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Sporting identity John Forbes dead at 79 after tragic accident

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Tributes are flowing for Australian sporting identity John Forbes OAM after he was killed in an accident at his property in Mitiamo, in northern Victoria.

His body was discovered by a neighbour at about 9.30am yesterday in Bendigo Creek.

The 79-year old is believed to have fallen into the water as he attempted to fill a bucket of water for his garden.

Mr Forbes had late stage Parkinson’s disease and previously battled bowel cancer.

Born in country Victoria, he was a founding member of the Victorian Blue Ribbon Foundation.

Friends would call John Forbes “Mr Puma”.(

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But Mr Forbes’s biggest legacy has been left at the Rochester Sports Museum.

During a 22-year career working as the national promotions manager at Puma, he amassed a large collection of sports memorabilia that he donated to the museum.

An older man in a suit next to a younger, blonde man in similar attire.
Mr Forbes brought sport stars like Shane Crawford to charity events in country Victoria.(

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The collection includes pieces from the likes of Don Bradman, Dawn Fraser, Shane Warne, Sharelle McMahon and Greg Norman.

The museum opened in 2019 after a long campaign by Mr Forbes and the Rochester Lions Club.

A signed photo showing four, smiling men in formal attire.
John Birt, Jeff Fenech, John Forbes and James Birt in 1992.(

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‘Treat them as family’

Friend and Rochester Sports Museum volunteer Bob Knight said Mr Forbes’s death came as a shock.

Mr Knight remembered the extraordinary circle of acquaintances Mr Forbes kept and his caring conduct towards them.

“It’s not everyone who sits at home, ready to have dinner, then a knock a door and in walks the Indian cricket team,” he said.

“If you talk to Shane Warne or any of those players, you’ve only got to see the memorabilia from them and how they’ve signed it to know John was special.

A young sportsman and an older, balding man with a moustache in a dressing room.
Cricketer Adam Gilchrist was one of John Forbes’s favourite athletes.(

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“Adam Gilchrist — he was a favourite of his.

“John always thought Adam Gilchrist was the best sportsperson he ever knew.”

The Rochester local said it was his friend’s caring personality that allowed him to forge strong bonds with professional athletes.

“He cared about them,” Mr Knight said.

“He said to me quite often, ‘Herb Elliot said don’t treat them as friends, treat then as family’ — and I think that’s what he did.

Sportsman Shane Warne shakes the hand of an older man dressed in a suit.
John Forbes and a young Shane Warne.(

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‘Just marvellous’

Friend Martin Ruffell co-authored Forbesy, a book about Mr Forbes, in 2016.

Despite having never written a book before, Mr Ruffell found the experience easy thanks to Mr Forbes’s good memory and impressive collection of stories.

“When I was interviewing him for it, he would mention a sporting identity and next thing he’s got them on the phone,” Mr Ruffell said.

“There were so many stories, it was hard to know what to leave out of the book.”

An older man stands smiling with Serena and Venus Williams and their mother.
John Forbes with tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams and their mother, Oracene Price, in the early 2000s.(

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Mr Ruffell hoped people wanting to pay tribute to Mr Forbes would visit the Rochester Sports Museum.

“It’s a world class museum — there’s a lot of John in there, that’s for sure,” he said.

“It’s a great way to see what he’s about.”

An older man and a younger woman smiling.
John Forbes with champion netballer Sharelle McMahon.(

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Mr Knight said his mate’s spirit would live on in the museum.

“We have a lovely video of him in the museum which goes for 15 minutes,” he said.

“Because when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s we thought his speech was going, so we video made and that’s a big key to our museum.”

“He was just marvellous.”

Mr Forbes leaves behind his wife Fay, two sons and six grandchildren.

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