MAL Bagnall spent decades building massive movie sets for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
But it was a rotting tree in a lonely paddock and a bizarre chain of events that cost the Abernethy father of three his life.
Mr Bagnall, 64, was about to set up camp on a mate’s Wollombi property when his fateful decision to push the rotting tree left his family and friends devastated.
Friend Stephen Weeks, who was with Mr Bagnall on the target shooting expedition, said the tree snapped several metres above his friend, fell perpendicular to the ground and crashed on top of a fleeing Mr Bagnall.
He said once Mr Bagnall had identified the imminent danger, the only place he could escape was a metre-wide space between two parked cars.
But it was too late.
‘‘He noticed the tree had moved from the last time we were here and just wanted to get rid of it,’’ Mr Weeks said.
‘‘But when he touched it, it was just like jelly.
‘‘There was just a couple of feet between the parked cars, he didn’t have anywhere else to go.’’
Close friend and the Wollombi Road property’s owner, Bill Dartnell, said his mate of 15 years was adored by many in the Coalfields.
‘‘Great guy, straight shooter and a community man,’’ Mr Dartnell said.
‘‘He always helped his mates; consistently, financially and physically.’’
Mr Weeks said: ‘‘He would never be in debt for a favour.’’
Mr Dartnell said Mr Bagnall was a continuous contributor to the entertainment industry because of his highly regarded talent in steel construction.
The list of movie titles he worked on was long and included blockbusters The Matrix trilogy, Wolverine, Mission Impossible, Superman and Kangaroo Jack.
‘‘Brilliant tradesperson, very highly sought after,’’ Mr Dartnell said.
Mr Bagnall had lived in Abernethy for years, surviving the deadly bushfires of 2002 and continuing community work.
He was semi-retired but still very active, going on camps and shooting expeditions with mates.
Central Hunter police are preparing a report for the coroner.