to better the achievement of his 95th birthday when he climbed Pemberton’s famous Gloucester Tree, for the 18th time.
In doing so, Derek became the oldest person to reach the top – easily managing the 153 spikes to get to there, 72m from the ground.
“It wasn’t tough,” he said. “I’ve been up there quite a few times before. I go down there quite a lot. I usually spend a couple of weeks in spring in the Stirling Ranges.
“I love it down there.”
The popular Gloucester Tree, the second tallest lookout tree in Australia, was first used as a look out in 1947. It’s height and vantage point made it perfect for scanning the area for fires.
It still provides an amazing view of the surrounding karri forest.
While Derek loves the tree and the view it provides from its peak, he thinks there is a better one.
“The nicest climb is not the Gloucester, but the Bicentennial Tree, right in the middle of the forest,” he said. “That’s largely because of the location.
“It’s a little taller than the Gloucester and a little harder to climb. It does have a platform at about 20m, so beginners can go up to there.”
The Bicentennial Tree is a 75m climb to the top, with 165 spikes to navigate.
The climb up the Gloucester Tree as a birthday event came about after Derek was joking around with some friends and he told them he could achieve the feat, even at his tender age.
So, they set him the challenge and took over organising it.
Some of them tagged along on the day and made it a special one for Derek to remember.
“Some of them came down to see me do it,” he said.
“It was a lovely day and the view was good. I climbed first thing in the morning and we went to a café where I was known and had a bit of a party with seven or eight of us.
“Someone even brought a cake.”
Derek won’t be standing still waiting for his next milestone to come along though. It’s not in his nature.
The father of two is always keen to get out and about.
A month before his birthday climb, he took on and conquered the three km half-day bush walk up Mt Hassell in the Stirling Ranges.
The grade four trek reaches a peak of 847m and can be quite tricky. But the views at the top are worth it.
Derek tributes his restlessness potentially to being stuck in a German prisoner of war camp during WWII, when he was unable to get out and about as he liked.
Having been born in London, he was serving in Britain’s Royal Air Force as a navigator when his bomber got shot down and he had to bail out one night.
He says it wasn’t really a tough 18 months while being captive, but since his release, he hasn’t been able to stand still.
Post war, Derek travelled and worked throughout Western and Northern Africa and then India where he ran an import and distribution centre with more than 200 staff.
He was in India for 15 years before he and his then wife decided to move to Australia in 1966.
Now he’s retired and living in Perth’s northern suburbs.
He’s still restless and keeps himself fit and active. He works out at Jetts gym in Clarkson regularly to keep things working properly.
“Nothing much,” he said. “I go to the gym three times a week for residence stuff mainly.
“It’s all to keep your muscles going, so residence stuff is the main thing.”
So, what’s next for Derek? He is asked regularly about his 100th birthday celebration plans, but…
“I haven’t planned that far ahead,” he said.
“I’m trying to think of something outrageous for my next birthday.”