The legacy of Geraldton’s Shortbread Man lives on through Hollomby Foundation 14 years after his murder

Headshot of Kate Campbell
Kate CampbellGeraldton Guardian
Les Hollomby reflects on the 14 years since his father Joe's murder.
Camera IconLes Hollomby reflects on the 14 years since his father Joe's murder. Credit: Kate Campbell/Geraldton Guardian

Fourteen years to the day that Joe Hollomby was brutally murdered in his own home, the community — including many too young to remember him alive — are still benefitting from the enduring legacy of Geraldton’s Shortbread Man.

Mr Hollomby earnt that affectionate nickname for his tireless efforts in making and selling shortbread and other baked goods, raising an incredible $1.3 million for his local community.

On November 15, 2008 Mr Hollomby, then 94, was stabbed to death at home by Eric Pederson, who had broken into the property in the hunt for a firearm. It was a murder of a local unsung hero that rocked the community and one that sits close to the surface for Mr Hollomby’s son Les after almost a decade and a half.

“Even now, after 14 years, I can sort of feel it coming on,” Les Hollomby said. “It’s like it happened yesterday . . . he was there one minute and gone the next.”

After his murder, the community bandied together, with an idea — spearheaded by late real estate agent Ian Wheatland — to set up a foundation in Mr Hollomby’s name.

In 2010, the Hollomby Foundation was created and each year since, through Geraldton Universities Centre, local students have benefitted from scholarships and other financial support.

“It was a bit of a battle to get it all going, but it definitely has been worthwhile and I get a kick out of it, I really do,” Les Hollomby said about the foundation. “It would have knocked dad’s socks off too.”

Les Hollomby said people he came across in the shops still asked him if he’s Joe’s son and shared their memories about the Shortbread Man. “That’s just the popularity that he had,” he said.

“It (the foundation) has been an absolute bonus. Out of little things, big things come. Which was what dad always used to say. He’d sell his shortbread from $2.50 and he made $1.3 million and it all went to good places.”

Under the Hollomby Foundation, more than $500,000 had been provided in scholarships to local university students since 2010, growing from $22,000 in its first year to $82,000 in 2022. This year, 26 students received scholarships.

Next year’s scholarship round is currently worth $92,500, a record amount.

GUC director Natalie Nelmes said Mr Hollomby left an incredible legacy, and his memory and community work was being kept alive for younger generations.

“What I love about it is, it’s community helping community, so it’s very much in keeping with Joe’s legacy,” he said.

“It’s not just about the scholarships. We talk about the students being ambassadors for carrying that message forward as well. It is really important.”

In the back of Les Hollomby’s mind is five years time when his father’s murderer will become eligible for parole. Pedersen was sentenced to life in jail with a minimum non-parole period of 19 years.

“I don’t really know how I feel about that, I don’t want him out that’s for sure,” he said.

Les Hollomby had known Pedersen for about 20 years and had only loaned him some tiling tools in the months before his father’s murder. That fateful night, Les Hollomby was away in Perth and Pedersen broke into his Tarcoola Beach home, where Mr Hollomby lived with his son, in order to steal a firearm so he could use it on his drug dealer.

Les Hollomby said Pedersen was the “only person dad never liked”. After confronting Pederson, Mr Hollomby was stabbed in the heart, and also received defensive wounds to his hands. Seconds later, he was dead.

“Even though I wasn’t there, I can see him, I can see dad being murdered,” Les Hollomby said.

But knowing that the Shortbread Man still holds such a special place in the community’s heart provides Les Hollomby with a degree of comfort and gratitude.

On the occasions when he’s in the mood, Les Hollomby heads to the kitchen and bakes his dad’s famous shortbread and gives it away, which helps him understand why his father loved doing it so much that he rose at 5am every day, seven days a week to start baking and went through three ovens over the years — the simple satisfaction of connecting with people and putting a smile on people’s faces.

Donations to the Hollomby Foundation are tax deductible. For more information, visit https://www.guc.edu.au/foundation/donation/

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