Hosted by Ron Hurst, The Valleys People was an NBN Television series that ran in 1980-81 and features guests who have, in Ron’s words, “made the Hunter what it is today.” Be it through their contributions to education, employment, entertainment, environment, health, politics or sport, these are the people who are shaping life in the Hunter Valley.
The series was digitised in 2017 by industry professions and volunteers at the library. awaiting written summaries, videos to be uploaded, curation online for public access. CMNS2035 Media Production: Television students and WIL student Deb Waddell worked on the project in 2019. Some Media Production students were so enthralled with presenter Ron Hurst that they reached out to him for an interview about his experience making the series. With the project close to completion, all it needed was someone to review and quality check information, and curate series online. Many thanks to Susan Zaia, WIL student (HUMA2000) for seeing the project through to completion in 2022.
There are 48 Interviews available (*note- some episodes from the series are missing).
Matthew Tapp (Episode 01 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ron interviews Matthew Tapp about his distinguished media career and his part in establishing Newcastle’s Openline program on radio 2KO. In Matt’s words “what kicked off as a half hour, for a six month trial, went for an hour and a half for nine years” and was about “letting the people say what they want to say.”
He recalls a particularly memorable interview with Reverend Allen Walker, which “developed into a bottler,” when alcohol became the topic of conversation; over which, the public’s reaction was swift and divided. However, Matt admits for him, live radio was simply about providing “entertainment…great entertainment” and he recalls the challenge of writing comedy gags and playing dialect parts, with little time to rehearse before “bang and you’re on.”
Finally, banking on their friendship, Ron addresses the rumours over how Matt lost his leg. For Matt, this is the first time he has opened up publicly about his deeply personal experiences as an air crew bomber in WWII on the French-German border.
Alice Ferguson (Episode 01 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Alice gained notoriety when she penned a letter to Government House, expressing dismay at the MBE ceremony, which, after hours of “fussing around”, hadn’t included a bit of afternoon tea for the recipients. Honoured alongside the likes of Richie Benaud, Judge Curlewis and Dr Fanny Cohen, for her service to the community, Alice taught around 24,000 people to swim over 50 years at Merewether Baths.
And if that wasn’t enough, Alice continued to serve her community as a ‘Pink Lady’ at the Royal Newcastle Hospital; on wards 6 & 7 on a Friday afternoon, having “a yarn with those who want cheerin’ up.”
Ron also talks to Alice about her time in show business, from her stint as a child performer alongside Stiffy and Mo on “their first time on the boards” at the Victoria Theatre in Newcastle, she was leading usherette at “the Vic” during the depression years (where the manager’s reconciliation of ticket sales, against the packed audience…ahem…didn’t quite add up).
Jack Speering (Episode 02 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Old-Time Dance vocalist Jack Speering talks with Ron about his time at the Newcastle Empire Palais, where large crowds flocked every Wednesday and Friday night to hear him sing the classics; ‘The Old Rustic Bridge by the Mill’, ‘Just Across the Bridge of Gold’ and ‘I’m Tying the Leaves So They Won’t Come Down’, to name but a few.
He jokingly recalls singing in time with the swing of the huge wooden “punker” fans that circulated air throughout the Palais, as “they went right past my face, two nights a week.” Memorising 646 songs over the years, success followed in Tamworth and then Sydney, where ironically, Jack had begun his career as a ‘singing’ tram driver. On the old “footboards…all weathers, raincoats on, hangin’ on by our teeth,” before I got to driving trams around “Rushcutters Bay, Broadway and Bondi and all those places.”
Milton Morris (Episode 02 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
The longest serving Transport Minister in NSW, Milton Morris chats with Ron about his time in the portfolio, including his greatest achievement; legislation, the first in the world, that made ‘buckling-up’ compulsory. However, the legislation was not without controversy. Milton recounts a discussion in cabinet with an opponent who argued “if I’m taking my wife to the Opera House and she has to put a seatbelt on, she says, her dress will be crushed.” His reply, “well it’s better than having a blood soaked dress.” It would take another year of lobbying before common sense prevailed and seatbelts were made compulsory.
On a lighter note, a self-professed lover of the railways, Milton also discusses his favoured method for ministerial travel. Selected from a stock of ministerial carriages housed at Eveleigh, his was hitched and then unhitched at the likes of the Casino siding, where “bedecked with staghorns and tropical vines…the old station master there, that’s his botanic gardens,” the carriage and siding provided him with both sleeping and working quarters on his travels.
Rupert Hayes (Episode 03 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
A cinema organist at the Regent Theatre in Brisbane, it was chance circumstance that saw Rupert Hayes get his own show, ‘Forces Sing Song’, broadcast nationally on the ABC for over 3 years. Traditionally closed on a Sunday evening, with the arrival of troops in 1942, Hoyts opened the Regent Theatre for an exclusive screening. Rupert’s job was to entertain troops prior to the movie, but inspired to encourage participation, he had the words “put onto slides and flashed on the screen and I invited the boys to sing.” An instant success, within weeks the ABC “got wind of it”, and South Pacific wide, it is estimated around 400,000 people tuned in weekly to ‘Forces Sing Song’.
Rupert recounts a particularly fond memory of a son who wrote requesting the troops sing a special song for his mother’s birthday. Only weeks later, that same mother wrote back requesting a song for her son, and in this special way, Rupert linked those separated by war.
Professor Brinley (Brin) Newton-John (Episode 03 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ron mentions briefly that Professor Newton-John is Olivia Newton-John’s father. The interview focuses on his important and secret role during the Second World War. Even with the lapse of the Official Secrets Act, Professor Brinley Newton-John is hesitant to talk with Ron about his time with the British Secret Intelligence during WWII; stating tongue-in-cheek, even now “one still has that feeling that one’s going to be shot if one talks about it.”
His regular visits to Germany as a youth, fostered a knowledge of the German language and customs that left him perfectly placed to serve as an interrogation officer for the British Army. However, he stresses interrogation was nothing like we see in the movies. Only useful prisoners (senior officers, those from units about which little was known etc.) were interrogated and “if we got them to talk we got them to talk by being nice to them…on the whole rather than being bullies.”
After two years, however, he was seconded to the Ultra project and it was this work, where the world’s first computer was built, that he concedes proved the most significant and exciting.
Captain Ken Hopper (Episode 04 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
A team of “scroungers and conmen and pirates…because we’ve really gone out of our way, where anything we felt we wanted, that we knew was available, by fair means or foul, we went out to get those things!” Captain Ken Hopper, aka The Pirate, so named for the…ahem…‘dubious’ methods employed during the ‘procurement’ and ‘salvaging’ of artefacts for the establishment of the Newcastle Maritime Museum.
In particular, Ken recounts fondly the story of the Nobby’s fog bell on the breakwater. On application to the MSB, they were advised the value of the bell prevented its donation to the museum. However, twelve months later, when it remained untouched and the bolts had rusted out further, Ken felt unbolting it and burying it under a pile of ropes on MSB property for ‘safe keeping,’ was the best option.
And of the Sygna, shipwrecked in 1974 on Stockton Beach, he recalls the owner’s blind-eye policy to them “helping themselves to stuff that was on board,” because it was only being vandalised anyway.
Gary Barton (Episode 04 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Four times world barefoot champion and Hunter Valley sportsman of the decade, Gary Barton―whose wife declares he has the “smoothest, sweetest, softest feet of anyone,”―chats with Ron about his time in the sport; including his participation in the world famous “torture test” commercials for Timex and the fall at Moomba, which very nearly ended his life and career. Determined to put their watches to the ultimate test, Timex, had Gary strap the watch to the underside of his foot and barefoot on it, to demonstrate its endurance. Gary admits the commercial “took a full two days to get it perfected,” and jokes, “we lost watches in the effort…and ah skin.”
Whilst he also jokes that falls are “like being thrown down stairs…thrown out of the disco or whatever,” he concedes he “still gets nightmares talking about” Moomba. Human error meant his rope was longer than safe for the width of the Yarra, and left him almost paralysed after hitting a brick wall during a turn.
Bob Freeman (Episode 06 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Six times president of the Port Stephens Shire, Councillor Bob Freeman, talks to Ron about his beloved shire. At the time, the fastest growing shire in NSW, Bob believes for several reasons Port Stephens is perhaps the most unique shire in Australia. Whilst one third of the shire remains non-rateable land, due to the presence of the Williamtown RAAF Base, the Hunter Water Board and the Forestry Commission, the shire thrives on its tourist reputation, attracting hordes of tourists from the Hunter and Sydney regions. And Bob ruefully concedes, perhaps the shire’s tourism success stems from the controversial campaign that saw the region become the first in Australia to produce a billboard with a topless woman. Ironically, though, he admits, for several days the billboard went unnoticed and they eventually had to “spark off the interest that created all the publicity that we were hopeful it would do,” and finally “put Port Stephens right on the map, right throughout Australia.”
Nola Wallace (Episode 06 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
CONDA winner, for best performance of a female actress, Nola Wallace, talks to Ron about the strength of amateur theatre in the Hunter. Having taken on the roles of Aldonza, in The Man of La Mancha, The Girl, in the Seven Year Itch and Dame Nellie Melba, in A Toast to Melba, Nola credits her success not to her own abilities but to the ethos of theatre groups in the Hunter. “All the members are avid workers for their groups,” and there exists a “deep conviction about amateur theatre,” which has meant “over the years, it’s improved…so much.” She also credits the audiences, who, in maturing themselves, have come to expect much more from their local amateur performers. Of her own roles, she discusses the difficulties encountered in taking on the physically challenging role of Aldonza, and of her “the show must go on” attitude, when, during a performance of the Seven Year Itch, she unknowingly set her own wig on fire with the candelabra she was carrying.
Barbara Johnson (Episode 09 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Unable to have children of her own, Barbara Johnson has been the foster mum to some 60 plus children. She describes how her journey with her husband began with the adoption of their own two children, followed by the realisation, they still “had enough love to go round a few more.”
She credits her family’s success to the invaluable support network of other foster families and to their abiding commitment as a family to the children they foster. She discusses the differences between fostering and adoption, mainly that with adoption you are free to welcome the child into the fold of your own family, whereas with fostering, the identity of the child has already been shaped by their own family and therefore each child must be accepted and nurtured as such.
Over the years as “the house spreads and the children spread, she considers the challenges, such as six children dropped off in the middle of the night one night, to the rewards, those grown children who still consider her family their family.
Fred Williams (Episode 09 – 1980)- WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
From his early days aquaplaning on a garage door, it seemed inevitable Fred Williams would take the Australian waterskiing industry by storm. With the mould for his earliest skis constructed from the verandah post of the old Lakes & Oceans Hotel at Forster and the boots constructed from old car tyre tubes, it wasn’t long and he was on his way.
His Gateshead factory employed between 45-50 people and exported to 28 countries. Fred chats about his beloved race boat ‘Rage’, and the taunt of those “big outboard company men” that saw him determined to beat their “hot outboard tunnel hulls” and win the Australasian circle race championship for displacement boats; which he did within 12 months.
Finally, always looking ahead, Fred discusses the progression of his industry and details how his company now manufactures their own plywood, has recently perfected, after two years experimentation, injected fibre glass skis, and also holds design awards for their buoyancy vests, manufactured from wetsuit fabric, and their adjustable ski boots.
Jim Comerford (Episode 10 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Over half a century on, from commencing as a “rank and file mineworker,” at Richmond Main as a 14 year old in 1927, Jim Comerford is known equally for both his career in the mining industry and his retirement activities, recording the history of the industry.
During his career, in which he would rise to the position of President of the Northern Miners’, Jim was a staunch unionist, activist and Marxist, whilst after retiring he has become historian, archivist, book reviewer and author.
Ron chats with Jim about the events and people that would shape the man he became and the beliefs that guided him during the two distinct phases of his life. Finally, Ron broaches the subject with Jim, clearly reluctant to accept the praise, about his role in the Wyee Colliery disaster of 1966, which saw him underground risking his own life to assist in the recovery of the bodies of his fellow miners.
Colleen Quinn (Episode 10 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Colleen Quinn, who played 100 representative games for Australia and eventually became an Australian selector, talks with Ron about her time in the sport of hockey. From her childhood days as a member of a hockey mad family, to being chastised for her “unladylike” behaviour when she took her sticks with her to St Mary’s School because she thought it would be “lovely to have a game of hockey” with her friends, to her solitary training sessions at dawn in Townsend Park, to her eventual selection in the Australian team, which, pregnant at the time, she had to turn down. However, opportunity would come knocking again three years later when she was selected to play in Amsterdam in 1959. Colleen admits though, without the support of her husband and parents, she could not have combined motherhood and her career. Lastly, Ron asks her what she looks for as a selector, but she concedes its more just a sense, “you sort of look and you can just know.”
Pat Barton (Episode 11 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ron refers to him as ‘Mr Breakfast Session of the Hunter Valley,’ and with over 27 years in breakfast radio, it seems an apt title for Pat Barton. Pat believes he was conditioned for breakfast radio during his days as a kid on his uncle’s milk cart and wouldn’t have it any other way. Ron chats with Pat about his Platter Chatter sessions, a new concept during the 50’s, which saw him select ‘new release’ records to share with his listeners, in the newly popular disk jockey fashion. Additionally, having served in the army radio, Ron shares his experiences of Balikpapan, Borneo, particularly of meeting Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Commander of the South East Asian troops. Lastly, as only one of two recipients of a citation from Newcastle City Council for keeping people happy, Ron admits, apart from incidences such as his pigeon encounter that provided fodder for his comedy, he enjoys the “challenge…picking up a morning newspaper and seeing if you can’t get something funny out of it.”
Don Laverick (Episode 11 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ron chats with Don Laverick, General Manager of family owned Carrington Slipways, wondering how they went from rowing boats to building the $36M HMAS Tobruk. Don insists it starts with his father’s illustrious travels; an apprentice shipwright in Newcastle on Tyne, forging papers to serve on the HMS Glory in WWI, sailing to Australia in 1919, transporting coal from Newcastle to South America, Sydney shipyards during WWII and finally, when later stranded in PNG, sailing back to Australia in a dugout canoe.
In 1948, his father’s plan was to retire to Marks Point and hire out rowing boats. However, with his father’s attitude of “bite off more than you can chew, then chew like hell,” 1967 saw the family lease the slipway at Carrington, before the eventual move to Tomago. However, when quizzed on their success, Don quotes a client, owner of the Royal & Endeavour, who said he’d never “seen such spirit of teamwork. Convincing the Department of Administrative Services to gain the contract for the Tobruk “well that’s another story.”
Father Lavery (Episode 12 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Not many people today will be aware that post WWII, the town of Greta in the Hunter region housed Australia’s largest holding camp for migrants, home at any one time to over 7000 migrants. In this episode, Ron chats with Father Lavery, who served as the Catholic chaplain at the camp. In 1949, The Immigration Department acquired the former military camp, when migrant ships began arriving directly in Newcastle.
With only a young Lithuanian priest among them, Father Lavery stepped in to help. He recalls the hardship of those used to European weather, crammed into tin, military huts, divided so as to provide each family with 8×8 of space, in the harsh Australian summer.
He admits with no European language skills, initially, it was the Catholic liturgy in Latin that served as common ground. Eventually, however, as Father Lavery provided comfort and services for the camps some 5000 Catholics, men obtained work, entertainment troops were formed, a Catholic school staffed by nuns from Lochinvar was established onsite, and the migrants forged new lives in Australia.
Eileen Squires (Episode 12 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
In this interview with Eileen Squires, Ron learns about the efforts of committed locals to preserve the home of Sir William Dobell, or Bill, as he was known simply to his friends and family of the Wangi Wangi area. Sir William Dobell retreated to his sister’s Wangi Wangi property after the Joshua Smith incident of 1944 and continued to live there until his death there in 1970.
Bill’s friends rallied, and together they raised the support of other prominent locals and secured guarantors for the $14,000 necessary to purchase Dobell’s home from his estate. From there they set about the painstaking task of restoring the house and studio to its original condition, and today the property welcomes many visitors, who Eileen acknowledges always comment on its “atmosphere and serenity.”
Eileen concedes, however, that much remains to be done, as they now work towards obtaining permission to have prints of as many of Sir William Dobell’s artworks as possible displayed in the house.
Bill Harley (Episode 13 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Preparing for his interview with Bill Harley, Officer in Charge of the NSW Water Police, Ron was surprised to learn that Bill doesn’t even own a boat. But as Bill quips “after doing five days a week on boats, I prefer to have something a little different for weekends.”
Although the Water Police are responsible for the wharves, the harbour and shipping, Bill acknowledges that rescues are what capture people’s attention. He recounts the story of a young girl with appendicitis, twenty-five miles off the coast of Newcastle (at least 2-3 hours away by boat), in wild seas and the RAAF chopper that aided them in the delicate rescue operation.
Bill also discusses the rigours of the job and the necessary attributes of those wishing to join the Water Police. Finally, when quizzed on the frustration of boaters who risk theirs and others lives, he reminds viewers about the value of local clubs, “they keep their eye on one another” and their “marvellous” for teaching the kids.
John Amery (Episode 13 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
John Amery, Matron of Cessnock District Hospital, joins Ron to chat about his career as a nurse in the female dominated profession. John began his career as one of three males among one-thousand females in an Adelaide training hospital. Now with over fifteen years nursing experience and a diploma in administration John has advanced to the role of Matron.
However, during his years of nursing he has confronted the very real stereotypes that exist in the profession. In particular John discusses his years as a male nurse in the Crown St Women’s Hospital in Sydney. As a maternity hospital, at best he was mistaken for a doctor and at worst faced patients who refused his help. He believes the key is to “try and be perfectly natural…talk to them and look them in the eye.”
Although, he admits working with male patients, with their preconceptions of being tended by a pretty, female nurse, is often far worse. However, as the occupation advances, John believes more men will turn to a career in nursing.
Harry Boyle (Episode 14 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Originally a privately owned town and the busiest port in NSW in its heyday, many might be surprised to learn local historian Harry Boyle is referring to Morpeth.
Granted the land he would call ‘Close’s Estate’ in 1821, Lieutenant Close would never sell the subdivided land, always leasing it for 25 year periods, then repaying tenants the value of the homes they constructed, thereby enabling him to retain ownership of the town until his family finally sold it upon his death. Meanwhile, servicing the inland from Newcastle to South Queensland, Morpeth emerged as a “bawdy, rowdy, boisterous port, where sailors from all over the world roisted there.”
Just prior to the arrival of the railway in 1857, which would see Morpeth’s eventual decline as a port town, in one week there were 27 vessels inwards and 20 outwards. The outwards cargo comprised of 79 ton of wool, 124 ton of hay, 224 hides, 2027 bushels of wheat, 4 ton of flour, 1.5 ton of bran, 303 ton of coal and sundries, and the inward cargo essentially sustained the inland.
Jim Spark (Episode 14 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
You could be forgiven for assuming that Jim Spark from NASA was an astronaut, but in fact, NASA stands for Nationwide Aviation Space Academy, and is based at Cessnock. Jim and his crew train more commercial airline pilots than anywhere else in Australia. In addition to pilots for Qantas and TAA, they also train pilots from Indonesia, Malaysia, PNG & Fiji.
Jim describes to Ron the traits they look for in a commercial pilot, as well as the rigours of the job, not the least of which is that for commercial pilots to remain current, they must undertake one night landing every thirty days and one with the use of the instrument landing system every thirty-five.
Additionally, he stresses it’s a long way from graduation to Captain. It can take as much as ten years to make First Mate and fifteen to make Captain. Often pilots spend the better part of five years simply learning about their aircraft and the landing conditions they face worldwide, including weather and sometimes war zones.
John Dorman (Episode 15 – 1980)- WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Vice President of the Newcastle branch of the NSW Flora & Fauna Society, John Dorman, explains to Ron the Society’s efforts to raise awareness of, and protection for, the swamps of the Hunter Valley. Whilst John acknowledges that many simply see swamps as smelly, breeding grounds for mosquitoes, he sees their virtues, as breeding grounds for many of our water fowl and fish, and for flood mitigation.
Of the Society itself, he concedes in the 1960’s “one needed to be a bit of a nut to be in it…well…that’s how he was regarded” but in the 1970’s “suddenly there was a burst of interest.” When quizzed about the Society’s major achievements, he discusses efforts in 1969 that saw Lake Macquarie Council abandon plans to turn their swamps into tips, and the Awabakal Nature Reserve in Redhead/Dudley, which resulted in protection for the “delightful little fella,” the New Holland Mouse, missing from the area for almost eighty years. And he believes of the next ten years “we’ll see quite a decided improvement.”
Carol Raye (Episode 15 – 1980)- WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Carol Raye reveals to Ron in this interview the many facets to the well known actress—feminist and farmer, to name but a few. The Martinsville resident, discusses her role in the Merry Wives of Windsor and when Ron ponders Shakespeare’s reaction to learning that women actually play women’s roles in his plays these days, she quips “I think he was lucky to get us.” Carole, who also laments the lack of acting, directing and scriptwriting roles for women, even chips Ron, noticing there are no female camera operators in the crew.
Moving right along, Ron asks how such a successful personality ends up a farmer in the Hunter Valley. However, it turns out, married to a vet for twenty-nine years, Carol is no stranger to farming. When her husband joined the Colonial Service early in their marriage, they spent a decade living on an experimental government farm in the Rift Valley of Kenya, and now, when not acting, she looks forward to just getting to “sit on the farm.”
James Webster (Episode 16 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
In Ron’s words, Jim Webster has spent half a century “stirring the blood of…the Hunter Valley,” and so discusses with him the bond between his beloved bagpipes and his family’s service of their country.
Of dedicated military stock, Jim touches on the generations before him, his own service at the tail end of WWI, his imprisonment in Changi during WWII, whilst his sons, officers in the RAAF, flew overhead, and lastly of his grandson, who served in Vietnam. And, of his constant companion, his bagpipes.
Jim speaks about playing the bagpipes gifted to him in Changi, which surprisingly, now take pride of place in the Australian War Memorial. He touches on the origins of the bagpipes as a “call to the clans” and of their synergy with marching soldiers, allowing a longer, slower stride that fortifies. They talk about his years as a piper in Newcastle, including as an honour guard for Kingsford Smith that got him a ride in the famed aircraft the Southern Cross.
Mary Callcott (Episode 16 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Psychologist Mary Callcott joins Ron to talk about an Australian first, the Working Women’s Centre at Mayfield. A healthcare centre, catering specifically for women, its open at convenient hours for women who work.
The centre offers compassionate service for women who have concerns but are often too embarrassed to seek out assistance. These concerns may be related to issues such as fertility and mental health. The Centre generally champions the needs and wants of women.
Mary also addresses Australia’s changing stance on many women’s issues, leading the way as the first country in the world to offer a fault free divorce, in which women are equally entitled to communal property, maternity leave legislation and equal employment opportunities among others.
As the first centre of its kind in Australia, Mary is proud of the contribution they have made to these legislative and other changes. Finally, she also considers the changing ways in which women now introduce themselves to others; “women are no longer introducing themselves to each other by being someone else’s wife or someone else’s mother or someone else’s daughter, they’re people.”
Ken Tubman (Episode 18 – 1980) – WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Winning the first ever Redex Round Australia Trial in 1953, Ken Tubman, chemist shop proprietor from High St, Maitland, became an instant sensation in the Hunter. He chats with Ron about his time in the world of motorsport rallying.
Mad keen on motorsports since a kid, Ken admits when his mate John approached him, he’d never even seen the Peugeot 203 they would compete in. But it proved reliable, needing only one minor repair, that cost them “two and six,” throughout the whole rally. This was lucky because their entire budget, including petrol, accommodation and food, was only one-hundred and sixty-five pounds.
Ken recounts the challenge of essentially driving blind around Australia, because the route wasn’t mapped, and the astonishment of discovering the road from Moss Vale to Sydney lined with crowds on their return.
However, this event was just the beginning, with Ken going on to survey and compete in other events around the world, including the London to Sydney and London to Munich, both straight through the middle of the Sahara.
Hazel Evans (Episode 18 – 1980) –WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Encouraged to learn the piano by her mother, and using her talent over the years to raise countless funds for the people of the Hunter Valley, winner of the British Empire Medal, ‘Aunty’ Hazel Evans, chats with Ron about her career as an accompanist. She fondly recalls acquiring the nickname ‘Aunty’ when radio 2KO disapproved of kids calling her ‘Hazel’ on the Victor Ice Cream Show. Today, she performs for the kids of those kids and the nickname has stuck.
Hazel has played all over the Hunter Valley, from the military camp at Greta to the theatre in Hunter St, and for artists that included Gladys Moncrieff, John Shaw and Frank Hutchens. With many of these artists arriving from Sydney on the Newcastle Flyer, right before the show started, Gladys jokes about the difficulties of having barely any time to prepare. From the time of receiving the manuscripts she was expected to perform even though some pieces had pages missing altogether. Fortunately, improvisation usually got her through.
Ian Cameron (Episode 20 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
As Australia’s delegate to the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), the body that governs international motorcycle racing, Ian Cameron is qualified to validate the significance of Maitland Showground and the Maitland Agricultural Society’s role in the history of the sport.
He confirms that whilst the sport of Speedway racing, on loose, dirt tracks was practiced in the US and other parts of Australia at the time, the notion of it as entertainment, conducted at night under electric lights, well “Maitland was the place where it all started.” And Ian’s place in that, as a nine year old at the time, was in the centre, as the bell ringer for the last lap.
Of course, these days, annually, he trips all around the world, representing the interests of Australian motorcycle racers at the FIM conference. And he believes, if Liverpool wins the bid to host the World Pairs Final in 1982, it will be the start of great things for the international sport in Australia.
Andrew Lloyd (Episode 20 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Raised with a love of folk music, and spurred by its revival in the region…well…by the need for instruments at the very least, Andrew Lloyd canvases the Hunter Valley in search of dilapidated musical instruments, then painstakingly brings them back to life. For Andrew, “to have people enjoy themselves to the music you’re making and to make that possible, by putting the instrument into someone’s hands, is a thrill.”
From a one-hundred and eighty year old violin from Dublin, to a one of a kind banjo-mando-cello (which took sixty man hours to restore) Andrew relies on publications such as “Violin-Making, As It Was and Is” published around 1800, trial and error, his own handyman skills to work his magic. He belongs to a small enthusiastic Hunter based group with the combined know-how to “swap ideas, instruments and timbers.
For him the most important things are returning the instruments to the community for no more than the cost of restoration and having them used to make music.
Gary Gilmour (Episode 21 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Gary ‘Gus’ (so named for his starring role as Gus the Theatre Cat in the third grade play) ‘Jake’ (so named by Dennis Lilley after a Rolfe Harris song, Jake the Peg, in reference to a sustained limp from injury) Gilmour, has represented Australia on twenty-six occasions in cricket.
When asked about his most memorable moments in the Australian Cricket Team, ironically, he claims “the two most memorable tests, were tests that weren’t completed.” He recalls in 1975, when spectators “crawled under the covers at Leeds one night and cut up the wicket with a knife and fork,” and the more recent and distressing incident, when West Indian fans, frustrated by rain delays, rioted and stormed their dressing room.
However, his most memorable performance was the 1975 semi-final of the Prudential Cup in England; “We went over there as underdogs to get our pants whipped by the Poms,” and after bowling them out for 93 or 97, “I got 6 for 14,” and then, after a less than stellar start, we “managed to knock the runs over.”
Rex Sinclair ‘Uncle Rex’ (Episode 21 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
A fitter and turner by trade, who, when he went to parties unfortunately couldn’t dance, sing or recite, Rex Sinclair, saw an ad in the newspaper and sent off his “two and six,” to learn how to be a magician. Another “two and six,” and in cahoots with Horace, and he was on his way to being a ventriloquist as well.
Rex admits he perfected his craft by popping behind stage to assist and learn from the magicians and ventriloquists who visited the Hunter Valley in their travelling shows. However, as the interview unfolds, it becomes clear riddles are Rex’s other great passion, from the kids who would win a Victor ice cream brick if he couldn’t answer their riddles at his weekly shows, to his ‘Alf’ cards, with which he even manages to stump Ron.
His greatest joy, Rex says, was always in performing for children, and when the Young People’s Theatre at Hamilton added magic classes to their repertoire, he shared this craft with the young ones.
Cynthia Hunter (Episode 22 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Local historian, Cynthia Hunter chats with Ron about her research into the history of the Upper Hunter Valley, Williams River townships. She starts with bushrangers, which Cynthia proposes were rife in the area due to the surrounding mountain ranges that afforded them a wealth of places to hide.
From rumours of Thunderbolt, to the Jew Boy Gang, who hid out in the caves of the Wallarobba Ranges and “bailed up travellers, postmen, settlers…everybody they could.” Also the infamous Governor brothers, Joe and Jimmy, who were at large in the area from July to October in 1900.
With all that activity, it seems no wonder Dungog was little more than a court house, Police office and lockup, when it was founded as the centre of government authority for the Upper Williams.
However, the Williams River towns were also known for shipping, with Clarence Town a significant ship building port. It was where the vessel William IV, the first ocean-going steamship constructed from Australian native timber, was built and launched.
Reg Drayton (Episode 22 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Arriving in the Hunter Valley in 1853 Reg Drayton’s great grandfather, Joseph Drayton, initially purchased land in Lochinvar. Reg is not entirely sure what “obscure reasons” prompted him, to move to Pokolbin only five years later, but he is very glad that he did. Reg confirms that In 1860, Drayton’s Vineyard was officially established, when they produced their first wine.
Much like other vintners, they experienced their ups and downs, especially during the Great Depression. Since the boom of the 1960s, he acknowledges the Hunter Valley has entered a period of rapid development. Although he credits modern technology for maximising production and minimising cost, he believes “top premium quality wines still need mother nature on side, because as winemakers, we’re really only guardians to the grape.”
He adds that although the text books say it shouldn’t, the Hunter Valley for some reason, has just the right combination of soils and microclimate to produce the best wines in Australia, and even more recently, some of the best wines in the world.
Michael Dudman (Episode 23 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ron chats with Michael Dudman, who, as the newly appointed Principal of the Newcastle branch of the State Conservatorium of music, is tasked with carrying the musical aspirations of the Hunter Valley into the future. From Master of Choristers’ and organist for the Christchurch Cathedral to having made six LP’s, Michael is eminently qualified.
However, Michael is determined that for the conservatorium to become an important part of the Hunter Valley’s cultural life and for people to be able to look upon it as truly their conservatorium, it needs to address the “pretentious nonsense spoken about serious music that at times seems to put it outside the understanding of people without perhaps a specialist background.”
He believes that music is something that “should be available to everybody,” and that gone are the days of the “silly notion that there is good music and bad music, that there is classical music and pop music and that there is a dividing line between them that can’t be crossed.”
Mark Richards (Episode 23 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Mark Richards, 1979 International Professional Surfers World Champion, describes to Ron the unexpected circumstances that would see him claim the title. Mark admits “I thought I had no chance of winning,” as he hadn’t surfed all the events on the circuit.
As they talk about Mark’s life in general as a professional surfer, he explains to Ron that although surfers are awarded points for each event, only the top seventy-five percent of their performances count towards the championship. With his performances in the final two Hawaiian events, the Pipeline Masters and the World Cup, and others “bombing out” in these same events, suddenly the title was his.
Mark goes on to explain the way events are run, including the cutthroat jostling for position between opponents, the absolute frustration and joy that comes from picking the right or wrong waves and the dangerous conditions that prevail in Hawaii, compared to Australia.
Finally, he admits he is happiest back home among the waves of Newcastle and recounts the indescribable feeling that comes from being inside the perfect tube.
George Rundle (Episode 24 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Life member and founder of the Newcastle Orchid Society, George Rundle, chats with Ron about his fifty years as an orchid grower and the absolute peace and contentment he gets from being alone with his plants.
This is poignantly evident when George shares the story of his beloved ‘card’ filing system, which saw him through his war service. Having one for every plant he ever purchased, they detail the history of the plant, where he bought it , how much it cost, the colour, the formation. For him, solace could always be found in a quiet corner, so long as he had his cherished cards.
When questioned about his orchids specifically, George jokingly recalls that it all began with him winning the local footpath and front garden competition two years running. Having a little glasshouse, “all I wanted was two plants, one to put in the two glass windows facing out…I thought that’d be lovely…and of course one led to another and one led to another.”
Professor Beverley Raphael (Episode 24 – 1980) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ron interviews Professor Beverley Raphael about her life’s work in the field of bereavement; particularly in relation to the provision of support services during times of major disasters.
Beverley discusses the role of her team in the Granville train disaster. The initial days at the city morgue the team’s role was to support families and those tasked with identifying bodies. This led to their work in the western suburbs over the following weeks in educating those health care professionals who would support their communities longer term.
Beverley believes that her work is necessary in an Anglo Saxon society, where cultural values tend towards the denial of grief. She believes that migrant cultures cope far better by openly addressing their grief. Their external rituals, viewing the body and taking an active role in planning the funeral for example, facilitate the healing process.
Finally, Beverley chats about her new role with the Mater Hospital. She sees it as a preventative service, one where counselling is provided to those in stressful situations immediately, so as to avoid longer term mental health issues.
Henry James (Charlie) Hollis (Episode 01 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Charlie Hollis came from an oyster farming family. This camera-shy man explains how he helped navigate yachts in and out of Lake Macquarie and the Swansea Channel for years and soon began to teach others about the difficult terrain in these areas. He also wore a special hat whenever he would guide yachts, he brought this into the studio to show it off to Ron.
It seems since his childhood days in Port Stephens, rowing to school, water has been in Charlie Hollis’ blood. He says “water is a trade to me,” and it’s lucky for those of Lake Macquarie this is the case.
Now a life member of the Coastal Patrol and Lake Macquarie Yacht Club, Charlie has assumed the unofficial role of pilot for the Swansea bar and channel, ever since assisting yachts heading to Newcastle to “line up for the Queen in the Hunter River.” Charlie admits, learning initially from his father, it took years to learn to read his beloved waterway and now he spends his days guiding others through it.
In particular he discusses his work during the construction of the Lake Macquarie Power Station, tasked with transporting heavy machinery across the bar and up the channel. And his thirteen years with the CSIRO, studying the fish, oysters and water quality of Lake Macquarie. Not to mention this shy hero’s countless awards for the rescues he has participated in over the years. Charlie was famous for his rescue efforts during the Maitland floods in 1955 and the cyclone on Lake Macquarie in 1974.
John O’Donoghue (Episode 01 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Playwright John O’Donoghue, chats with Ron about his play Essington Lewis: I am Work, based on the life of BHP Newcastle’s general manager of many years. John, who claims BHP Newcastle was the birthplace of the industrial age in Australia, acknowledges his play is the story of Newcastle as much as it is Lewis and BHP.
When quizzed, John concedes his interest in Lewis and BHP stemmed from several factors: his father’s own lifelong employment at BHP Newcastle as a rigger; the intriguing characters, such as Guillaume Delprat, with whom Lewis came into contact; the parallels he recognizes between his own life and Lewis’; and even his time as a teacher in Broken Hill.
Additionally, he chats about the uniqueness of BHP Newcastle, with younger generations experiencing upward social mobility, rather than simply following in the footsteps of their predecessors, as was typical of the industry. Finally, he acknowledges the works of other authors, such as Geoffrey Blainey’s, ‘The Steel Master’, upon which he relied heavily for researching and scripting his play.
Athel D’ombrain (Episode 02 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Maitland’s first recipient of an OAM, Athel D’Ombrain was an avid sportsman, nature lover and photographer. On the topic of sports, he jokes about his almost Australian record for throwing a cricket ball, his part in the formation of Maitland Athletics Club and his fixation with sports fishing, which would eventually see him pen a book on the topic.
However, it is his love of nature and photography that shines through. After obtaining his first flashlight camera from the US in 1932, Athel regularly trekked to Barrington Tops, where setting up his camera, he left it for weeks on end, until alerted by the guest house manager that an animal had triggered the explosion of magnesium powder that generated the flash and effectively captured its own image. He even used the same method to catch out the neighbourhood cat, regularly raiding his garbage bin! Lastly, Athel chats about his work recording and tracking the migratory gilded petrel, which makes its home on Cabbage Tree Island, Port Stephens, from March to October every year.
John McFarland (Episode 02 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
In this interview Ron asks John McFarland, a current ambulance officer, about how he came to be recording the history of the Hunter District Ambulance Service. It turns out, John jokes, his mother-in-law was secretary of the Newcastle Historical Society and she needed a guest speaker. With his curiosity piqued…the rest is history!
John describes the foundation of the service, established by Boolaroo merchant, T C Frith, in response to the tragic death of a seventeen year old at Stockton Borehole. He concedes in those early days, with no phones, and with the cart supplied by the Sulphide Corporation and the horses by George Hawkins, in the time it took a T C Frith employee to round the ambulance up, the patients were either “very, very well or very, very dead.” There was no in between.
John also discusses the very different roles of those earlier officers. When they were not on duty they spent much of their free time fundraising for the service. The repair and maintenance of ambulance vehicles was also their responsibility.
Matt Hayes (Episode 03 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ron quips that, over a forty year period, reporter Matt Hayes has gone to “the oddest extremes and the oddest places” to report the news of the Hunter Valley for Macquarie. And when Matt recounts some of his various stories, that statement proves no exaggeration.
First up, is his almost hair raising attempt to be the first Australian to stand on Newcastle’s new floating dock, being towed here from Japan. If the lengths he and his cameraman went to just to get on the dock in rough seas wasn’t enough, being stranded for hours before risking their lives to get back off, takes the cake.
On a more series note, Matt recounts the difficulties of covering the tragic murder of a Toronto police officer and the emotional roller coaster of sleeping outside Scone police station overnight, to report that whilst a plane crash in the Barrington Tops had claimed two lives, miraculously, a young girl had survived. Finally, Matt offers Ron his list of the Hunter Valley’s most influential people.
Teresa Aitcheson (Episode 03 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
An interest in history and a friendship with the current owner of the Barrington Guest House, saw Teresa Aitchison delving into the history of the guest house to record its story. Teresa recounts the “gala occasion” of its opening day in December 1930, with “everyone who was anyone” there, not least the ladies auxiliary, who catered the event and raised thirty pounds for Dungog Hospital.
Teresa acknowledges the logistics of building the guest house in essentially the middle of nowhere. It is built entirely of local timber, dressed onsite. Refrigeration was provided via way of a cool room, lined with sawdust, left open at night to capture the cool air and locked up tight during the day. Likewise to generate their own electricity, water was pumped from the river and heated through an arrangement of pipes that passed over a constantly burning fire.
Lastly, Teresa reveals the mystery of the plane propeller that hangs above the fire place at the guesthouse, and the story of the two air force officers who lost their lives nearby in 1945.
Zelda (Zell) Meehan (Episode 05 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Whilst Lord Mayors and traditions have come and gone in the past thirty years, Zelda Meehan, Secretary of the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, has remained a constant. She describes to Ron the changes she has witnessed.
Zelda reminisces about the Lord Mayoral Ball, which would see the pomp and ceremony of fifty young debutantes presented to the Lord Mayor each year. Likewise, the abandoned mayoral robes and chains, which are no longer relevant to modern society. Zelda even acknowledges her own controversy, daring to keep her job after she got married in 1956. Whilst the Lord Mayor wanted her to remain, the town clerk contested it, arguing, married women shouldn’t work.
Additionally, Zelda explains the diplomacy required to undertake her role, from having to size up new Lord Mayors to dealing with the public. However, she also acknowledges the humanity she witnesses; like arriving at work on Boxing Day 1974, to collect over three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, donated in response to Cyclone Tracy.
Charles (Charlie) Jones (Episode 05 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
From his early days as a boilermaker’s union delegate, to Newcastle City Alderman and Lord Mayor, to his current role as Minister for Transport, Charles Jones talks to Ron about his thirty five year career, spanning all levels of government; as well as what comes next. A controversial figure, Charles concedes his reputation stems from his beliefs that one should be prepared in advance and then willing to fight for one’s convictions; that no matter the consequences, in public life one should always be honest to a fault and his conviction that Australia’s riches must be shared more evenly.
As well as some of the controversies he has been involved in, such as the “dingo” incident, Charles talks about working with and, occasionally even against, the likes of Gough Whitlam, John Kerr and Reg Ansett.
Lastly, retiring at the conclusion of this parliament, he hopes to continue to take an interest in community affairs, believing there are many Hunter organisations with whom he can share his expertise.
Doreen Holmes (Episode 06 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Tracing her own family history, and spurred on by an ad in ‘Descent: the Journal of the Society of Australian Genealogists’, Doreen Holmes commenced the mammoth task of recording the details of the 23,920 headstones at Sandgate Cemetery. Representing over 125,000 burials, Doreen was grateful she was eventually joined by others from her local genealogy society and together they accomplished the task in fifteen months. Armed with nothing more than notebooks and pens, they spent countless hours recording the information, and even more indexing it.
Doreen admits, initially she was reluctant to confide in others about her task, with even her husband unsure of its value, but she believes that as more people become interested in tracing their family trees, this will prove an invaluable resource.
In summary, Doreen details some of the more interesting graves. That of a young violin prodigy, whose grave is marked by a statue of a young boy playing violin, and that of a beloved mother, whose love of knitting is etched into the curbing of her grave.
Jeff Wall (Episode 06 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Senior announcer on the Australian Broadcast Commission (ABC) breakfast session, Jeff Wall, joins Ron to chat about his two distinct careers, and his love of trains and Wurlitzer theatre organs. Jeff had been a teacher at various Hunter Valley schools when an interest in the technical aspects of radio found him wandering around the studios in Sydney, where a studio supervisor overheard him and suggested he would make a great casual announcer. He combined this with teaching for many years, until eventually accepting a full time job with the ABC in 1968.
Jeff actually credits his success in radio to his teaching background, believing teaching taught him to communicate, and first and foremost he sees himself as a communicator rather than an announcer. On his love of trains, Jeff recounts in particular his poignant journey in the engine of ‘The Flyer,’ driven by the courageous driver of the Granville train disaster. And finally, as a member of the Theatre Organ Society of Australia, he chats about his passion for restoring Wurlitzer organs.
Denis Rowe (Episode 07 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Cultural Sensitivity Warning: This site includes images, audio/visual recordings and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Denis Rowe is the Archivist at the University of Newcastle. He describes his work as having an emphasis on people and records and feels there is a close link between the university and community of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. He cites the support of the Newcastle Trades Hall and Anglican Diocese as being major contributors of records and financial supporters. as well as collecting paper records Denis talks about the project of collecting oral histories of university staff members. Among the photographs, maps, correspondence and business records of buildings, agriculture and trade unions Denis shows the audience a remarkable collection of photos by photographer, Thomas Dick, dated 1900, of Aboriginal Peoples in Port Macquarie living traditional lives. A second set of photos shows railway workers during the construction of the North Coast Railway, taken in 1910. Lastly Denis shows the audience film footage and photographs of the official opening of the university’s first college at Tighes Hill in December 1951.
The records Denis and his colleagues are primarily seeking are those of to support university research in history, architecture, coal mining and trade unions. There are many records missing from before the 1850s and these are in Sydney or Canberra. Denis puts out a call to the audience to let him know if they or their families have records, maps or photographs stored away so he can see if they can contribute to the archives.
Tom Woods (Episode 07 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
(this video has some damage)
Tom Woods owns a metal fabrication company located in Boolaroo. Ron asks Tom about a project he was involved in building mini submarines. Tom spent time in America finding out what was involved. It was more difficult than he imagined as insurance company, Lloyds, was very particular about the level of standard of construction. They also encountered difficulty getting components from the U.S.
The submarine was a two man vessel and was to be used for underwater photography and by mining companies doing surveys for mining rigs.
One of the subs was used to transport 1000 guests, (one at a time with Tom’s son as skipper), for an underwater trip along the bed of Lake Macquarie from Tom’s Toronto home one Christmas.
During a pressure testing exercise 30 miles off the coast of Newcastle at a depth of 600feet the submarine was lost.
The cost of recovering it by the Australian Navy was deemed to be too expensive.
Les Gibbs (Episode 08 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Secretary for ten years and General Manager for twenty-four, Les Gibbs, is well placed to chat with Ron about the Newcastle Cooperative Store. Les discusses the 1844 formation of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, upon whose guiding principles the Newcastle cooperative movement is also founded. The movement commenced in Newcastle in 1898 with thirty-three members, and opened its first premise in Florence St, Wickham on 11 August 1898.
From its “hand to mouth” beginnings it would fight to survive the depression and then rise to prominence in the 1960’s as the largest cooperative of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, with bakeries, milk deliveries, petrol stations and even a fully fledged department store scattered throughout the Hunter Valley. Among other things, Les discusses the concept of the ‘divvy’ and the introduction of ‘tokens’. However, Les acknowledges the changes in the nature of trading in society and recognizes that the needs of the young people of the Hunter are perhaps no longer met by the cooperative.
Allan Balcombe (Episode 08 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
According to Allan Balcombe, his father’s obsession with scrap metal began during conversations over the back fence with his neighbour, who happened to work in the industry. In 1949 he started his scrap metal business and Allan recalls of his and his brothers’ childhoods with weekends spent knocking on the doors of Hunter residents to purchase their batteries and radiators. “If he thought there was a quid in it, he’d buy it,” he quips of his father.
Eventually, his father’s first big contract came with the Railway Workshops at Cardiff and it wasn’t long before all four brothers had left school and joined their father in the industry. Contracts with Coal & Allied would see them dismantling old pits and mine machinery, before diversification would see them add a transport business to the mix. Lastly, Ron chats with Allan about his family’s sporting interests which include horse racing and motorbike racing.
David Jones (Episode 09 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
David Jones, radio personality and recording artist extraordinaire, recounts his time in the industry at 3XY in Melbourne and 2NX in Newcastle. He describes his diverse tastes in music and the on-air, grand mal epileptic seizure that would give focus to his fundraising activities.
With a bestselling album, “Life After Death”, his band – Dave and the Deros, conjured from his many radio skits, many might be surprised to learn that early in his career David also discovered an “honest love for classical music.” He trained in the theory, learned to play the oboe and piano and even composed a couple of orchestral pieces.
On a more series note, David discusses the events leading up to and the day in May 1973 that he had an on-air epileptic seizure, whilst hosting the breakfast show. Luckily, he has since been able to control his epilepsy with medication. David now works heavily with the Association for Epilepsy, compering concerts and raising awareness of the condition.
Bill Hitchcock (Episode 09 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
For Bill Hitchcock, aviation enthusiast and pilot, it all began when his parents took him to his first air show in Newcastle as a child. He completed his first solo flight in a Tiger Moth in 1965 and since then has authored countless articles for aviation magazines. Bill has been involved in the restoration of many aircraft and has been honoured for his services to aviation with the Royal Federation of Aero Clubs medal.
Since 1979 he has been a commentator at the world’s largest air show, the ‘Experimental Air Show Association’ in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Bill chats about his love for the Tiger Moth aircraft, noting that “open cockpit, wind to the wires, no brakes, bi-plane…it’s totally different to being in the envelope of a cabin aeroplane.”
Bill, who also has a love of amateur theatre, even compares the Tiger Moth to theatre. He details the theatrics of banner towing, balloon busting and flour bombing, and even a performance of “Biggles and the Desert Patrol”, they staged with a Tiger Moth.
Robyn Weigel (Episode 10 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
With mounting anxiety, one watches on as Robyn Weigel from the Australian Reptile Park chats effortlessly with Ron, whilst simultaneously handling and milking Australia’s third most venomous snake, the Tiger Snake. Robyn has been handling and milking Australia’s venomous snakes and spiders, and a variety of other creepy crawlies, the blue ringed octopus, ticks, fleas and wasps for example, for around fifteen years. She chats with Ron about the balancing affect these often fear-inspiring animals have on our ecosystems and the role of the Australian Reptile Park in providing precious venoms; not only for anti-venoms, but also for a host of other medical research, such as that relating to cancer and blood coagulation. She explains that the Australian Reptile Park doesn’t work with the venom itself, but rather sends it to the Commonwealth Laboratories and others worldwide. Done with the Tiger Snake, Robyn then turns her attention to a pair of Sydney Funnel Webs, who thankfully remain safely ensconced within their glass jars during milking.
Eric Worrell (Episode 10 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Trained as a blacksmith by the armed forces, he went on to become an accomplished natural history photo journalist after WWII, however, it is for his work with Australia’s deadliest critters that Eric Worrell, owner of the Australian Reptile Park, is most renowned. He says his life-long fascination with snakes began at an early age when his father regularly encouraged him to spend time with George Cann, the Snake Man of La Perouse. When he finally commenced the reptile park in 1958, it was with the simple intention of supplying venom to serum laboratories, but it wasn’t long before the park became known as a rescue shelter for animals. Eventually, with the assistance of the local Rotary Club and the public, a purpose-built animal hospital was constructed. Today, fully self-funded, over 50,000 school children visit the park annually and the park ships venom to almost every country in the world for research and pharmaceutical purposes. Perhaps most impressive, however, is that in over fifty years, Eric has only been bitten six times.
Elizabeth Kirkby (Episode 12 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ron chats with recently appointed to the NSW Parliament, Australian Democrat, Elizabeth Kirkby about how she made the leap from acting in Australian classics, like Number 96, Riptide and Hunter, to politics. However, as the interview progresses, it becomes obvious that Liz’s acting career was always leading her towards becoming an advocate for social issues. From her repertory theatre days in the UK, to her decade on Malaysian radio, to her many and varied roles in Australian theatre and television, Liz considers that her career fostered her awareness of social issues. Whilst she acknowledges that her work on certain panel shows, such as Celebrity Squares, was just plain fun, it was her time on shows like Beauty and the Beast and Fact and Opinion that exposed her to the social issues she now strives to combat. In her words, always “a bit of a stirrer,” her time as Vice President of the Actors Equity Union, then paved the way for this new exciting chapter of her career.
Canon Milton Williams (Episode 12 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Known by his unconventional nickname ‘Ban the Pan Williams’, Canon Milton Williams talks with Ron about his five decades in the priesthood; not the least of which included his notorious campaign to ‘ban the can,’ and have everyone in the Singleton district connected to sewer. Just one of his community service schemes whilst an Alderman on the Singleton Council, Canon Williams has also served as the President of the Singleton Rotary Club, as a member of the Singleton Hospital Board and as the Chaplain at Maitland Jail. Having lived his whole life within the diocese, Canon Williams sees his role simply as one to serve all the people of his diocese, not just his parishioners. For example, as chaplain he started a Prisoners Aid Association, to help rehabilitate released prisoners by assisting them to obtain accommodation and employment. Additionally, Canon Williams recounts his time at Bulahdelah during the Great Depression, when the section of road known as O’Sullivan’s Gap, was being built between Bulahdelah and Nabiac.
Paul Radley (Episode 13 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Paul Radley admits he never gave much thought to writing at school; he was more interested in football. So, it came as a shock to everyone, his family included, when he went on to win the Vogel Literary Award for his first novel ‘Jack Rivers and Me,’ in 1981. Paul discusses with Ron how he—quite cheekily—got the inspiration and material for his book, when chatting with the old blokes at the local pub and quizzing them about their childhoods, he secretly recorded the conversations with a tape recorder hidden in his backpack. Paul discusses his main character, Peanuts, a young boy who is faced with the tough decision about whether or not he should abandon his imaginary friend, Jack Rivers, when he commences school. Lastly, Paul admits that after having won a literary grant as part of the Vogel prize, he now feels the weight of obligation to buckle down and focus on his craft as he writes his next book.
Disclaimer: the author has since admitted his uncle is actually the author of the book.
Chris O’Brien (Episode 13 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Born and reared on a dairy farm, it comes as little surprise that Chris O’Brien has worked for the Hunter Valley Co-operative Dairy, aka Oak, for the past three decades. As General Manager, he chats with Ron about the history of Oak in the Hunter Valley. Born of a need to protect farmer’s interests in the late 1890s, the co-op initially collected milk via launch along the river and conveyed it by wagon to the factory at Raymond Terrace. Eventually, the realisation that transportation was critical, spurred Oak’s relocation to Hexham, where both the river and rail were handy. Ultimately, though, it was the notion of transporting milk in refrigerated tankers, rather than the traditional 10 gallon cans, that would cause Oak’s greatest controversy. However, as the switch to tankers relieved the drudgery and rigid routines of the dairy industry, farmers recognized the merits. Lastly, Chris also discusses the 55 floods, and the commendable efforts of Oak’s workers, as they battled to recommence production in the wake of the disaster.
John Leddy (Episode 14 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
John Leddy chats with Ron about the life circumstances that would see him become Administrator of the Fairhaven Centre at Point Clare. Ron considers that after electrician and stock market analyst, this seems an unusual career progression, but John admits his journey began with the traumatic birth of his son, resulting in him being severely disabled.
John talks with raw honesty about the progression of feelings faced by families. From, ‘Rejection of the child and how is this going to affect me’? – ‘What does my child’s future entail and what can I do for him and my family? – to eventually, ‘what can I do for others’? Whilst he acknowledges everyone treads this path at their own pace, for him, this journey led to Fairhaven.
John says Fairhaven aims to prepare these children for life in the real world, to give them dignity and independence and, to show that given the chance, there is often so much more that these children can accomplish than society gives them credit for.
Clive Bourke (Episode 14 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Civic minded hardly seems an apt term to describe Clive Bourke, nine times Mayor, eleven times Deputy Mayor, Chamber of Commerce Secretary, member of the band, fire brigade and ambulance service (among many others!), in his beloved Singleton community. From the age of seventeen, when he delved into his first role with the Chamber of Commerce, Clive admits that he followed in his father, Harry’s, footsteps and just loves being involved in his local community, although, he acknowledges he could never have achieved what he has without the absolute support of his family. Clive also discusses the many changes he has witnessed over the years, not the least of which is Singleton’s transformation from rural community to one of industry. However, he firmly believes that Singleton remains the “friendly town” and “everyone finds their niche here.” Lastly, Clive touches on the weddings he has officiated over as a marriage celebrant and his role as the Deputy Sheriff of the Supreme Court, looking after prisoners, the judge and the jurors.
Doug Graham (Episode 15 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Suffering a stroke ten years ago hasn’t slowed down former business executive Doug Graham. Despite, in his words, “the electric motor that drove the arm died,” leaving Doug with the use of only one arm, he spends his days inventing, tinkering with and perfecting gadgets, designed to assist others in the same position, to carry out those everyday tasks the rest of us take for granted.
One can’t help but watch in awe as he demonstrates the vice he uses to secure tins and jars to enable them to be opened. Or as he masterfully manipulates his one-arm-tin opener, one-arm-steak-knife and skillfully butters a slice of bread.
However, perhaps most impressive, is that Doug does none of this for money. He says that until “you are disabled, you have no idea how valuable a little help is.” Doug concedes that after he first suffered his stroke, he almost went berserk wondering what he would do with his days, whereas now he wonders “what I don’t have to do today.”
Judy White (Episode 15 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Judy White joins Ron to chat about her family’s beloved ‘Belltrees’ property, whose history she has recorded in a new book, The White Family of Belltrees. However, Judy professes the book is not a history of her family at Belltrees but rather a history of Belltrees in context of Australian and world history at large.
Surviving droughts, locust plagues depression and wars, Belltrees has stood steadfast in the Scone countryside for over 150 years. With visitors that include Prince Charles and the Royal Highnesses Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Judy asserts that rather than compete with the grandeur they would know, Belltrees aims to provide them, by “creating a natural atmosphere”, with a taste of “the Australian way of life.”
Essentially, Judy credits her book to H. L. White, without whose prolific “documentation of history,” she would have been unable to write the book. Beginning with the sole purpose of cataloguing over 54,000 of his letters, Judy says she quickly realised that the history of Belltrees must be shared.
John Newton (Episode 16 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
John Newton jokes that he’s not sure if he was a volunteer or a conscript, when a ‘chinwag’ at the local RSL club, saw him elected to record the history of the now defunct Rathmines RAAF sea plane base. However, tasked by the RAAF in 1939 to undertake the very aerial photographic survey that would determine its location, it seems no one could be better placed than the man present from the very beginning.
John recounts the tale of Squadron 10, who were sent to England to return with Sunderland flying boats, but instead remained there after the outbreak of WWII. This resulted in the purchase of the PVY5 Catalinas from the US, which were flown to Honolulu and retrieved from there by Qantas pilots. John says, “Everyone who flew the Catalinas up north was trained at Rathmines,” which also served as a repair depot and air and sea rescue base. With 168 planes and over 3000 men, there remains little doubt of Rathmines’ significance to war efforts in WWII.
Darryl Jones (Episode 16 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Born in Bendigo and with a father and two grandfathers who were gold miners, it’s no surprise that Darryl Jones succumbed to the lure of gold. However, a modern-day prospector, he does it a little differently these days!
Armed with a formidable knowledge of Australia’s goldfields and his trusty metal detector, Darryl is now writing a book to help other avid metal-detecting enthusiasts in their hunt for gold. Darryl admits that through a process of trial and error, he came to realise that this handy piece of equipment, designed and used mainly for coins and civil war relics in the US, was actually perfect for locating gold in certain Australian regions; particularly those such as Tibooburra, NSW, where the gold is found in nugget form and close to the surface.
He admits that whilst the novice will achieve “instantaneous” results searching for coins at beaches and parks, it will take a bit more effort to learn to read the signals of the machine in one’s search for gold.
Bruce Urquhart (Episode 17 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
There since day one, Deputy Principal of Tocal Agricultural College, Bruce Urquhart, joins Ron to chat about the history and future of this unique property, which, at the bequest of CB Alexander, is dedicated to training future farmers.
Established in the 1830s, Tocal was associated with cattle breeding until its eventual conversion in 1965. Trained for the practical operation and management of properties, students in their first year undertake courses in plant science, animal science, farm mechanisation, farm management and economics. In their second-year, they tailor their studies to meet individual needs.
Bruce also explains about the changing demographics of the college, acknowledging there were no female students until 1972, but that they now make up around 30% of the student body.
The learning activities comprise one week in three of practical training, pasture improvement, fencing, clearing for example, and two weeks of lecture and demonstration-based training. With beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, horses, crops, pasture, lucerne and silage making, the college caters to a wide range of needs.
George Taylor (Episode 17 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
George Taylor, founder of the Burbank Azalea Farm at Wyong, joins Ron to chat about his beloved farm and livelihood. In 1946, fueled by his childhood love of botany, George moved from Newcastle to Wyong and spent four months living in a tent whilst he built a home for his family and established his business.
Today, he has over nine and a half miles of seedbanks, which he plants out five times a year, growing seedlings to sell to Woolworths. George chats about his beloved parent plant, which, from painstaking trial and error, he has since cultivated over 250,000 seedlings. However, he concedes you cannot grow azaleas simply for the money; “if you grow them because you love the things, they just seem to grow better.”
Finally, George talks about the honour of being chosen to present at the first UN world environmental conference ‘Only One Earth’ in 1972 and his somewhat futuristic vision, which he believes will see man manipulating plants for life in out of space.
Lyndel Donald (Episode 18 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Determined not to let left handedness stop her, apparently a disadvantage in the hairdressing trade, Lyndel chats with Ron about her many NSW, Australian and now international titles—having recently won the Asian Pacific Championships for competition hair styling.
Lyndel draws attention to the difference between salon work and competition work, acknowledging that competing is about creativity and perfecting a single artistic look. Her winning style, for example, was interpreted from a French line at the previous world championships, but whereas it had been created for long hair, she adapted it for short hair.
She acknowledges that she typically spends months working with a single model, practicing for 3-4 hours at a time, 3-5 times a week, to perfect her creation prior to a competition. She jokes it’s almost more work for the model than her. She also explains that the judges are looking for creativity, cleanliness of the work, nice clean lines and colour; with just one hair out of place, meaning the difference between winning and losing.
Tom Locker (Episode 18 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Current president of the Newcastle District Cricket Association, Tom Locker, joins Ron to chat about his days as a cricket umpire. Perhaps the leading cricket personality in the region, Tom has gone from being selected to umpire matches at the Sydney Cricket Ground, to umpiring matches against Pakistan and the West Indies. He is also responsible for bringing Sheffield Shield cricket, traditionally played only in capital cities, to regional Australia. Tom believes the importation of Sheffield Shield to regional areas can only have a positive impact on the game, enabling many more people to enjoy live cricket. As for his umpiring, Tom admits he stumbled into it as a young man after a cricket injury left him with a smashed-up face and unable to play the following week; so, they gave him the job as the umpire.
Rounding out the interview, Tom also chats with Ron about his 53 year career with John Bull Products, retirement, which he claims isn’t for him, and the amalgamation of the Uniting Church in Newcastle.
Malcolm Barnes (Episode 19 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Whilst theatre may not be new to the Hunter Valley, a professional theatre company, the first of its kind outside a capital city in Australia, certainly is. Actor and Chairman of the Board of the Hunter Valley Theatre Company, Malcolm Barnes, chats with Ron about the company’s achievements.
Only six years old, and with the Civic Playhouse as its home, the company employs 18 people, produces a new play every month, and is patronised by over 28,000 Novocastrians annually. Malcolm believes that the company is achieving its aims, providing employment to local actors, production people, technicians and the like.
Additionally, a resource for local amateur groups, the company hosts acting classes and summer schools. Operating on a shoestring budget, Malcolm ensures Ron that the company spends wisely every cent of the $150,000 in tax payer funding it receives. An integral part of the cultural life of the Hunter Valley, the company provides a balanced program for theatre goers and is looking towards touring as the next stage of its evolution.
Ken Hughes (Episode 19 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ken Hughes, owner of the Tuggerah Lakes War Museum, joins Ron to chat about his labour of love. Ken, who undertook the mammoth task of moving his museum from Caloundra to the Central Coast, hoping to attract more visitors, has been collecting war memorabilia since the 1940s; with his collection rivalled only by the War Memorial in Canberra. From a Japanese WWII tanker to amphibious ducks and a WWII ambulance (that used to be a fowl house!), to WWII search lights used in Sydney and Port Kembla, to radio transmission units and all manner of military uniforms, Ken’s collection is indeed vast, and in some instances, certain items, like a Leyland Retriever, are one of a kind. Ken also chats about the museum’s restoration program, which has seen them restore numerous vehicles in the past 15 years. Lastly, with many of his treasures found buried deep within barns, Ken chats with Ron about his network of contacts and friends, upon who he relies for tracking down his next great find.
Val Anderson (Episode 20 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Combining her love of sketching with her love of local history, Val Anderson has found a unique way to contribute to the myriad of local tourist and charity organisations. For these organisations, who depend upon fundraising, souvenirs, such as tea towels and calendars, provide a critical revenue source. And Val is responsible for the countless sketches that appear on these souvenirs in the Hunter Valley.
Val chats with Ron about how it all began with one tea towel for the Cessnock Historical Society’s, Endeavour Museum and blossomed from there. She acknowledges that critical to her artworks, is knowing the historical background of the buildings. Additionally, visiting them, along with her husband who captures the photographs from which she sketches, is also integral.
When quizzed about projects she holds dear, Val admits her sketch of the Dungog Cottage Hospital, which now also hangs proudly in the hospital’s boardroom, is a definite favourite. Finally, Val is also justifiably proud that each of the souvenirs are manufactured right here in the valley.
Collin Phillips (Episode 20 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Supplying the Brisbane and Sydney markets, Colin Phillips joins Ron to chat about his family’s oyster farming business, the largest in NSW and possibly Australia, started by his grandfather in 1915. As a third generation farmer, Colin has branched out and, as well as Port Stephens, now also farms oysters in Brisbane Water.
He chats with Ron about the life cycle of the oyster, the methods employed by farmers to protect their crops, the benefits of also farming in Brisbane Water, and why, despite the fact that 90% of oysters grown in NSW are spawned from Port Stephens, they are traditionally known as Sydney Rock Oysters. Colin also jokes with Ron about the…ahem…’bonuses’ to his business, associated with the rumoured aphrodisiac properties of oysters, and lastly on a more serious note, he discusses the threat of disease on the industry.
He explains how the use of an ozone plant kills viruses in the water, which when then fed to the oysters, allows them to self-cleanse and produce a safe product.
David Bradshaw (Episode 21 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
As the fourth director of the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery, David Bradshaw joins Ron to chat about the history and vision of NSW’s second largest gallery. David explains how the gallery began in 1957, with a small collection donated by Dr Roland Pope, on the proviso the city would build an appropriate gallery to house it. Since that time, the gallery has focused on collecting a chronology of Australian art, paintings, drawings, sculpture etc, from the 1830s onwards, as well as acquiring a collection of Japanese and Australian ceramics. David states that now the aim of the gallery, in addition to exhibitions that focus on their own collection, is to host a range of temporary exhibitions, which focus on art forms completely different from their collection. Lastly, David and Ron touch on rate payer funding of the gallery, and David confirms that the gallery uses public funding in three main ways. Firstly, to expand their collection, secondly to conserve that collection and thirdly, through their exhibitions, to educate and entertain.
Percy Haslam (Episode 21 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Cultural Sensitivity Warning: This site includes images, audio/visual recordings and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
For Percy Haslam, research scholar at the University of Newcastle, his life’s work is about “returning something to them we took.” Percy explains how as a child he was fortunate to regularly visit the Hunter Valley and to learn culture and language from the Awabakal Aboriginal people scattered and hidden throughout the region.
Today, together with the Awabakal Cooperative, and armed with the invaluable efforts of Reverend Threlkeld, a 19th century missionary and linguist in the valley, who worked tirelessly to record the Awabakal language, Percy is helping to right a wrong. He explains how the peaceful, abundant life of the Awabakal people was decimated through settlement and disease, taking with it their language and culture, but that thankfully both are now being restored.
Percy also takes the opportunity to share with Ron the Awabakal meaning behind many place names of the Hunter Valley. Awaba, for example, meaning sacred bird, was the name given to Lake Macquarie. Lastly, a group of Awabakal children sing a song of thanks to Percy.
John Risby (Episode 22 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
From trainee to General Manager and everything in between, John Risby, chats with Ron about his four decades with Newcastle icon, BHP. Particularly, John fondly recalls his sixteen years in Whyalla, where, in the process of building a steel plant, he learnt much about metallurgy and steelmaking.
As two thousand Novocastrians having passed through its ranks, John credits BHP’s trainee scheme for his and the company’s success. He also discusses the capital-intensive nature of steel production and acknowledges that, whilst BHP currently runs its steel making division at a loss, it is determined to continue producing steel for the Australian market; and that having diversified into oil, gas and minerals development, has allowed BHP to do so.
With over two-thousand three-hundred million in sales and eight hundred and thirty million in wages the previous year, John asserts BHP is a terribly complex company. Lastly, as a keen sportsman, having played against the All Blacks no less, John also touches on his love of rugby, cricket and golf.
Robert Beal (Episode 22 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Reverend Robert Beal, Dean of the Newcastle Christchurch Cathedral, joins Ron to share the cathedral’s treasures with the people of the Hunter Valley. First up is a gold flagon, which dates back to the declaration of the diocese, and was gifted to the cathedral’s first bishop, Bishop Tyrrell, by the Baroness Montague.
The Book of Gold, undoubtedly the highlight of the collection, was crafted after WWI. Commissioned to honour those who fought and died, it took six painstaking months to paint the names within its pages and the gold cover was cast from gold jewelry donated by parishioners. Due to the overwhelming charity of the community, enough gold remained to cast a chalice, which is used to commemorate Anzac Day.
In addition to a gold plate, the final treasure is a Victoria Cross, awarded to Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries. Realising that it was important that these items no longer be locked away from the public, Reverend Beal has commissioned a security cabinet to permit their permanent display within the cathedral.
Ian Gollan (Episode 23 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Bored with what they termed ‘pony club’ riding, Ian Gollan and his brothers set out to see what they could accomplish. And given that their hair-raising act, The Flying Gollans, is now watched by millions each year, it seems they accomplished a lot. Ian admits, the critical first step was learning how to fall off a horse. Once they perfected the art of falling and rolling, the tricks they could pull, were limited only by their imagination. Self-taught, Ian says tricks can take them anywhere from months to years to perfect, just as training their horses, takes at least three years. With a repertoire that includes posed acrobatic or balanced acts, action stunts, such as vaulting, and specialised acts, such as climbing under the belly of a moving horse, Ian insists that their job is not as dangerous as it seems. From 600 push ups a day, to hours spent bonding and working with their horses, he asserts they take calculated risks not dangerous ones.
Wal Bentley (Episode 23 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Having trained two locals who went on to become Australian champions, Wal Bentley, boxing enthusiast, historian, trainer and two-time Navy champion himself, joins Ron to chat about the history and future of his beloved sport. From the bare knuckle fighting of the gold rush era, where the aim was simply to knock someone else out, to those local greats, Les Darcy and Dave Sands, Wal discusses how boxing has progressed over time to become more scientific, skillful and even an art form. Additionally, Wal outlines the premise of modern boxing, how points are scored, how boxers train and prepare.
Brett Dryland (Episode 24 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
During this interview Brett Dryland talks to Ron about his success in local and international 16 foot Hobie Cat sailing championships. He was the 2GO Sportsman of the year for 1981. Brett describes how Hobie Cats are a development from Polynesian outrigger canoes.
Ron encourages Brett to describe his experiences and the tactics used by his crew to win the international sailing race ‘The Worrall 1000’. This US offshore racing classic requires sailing up the west coast of America from Fort Lauderdale in Miami past five states to Virginia. Brett and his crew earned the nickname ‘The Crazy Aussies’ as they couldn’t work out from the maps and lighthouses along the coast where they were so they would land on beaches and ask locals.
Brett outlines how his crew was selected to compete through a rigorous competition of ten races around the Virgin Islands. Brett describes the incredible feeling he felt on winning ‘The Worrall 1000’.
Ian Pender (Episode 24 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ian Pender Provides Ron with some insight into his family architectural history. The Penders are the longest surviving architectural name in Australia dating back to 1838. Ian shows some of grand-fathers architectural design for buildings in the Hunter Valley. During the period from1860 – 1890s the firm designed churches, hospitals, public buildings and large homesteads. These images from 1870 -1905 include the Benevolent Asylum Building in West Maitland, Maitland Showground Grandstand, Tamworth Presbyterian Church, and the ‘Belltrees’ Homestead in Scone.
Ron suggests it must be gratifying for his father and him to have been able to consult his grandfather’s drawings. They discuss Judy White’s book “The White Family of Belltrees” and share the original drawings of the homestead while discussing the breadth of scope of the architects work in those times.
Many of the innovative designs his grandfather, John Pender, used in Belltrees were then used by his father in the Federation Period villa’s built around Maitland.
Ian describes his time in the RAAF during the Second World War. He joined up when he was still an architectural student at 18. His skills in drawing translated well to being a navigator in the bomber squad. He says he is grateful to the RAAF for providing him with a tour of Europe, Canada and England. He was one of the fortunate ones to survive as part of this squad as only one in three did.
Ron concludes the interview by asking Ian about modern architecture and the role of architect in his grandfather and grandfather’s day. Ian explains that during his grandfather’s time there was plenty of work for architects throughout the valley and the New England region but his father had to contend with the leaner times brought on by two world wars and The Great Depression.
The role of the architect has changed from designing every element in a building to being a co-ordinator for people such as structural engineers, interior designers and tradesmen with various skills. Ron poses the scenario of how people may view the architecture of the 20th Century in 100 years’ time and suggests the ornate, traditional architecture of the 19th Century may be more interesting to them. Ian agrees to an extent but observes that some buildings such as the Sydney Opera House will stand the test of time. He also comments on how the fashion of ripping down historic buildings to replace them with modern buildings is horrible.
Jan Kobier (Episode 25 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Terrigal’s Jan Kobier, the current Australian Women’s Title Air Rifle Champion, was originally from Newcastle suburb of Jesmond. She has been participating in the sport for 7 years after being introduced to the sport by her husband whose family were the founders of the air rifle group in Newcastle.
Jan describes air rifle shooting as being a quiet and gentle sport compared to other types of rifle shooting. The specially designed air rifles and pellets are used on inside ranges of 10 metres. The sport originated in Germany and was brought to Australia by German migrants who settled in South Australia. The first NSW club to have a group was the Concordia Club in Stanmore. Its history in Newcastle relates to the Germania Club established in the late 1950s with the air rifle group branching out from that in 1971. This was formed by her husband, Peter’s, brother. Eventually, Jan’s father was a participant and her sister as well.
Ron shows Jan the target card with six targets on it. Jan describes the bullseye as the size of a pin head. She explains her technique of focusing entirely on that pin head with the limited help of the rifle viewfinder. Each competitor has one and a half hours to complete 50 shots, 10 are practice shots in which Jan gets her body into a rhythm, then 40 shots are scored. The necessary skills are steadiness of hand and concentration. Jan demonstrates her technique by composing herself and shooting a pellet at a target in the studio. She describes her ‘uniform’ of heavy clothes to keep her torso rigid, flat soled boots to support her ankles and thick heavy gloves.
John Miner (Episode 25 – 1981) WATCH INTERVIEW HERE
Ron introduces John Miner as being a well known Rugby Union referee for 30 years. John explains how after realising he would never make it into the Australian Rugby representative team he decided to focus on becoming a top class referee.
John describes the “extreme pressure” experienced by referees when they’re refereeing international games. He talks about the sledging that occurs towards referees by players when they disagree with a decision made by them. Players harass referees in a very polite way and it’s an accepted part of the game. John uses the Fijian team as an illustration of this. They only spoke in Fijian and pretended they couldn’t understand English and therefore his decisions.
John’s achievements as a Rugby Union referee are: awarded Life Membership of the Newcastle Rugby Referee Association at the end of his career and being the first ‘country’ member to become life member of the NSW Rugby Referee Association since its beginning 84 years previously. He is also a much sought after lecturer on the interpretation of the rules of Rugby.
John describes his philosophy of refereeing is that 30 people (2 teams of 15) are on the field to play a game and the role of the referee is to assist them. Good play is rewarded and bad play is punished. Wise refereeing includes slight misdemeanours being overlooked if by continuing play the opposing team reaps an advantage.
Ron moves on to question John about his other career in optometry. One of the highlights of this was for John to be invited to give a lecture at a convention for optometrists in England. The lecture was on the differences in the use of hard and soft contact lenses in Australia and the UK which John put down to the differences in climate especially sunlight. ‘Surfer’s Eye’ or Pterygium, is much more common in Australia and is rarely seen in the UK.
Finally they discuss John’s work with the Newcastle Rotary Club and the changes John initiated in the Youth exchange program. They moved away from one child having 12 months overseas on exchange, to a larger number doing two weeks exchange at a time, with New Zealand children.
2 thoughts on “The Valleys People (NBN Television series) 1980-81”
What a marvellous addition to the archives on Newcastle History. Congratulations to everyone involved.