good news – Michmutters

Photographer captures ‘oh wow’ moment as whale breaches close to boat off Coffs Harbor

An amateur photographer says she is “stoked” after capturing a photo of a humpback whale breaching close to a boat in Coffs Harbour.

Carly Adams, 26, said she had never taken a photo like it in the eight years she had been taking photos of nature.

Ms Adams said she walked along the southern wall at Coffs Harbor each day, especially during the whale season.

“I was going down to see if I could get some shots of the whales and I was stoked when I got that,” she said.

“I was like ‘Oh wow, it’s a shot and a half’. I didn’t think I’d get that shot.”

Ms Adams said she was tracking the whale with her camera just after 11am on Sunday before it suddenly breached four times.

“I just happened to get the shot and I was just so shocked about it,” she said.

a whale breaches near a boat
Carly Adams captured the whale breaching off the coast of Coffs Harbour.(Supplied: Carly Adams)

“I managed to get a few other shots but that was definitely my great shot.

“It just came out of the blue and I thought the people [on the boat] would have had a massive shock.”

Ms Adams couldn’t say how far the whale was from the boat because she was using a long lens zoom.

“It made it look like it was really close to the boat but it mightn’t have been as close. It definitely looked like it was close.”



Denmark Scout leader Beth Franz’s group faces closure as volunteering rates continue decline

The internet didn’t exist and the 747 aircraft was still a year off taking its first flight when Beth Franz started volunteering in 1968.

The 87-year-old from Denmark, on WA’s south coast, has notched up 54 years of community service, helping ensure the survival of the local Scouts.

But she knows without more volunteers, the group’s days are numbered.

A life of volunteering

The value of volunteering was ingrained into Ms Franz from birth, with her mother playing an active role in the local Parents and Citizens (P&C) and progress association.

“I’ve grown up with it,” she said.

a woman standing with some kids, all are in yellow and blue scout uniforms.
Ms Franz has been attending the Denmark Scout Hall for decades.(Supplied: Beth Franz)

“It helped others and it gave to other people.”

She remembers introducing her son to Scouts when he was 8.

“I said to the leaders there if you need any help just ask,” she said.

“Two weeks later, I was in uniform.”

Volunteer decline

Widowed at just 46, and with adult kids, Ms Franz has dedicated most of her life to the Denmark Scouts — but the group’s inability to attract new leaders means its future hangs in the balance.

Ms Franz is one of only two leaders in Denmark with a group of about 15 kids.

“I can’t put my finger on why but there is a reason why we’re not getting the volunteers like we used to,” she said.

a woman standing with people
Ms Franz at a Great Southern Scout Fellowship gathering in 2020.(Supplied: Beth Franz)

It’s a challenge many volunteer groups are facing.

Volunteering WA figures show about 25 per cent of people in the state currently volunteer — a rate which has dropped by 10 per cent since 2020.

Volunteering WA chief executive Tina Williams said extra life pressures were a contributing factor.

“A lot of it comes down to more single-parent households … people not having as much time,” she said.

“I think [there are] more financial pressures … people are actually retiring later or even supporting families.”

She said there were about 150,000 fewer volunteers in WA compared to 2019.

Group’s future uncertain

Ms Franz knows what the trend could mean for Denmark Scouts if the group closes.

“Headquarters come down and they take all the assets,” she said.

a woman holds a blanket up
Ms Franz has gathered many accolades during her time with Scouts.(ABC Great Southern: Tim Wong-See)

“Scouting is very hard to get going again in those small places.”

She said the lack of leaders meant the group had scaled back recruiting new Scouts.

“You need the leaders to have the children,” she said.

fond memories

Through her service Ms Franz has made life-long friends.

“I’ve just written a letter and sent a crochet blanket to a young lass called Phoebe in Derby who would now be in her 30s,” she said.

“She never comes to Denmark without seeing us.”

woman at a candy floss machine
Ms Franz says she was raised to appreciate the value of volunteering.(Supplied: Beth Franz)

Ms Franz tears up recalling a recent moment at the local pool when she didn’t have money to pay an entry fee.

“I got a tap on the shoulder, a six-foot-tall young man said to me ‘I’ll pay for her. She was my scout leader for years’,” she said.

“That paid back for everything.”

While Ms Franz acknowledges some people are too busy to volunteer, she remembers encountering similar challenges.

“Unfortunately, we were all very busy as well when we were young,” she said.

And while she doesn’t think younger people need to “toughen up”, Ms Franz did urge them to look at life from a broader perspective and made a compassionate plea for new volunteers to get involved.

“Not toughen up but have some fun,” she said.



Oldest living Australian Frank Mawer recalls highs and lows of history on 110th birthday

It may not have been an accolade he strove for but the oldest living Australian, Frank Mawer, says he’s enjoying each day.

Mr Mawer became the country’s oldest living person after the death of Dexter Kruger in July 2021 at the age of 111.

Celebrating his 110th birthday today, he says he’s seen it all — surviving two World Wars, two global pandemics, and the tragic deaths of loved ones.

But in between the tough moments, he has also experienced pleasure.

“I have six children, 13 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren,” he says proudly.

“I live day by day and take each day as it comes.”

As someone who has lived a challenging life for this long, his positive outlook is no small accomplishment.

Birthday cards hung on string.
Frank Mawer likes to display his birthday cards near his favorite armchair.(ABC South East NSW: Fatima Olumee)

tragedy and loss

Reflecting on his experience of living through two pandemics, Mr Mawer says he found them both to be highly “restrictive”.

But it was his first pandemic that led to a great tragedy for the Mawer family.

His brother died of the Spanish flu at the age of 20, which meant a young Frank Mawer had to “brush it off as young kids do”.

Old black and white portrait of a man.
After his mother’s death, Frank Mawer was forced to earn a living aged just 14.(Supplied: Frank Mawer)

In the years that followed, his mother passed away, he left school, and was separated from his siblings.

“That broke up the home, as we became wards of the state,” he says.

Mr Mawer’s three sisters went into domestic service while he was sent to work as a 14-year-old laborer on a dairy farm near the Macleay River on the Mid North Coast of NSW.

Despite having to grow up so quickly, there were still moments he remembers fondly.

“I worked on the farm, rode horses, and did some stupid things like swimming in the sea on the horse,” he says.

It was during his boisterous adolescence that Mr Mawer met his Irish wife, Elizabeth.

He was an apprentice carpenter in Sydney working at the building where she was a secretary.

“Occasionally I would pass the office, put my gaze on her, and take her out to get some ice cream,” he says.

They were married before the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

champion of peace

After the wedding, as a conscientious objector, Mr Mawer refused to partake in World War II.

“I became interested in religion when I was about 18, and the concept was that you don’t take up arms or shoot anybody,” he says.

Instead of fighting overseas, he worked on the construction of a building to house ammunition for the Australian Army in North Queensland.

Old black and white photograph of a man and woman.
Frank and Elizabeth Mawer were married for more than 70 years before she passed away in 2012.(Supplied: Frank Mawer)

Mr and Mrs Mawer spent more than 70 years married.

Mrs Mawer was diagnosed with dementia shortly before she died of breast cancer in 2012.

In the years before her death, it was Mr Mawer who looked after her.

“She didn’t want to be cooped up in the unit and she would sometimes get out and I would find her in someone else’s house,” he says.

Losing his sweetheart was one of his great challenges in life.

“It was a big shock … I miss her, she was my life partner, we had a great marriage and I have no regrets,” he says.

Elderly man sitting while his younger son leans against the arm of his chair.
Frank has been living with his son Philip Mawer on the NSW South Coast.(ABC South East NSW: Fatima Olumee)

Now, he lives with his 73-year-old son Philip Mawer in Central Tilba on the NSW South Coast.

Philip and his partner Stuart are his carers.

Some days are harder than others.

“He needs a lot of care and assistance, so that is a full-time job for the two of us,” Philip Mawer says.

Despite this, the younger Mr Mawer finds living with his father later in life to be a “privilege”.

“He’s remarkably stoic and he’ll put up with a lot of discomfort and he won’t complain as he’s an optimistic person,” he says.

“He wants to live. He just values ​​the day and he lives for the day.”



West Australians embrace clothes swaps, dress hiring and upcycling amid concerns about fast fashion

In a world of mass-produced fast fashion, West Australians are increasingly turning to new initiatives to give their clothes a second life.

With each Australian throwing out more than 20kg of textile waste a year, some individuals, councils and companies in Western Australia are trying to reduce the amount of clothes being sent to local landfills.

Among the initiatives taking off in WA is trading garments through community clothes swaps, hiring outfits rather than buying them and upcycling or re-fashioning old clothes.

WA style counselor Ciara Lowe-Thiedeman said the second hand economy was booming.

“The number of people interested in these kinds of initiatives, in second-hand, in understanding how to get the best garments at the best price and how to keep things in circulation and how to earn money from your bad decisions as well – is hugely on the rise,” she said

A woman in a green dress sorts through a suitcase of clothes
Councils and communities are holding clothes swaps to cut back on textile waste.(ABC News: Jacqueline Lynch)

“Teenagers and young people are hiring much more often because hiring is also much more affordable.

“Lots of people are doing it, it’s becoming rife and I applaud it.”

Ms Lowe-Thiedeman said she was glad to see people moving towards greener fashion choices at a time when many were still embracing mass-produced, low-cost clothes known as fast-fashion.

“I think slowly but surely we are becoming more aware. [But] we’re not becoming aware fast enough,” she said.

“We’ve got this rise of little industries, you know, your clothes swaps, your second-hand shops and your op shops – because they’re making money off peoples excess or people’s bad mistakes.”

WA councils lend a hand

The Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council, which handles waste for several Perth councils, started holding community clothes swaps in an attempt to stop textiles ending up in landfill and recycling bins.

Vintage clothing on a rack.
Community clothes swaps are becoming increasingly popular.(ABC News: Kerrin Thomas)

Waste education coordinator Isabelle Marie said it was about getting more people interested in re-using garments and breaking down the stigma of second hand clothes

“People always proudly tell us when they’re wearing something that has come from the swap,” Ms Marie said.

She said the swaps were becoming more popular.

“From the very first swap, when we’re looking at our numbers, we have started to see them increase,” she said.

“More people are aware and more people are attending.”

It’s ‘cool’ to thrift and upcycle

However, the rise in popularity of these new thrifty initiatives had not dimmed visitation to local op shops.

Good Sammy chief executive Kane Blackman said stores were full of people buying clothes for themselves and even re-working them for a profit.

“It’s very cool to thrift right now,” he said.

“We’re seeing about 30,000 Western Australians coming into our stores every week.

“People come in and they see opportunities in some clothing, to make a small amendment, to make it into something new – we’re seeing a great demand for that.

A man in a blue jacket stands between two clothes racks
Good Sammy CEO Kane Blackman says customers often bought clothes and upcycled them into something new.(ABC News: Ashleigh Davis)

“Some of them do upcycle it and a number of people do sell those items online. So we’re creating secondary employment for people across the state.”

Mr Blackman said people were becoming more socially aware of the impacts of textile waste.

Textile waste rotting away in landfill

Data from Australia’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water showed the average Australian bought 27kg of new clothes each year and discarded about 23kg into landfill.

Curtin University School of Design researcher Dr Anne Farren said that it was “a massive amount” of textile waste to deal with locally.

“If we are all producing that level of waste and we just look at the WA situation, we’re getting up to around 60 million tonnes of garment waste produced in WA,” she said.

A woman in a green jacket at an opp shop
Experts say people are becoming more aware of the environmental impacts of fast fashion.(ABC News: Ashleigh Davis)

Dr Farren said anything that could be done to stop textile waste going to landfill was fantastic.

“A lot of the textile waste unfortunately doesn’t break down … synthetic material often has a plastic component to it and they just take forever to break down,” she said.

“It’s as bad as and similar to a plastic.”



Mud, heckling and fun as Victoria Cyclo-cross Series returns to Beechworth after COVID

The sun dips in and out from behind the clouds, lighting up the water of Beechworth’s Lake Sambell in bright patches.

Clusters of people in colorful lycra stand around chatting and laughing, making minute adjustments to their bikes.

Beechworth, in Victoria’s north-east, is hosting round six and seven of the Victoria Cyclo-cross Series.

And while the organizers and participants of the event are grateful for the sunshine, inclement weather won’t put them off.

The alternate name of the event is Mud Wars.

Cyclo-cross is described as a cross between road cycling, mountain biking and steeple chase.

Race organizer and member of the Beechworth Chain Gang Adrian Rodda said it originated as a winter sport in the Netherlands and Belgium.

“I saw a race where they were riding in the snow,” he said.

“They’re hard people who do cyclo-cross, that’s for sure.”

Despite the sun, the twists, hills and ditches of the course are already muddy.

Riders will try to get through as many laps as they can during an allocated time.

A male cyclist carries his bike across a watery and muddy ditch in the middle of the race course.
Things get a bit muddy on the cyclo-cross course, but that’s all part of the fun. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Katherine Smyrk)

“You’ve got to race across grass, which can turn into mud, and then you’ve got to jump over planks, and then sometimes you’ve got to carry your bike on your shoulder and run up a hill or stairs,” Mr Rodda said.

“There’s a bit of everything in there.”

Getting back on the bike

This is the first time in three years the cyclo-cross event has been able to go ahead in Beechworth, due to COVID-19.

“Last year, we had great registrations, but, unfortunately, a week out, we went into lockdown again,” Mr Rodda said.

“We’re just glad to be able to get people up here, get back on course and have some fun.”

Bronwyn Johns has traveled from Melbourne for the event. She said she was thrilled it was happening again.

Two women wearing helmets and bright clothes sit on their bikes, smiling.
Ms Johns and Ms Turnbull have traveled from Melbourne for a weekend of cyclo-cross. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Katherine Smyrk)

“The race, the sunshine, the town — I’m quite happy to be escaping from the city,” she said.

“The course is fun, especially with the lake in the middle, hopefully, no-one ends up in it.”

Sarah Turnbull has been racing cyclo-cross for about four years.

She said it was a great way to stay active and get outside during winter.

“I think Beechworth, in particular, is one of the best races,” Ms Turnbull said.

“It’s a nice welcoming community. It’s not really just about the race. It’s about the whole event.”

Ms Turnbull said it was a very family-friendly event, with her five-year-old going to come down later to watch.

For Mr Rodda, this is just one part of building the rapidly growing cycling community in north-east Victoria.

Work is almost complete on a mountain biking trail between Beechworth and Yackandandah.

Gravel riding tracks have been opened up around town, and mountain bikers flock to the region for challenging climbs.

A shot of the backs of riders about to race.  They are wearing a range of jerseys from Beechworth, Tatura and Brunswick.
Local riders compete alongside people who have come from Melbourne, Shepparton, Sydney and Wagga Wagga.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Katherine Smyrk)

The Beechworth Chain Gang is also running a junior ride program, teaching kids how to ride mountain bikes.

Mr Rodda said, at times, they have had about 70 kids turning up on a Thursday afternoon to learn how to ride.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to see these kids that have gone through the program getting involved and racing and performing really well, but also just getting around town on bikes and loving that bike culture,” he said.

Mr Rodda said events like these also brought benefits to the town, attracting crowds for the whole weekend.

“People are coming from Melbourne, people are coming from Sydney, from Wagga, from Shepparton, from Bendigo, from all over the place, and they come into town, and they stay and visit businesses and support accommodation,” he said.

“There’s huge benefit for our area to have these events, without a doubt.”

It’s all about community

As the first race gets underground on Saturday, the atmosphere is lively and electric.

One rider has Lizzo’s About Damn Time playing from a speaker attached to his bike.

People stand in groups all around the undulating course, banging on cowbells, yelling out encouragement — and good-hearted insults — and handing out lolly snakes to passing riders that are starting to droop after their third or fourth lap around the course.

Tam Stevens and Beth Jackson, who both rode later, were keen to get into the spectating, too.

Two women stand in front of the lake smiling.  One is wearing a jumper that says: I would but I'm riding that day.
Ms Jackson and Ms Stevens say that spectating and heckling is half the fun of cyclo-cross. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Katherine Smyrk)

Ms Jackson took part in her very first cyclo-cross race only a few weeks ago and loved it so much that she decided to come up for the Beechworth event.

“Other cycling events are not nearly this community friendly. There’s not the music going, the atmosphere, heckling,” she said.

“This is fun. It’s really refreshing,” she added after breaking off to cheer a rider up a particularly steep incline.

Ms Stevens said the event enabled them to get to know the people in the community.

“You start to learn their names, you start to get your group, and you find there’s always someone you can talk to and laugh with,” she said.

Round 7 of the Victoria Series Cyclo-cross in Beechworth is on August 14.



Renowned Mount Isa Rodeo launches inaugural Indigenous Championships

As skilled stockman Peter Jupiter prepares for a saddle bronc ride behind the chutes of Mount Isa’s Buchanan Park, it’s clear that this is not his first rodeo.

Renowned for being the biggest and richest event of its kind in the southern hemisphere, the Mount Isa Rodeo drew a record 1,000 nominations.

But for Indigenous riders like Mr Jupiter, this year’s event was a first.

It marked the launch of the inaugural Mount Isa Rodeo Indigenous Championships on Thursday.

At least 85 cowboys and cowgirls from some of the most remote Aboriginal communities in the country converged on the iconic red-dirt arena to showcase their talents.

A group of Aboriginal rodeo riders wearing cowboy gear pose in front of a large, dusty arena
Indigenous riders from across Australia competed in the event.(ABC North West Qld: Larissa Waterson)

For Mr Jupiter, the event meant a lot more than bucking broncos and shiny buckles.

“It’s really important. It means a lot to us,” he said.

“With the first Indigenous rodeo, especially here at Mount Isa competing with the big boys, it means so much to us.

“This is probably going to light Mount Isa up.”

A cowboy rides a bucking bronco at a rodeo
The rodeo is an opportunity for talented Aboriginal stockmen and women.(Supplied: Mount Isa Mines Rodeo)

Aboriginal cowboys and cowgirls of all ages were recognized on the arena while performances by local artists celebrated culture.

A cowgirl wears a blue sash and holds up a buckle prize at a rodeo
Kalkadoon woman Maisy Hetherington won the breakaway roping championship.(Supplied: Mount Isa Mines Rodeo)

Indigenous rapper Baker Boy traveled from Birmingham, England, where he had performed at the closing of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, to put on a show at the Indigenous Championships.


Paving the way for future generations

Patrick Cooke, chief executive of the Mona Aboriginal Corporation, who coordinated the event, said the Indigenous rodeo fostered connection and representation in the community.

“From our perspective, this brings our community together,” he said.

“It’s not just a rodeo, it’s a celebration of our culture and our people.

An Indigenous man wearing brown and orange clothes and a cowboy hat dances in a rodeo arena
Deadly Dexter was the newest edition to the Mount Isa Rodeo’s protection team.(Supplied: Mount Isa Mines Rodeo)

“It’s fantastic. We’ve also got about six new Indigenous businesses that have run over the four days because of this rodeo.

“It showcases Indigenous stock men and women who were once the backbone of this industry.”

Little boy and older man, both Aboriginal and wearing cowboy clothes, hold up rodeo buckle prizes
Eight-year-old Rueben Craigie won the poddy ride while his dad, Jason, won the bareback title.(Supplied: Mount Isa Mines Rodeo)

Mr Cooke said the rodeo provided an avenue for young people to carve out careers in the industry.

“Mona runs on-country programs for disengaged youth and this Indigenous rodeo shows them a different industry and a different way of life that is available to them,” he said.

A group of young people and an older man, all wearing blue shirts and cowboy hats, stand in front of a hay bale
Patrick Cooke hopes the rodeo will create pathways for young people across the region.( ABC North West Qld: Larissa Waterson)

“This sort of event highlights that there are opportunities out there if they’re willing to take it and shows them the amazing things Indigenous people can do.

“These events are all about partnerships and continuing partnerships into a better future.”

A group of Indigenous rodeo riders and dancers, all wearing colorful shirts and traditional garments pose for a group photo
Locals have praised the event as an opportunity for better representation of Indigenous talent from across the region.(ABC North West Qld: Larissa Waterson)



Australia’s largest land-based coral farm records ‘amazing’ spawning event

Baby corals have been successfully spawned and grown for the first time by an Australian farm in a process that could one day help restore the Great Barrier Reef.

Monsoon Aquatics operates Australia’s largest dedicated land-based coral farm at Burnett Heads near Bundaberg, where the company recorded the first spawning event of Homophyllia australis last November.

Almost 10 months later, the company has been able to grow baby corals in captivity, hailing the spawning event with success.

“That’s a species of coral which is basically only found from around Pancake Creek up to the Whitsunday area and Swains Reef, and so it’s unique to this southern Great Barrier Reef area,” company director Daniel Kimberley said.

coral give 2
Daniel Kimberley operates Australia’s largest land-based coral farm.(ABC Wide Bay: Johanna Marie)

Craig Humphrey from the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s national sea simulator said it was a “significant achievement”.

“If there’s a decline in the reef… these things could be bred in captivity to supply the market,” he said.

From the reef to the aquarium

Monsoon Aquatics is one of 39 active license holders in Queensland’s commercial coral fishery who can target a broad range of specialty corals to be sold to aquariums and hobbyists.

According to Queensland Fisheries, there was 100 tonnes of coral harvested from the Great Barrier Reef in the 2020-21 financial year.

Moonsoon Aquatics Coral 1
A sample of coral at the Monsoon Aquatics facility in Bundaberg.(Supplied: Monsoon Aquatics)

“If you were to look at the reef as a whole, it’s a fraction of what’s out there,” Mr Kimberley said.

“The worldwide aquarium industry is worth over $US4 billion.

“A lot of that product is coming out of Indonesia and Vietnam and Tonga and Fiji and places like that, so there’s still huge scope for Australia to grow in that space.”

Mr Kimberley said successfully spawning and growing corals in captivity would mean a reduced reliance on harvesting wild corals.

“It’s about producing corals for our current ornamental market beyond what we can take from the wild, what we can harvest under quota,” he said.

coral hands
The worldwide aquarium industry is worth billions of dollars.(ABC Wide Bay: Johanna Marie)

The life of coral

Footage shows the coral releasing eggs which are then fertilized and develop into larvae before eventually growing into baby coral.

“They start morphing into essentially what looks like a little slug, and that little slug will float around in the water column until it senses the particular substrate and habitat where it wants to settle,” Mr Kimberley said.

“It will then go to the bottom, stick onto the rocks, and then start to form its first mouth and tentacles and become a coral.”

coral eggs
The eggs develop into larvae, and eventually grow into coral.(Supplied: Monsoon Aquatics)

Coral spawns around the same time every year in both the wild and in captivity.

“It’s the change in water temperature, day length and the phase of the Moon, so in general it occurs just after a full moon in November and December,” Mr Humphrey said.

reef restoration

A report by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) found there has been a rapid recovery of coral on the Great Barrier Reef from past storms and bleaching events, but it has come at the expense of a diversity of coral species.

Mr Kimberley believes commercial enterprise should be leading reef restoration projects, and spawning coral in captivity was the way of the future.

An underwater shot showing a scientist wearing a snorkel, holding a tow bar, and floating over a large expanse of corals.
A scientist is led around the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, as part of a monitoring project.(Supplied: Australian Institute of Marine Science)

“The really exciting thing for us is that it’s the first steps towards habitat restoration. And one day being a part of the solution to replant the Great Barrier Reef,” Mr Kimberley said.

“I think to drive these changes in these restorations… it needs to be commercially viable and driven by industry.”

Mr Humphrey says researchers are exploring it as a possibility.

“If you do culture them in a lab or in aquaculture setting, how do you get them out to the reef? And how do you retain them within the reef,” he said.

“There’s a whole range of research being undertaken in all those areas.”



Vintage fire truck with Indigenous history found by chance and returned to Bellbrook for restoration

A rural fire brigade captain was driving through a forest in northern New South Wales when a flash of color caught his eye.

He was compelled to investigate and was thrilled to discover it was a vintage Bedford fire truck.

The 1960s vehicle had belonged to the remote Bellbrook Rural Fire Brigade, west of Kempsey on the Mid North Coast, and was used by what is believed to be Australia’s first all-Indigenous Rural Fire Service crew.

Bellbrook Brigade captain Adam Hall said it was an exciting find.

A man in a yellow firefighter shirt stands in front of an old truck.
Bellbrook captain Adam Hall is thrilled to have the old truck back.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

“Captain of the Newee Creek Brigade in the Nambucca Shire was driving through the Tamban State Forest,” Mr Hall said.

“Through some trees he noticed a little flash of red and saw an old fire truck and as firefighters tend to do, he got a bit excited, and he went and had a look and as he got closer, he saw Bellbrook was emblazoned on the side.”

The Bellbrook Brigade launched a public fundraiser so it could purchase the vehicle from the collector who had acquired it- the truck has now been moved from that property back to Bellbrook, with big plans for its restoration.

A firefighter leans on the front of an old rusty fire truck.
Gerard “Chunk” Wade served on the old truck in the 1980s.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Mr Hall said the truck was supplied to Bellbrook in the 1970s and became the primary truck used by an all-Indigenous branch based at the local Thungutti Aboriginal community in the early 1990s.

“We have a very rich history of Indigenous participation in the brigade here and the truck ended up as the truck that was used by the first all-Indigenous fire crew,” he said.

“We believe it was the first all-Indigenous fire crew in the country… so rebuilding it is very important for the community, for our Thungutti people here as well, and helping to bring some pride into our little village.”

Special memories of Indigenous crew

A young Indigenous man sits behind the wheel of an old rusty fire truck.
Ray Quinn remembers his dad serving in the original Indigenous crew.(Supplied: Bellbrook Rural Fire Brigade)

The truck held special memories for Bellbrook Rural Fire Brigade member Ray Quinlan. His late father Eric was part of the original Indigenous crew.

An Aboriginal man sitting in a fire truck.
Eric Quinlan was part of the all-Indigenous brigade at Bellbrook.(Supplied: Adam Hall)
An Aboriginal fire crew holding a sign saying 'Bellbrook' with the Aboriginal flag on the sign.
In the early 1990s, the truck was used at the local Bellbrook Aboriginal community.(Supplied: Adam Hall)

“It means a lot, my old man used to be out all the time in the fire brigade… I just used to always say, ‘I want to come’,” he said.

“I just want to keep following his footsteps.

“Looking at all the old photos of him back in the day in his fire brigade suit, it just makes me real proud of him and I want to make him proud of me.”

Bellbrook Brigade member Elwyn Toby also remembered seeing the truck in action at the Thungutti community.

“It was great to see our Indigenous leaders step up and have a go,” he said.

“It inspired me as a child, watching our uncles and aunties jump on the truck and become firefighters.”

A different era of firefighting

Two old red fire trucks on a country road.
The truck at the Bellbrook centenary parade in 1992.(Supplied: Adam Hall)

Bellbrook Rural Fire Brigade deputy captain Gerard ‘Chunk’ Wade recalled serving on the truck in the 1980s.

“I remember standing in the back, and there’s not a lot of creature comforts of safety. You had a bar to hang on to and off you went into the fire,” he said.

“It was just a blast from the past just to see it come back to Bellbrook. It’s just a piece of history, I think that it’s just gold.”

A firefighter stands on the back of an old fire truck.
Gerard Wade remembers heading into fire events standing on the back of the old truck.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Big restoration plans

The front of an old truck with the word 'Bedford' across the front.
It’s expected to take a couple of years for the truck to be fully restored.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Thanks to social media, there have been offers from around the country to help with the truck’s restoration.

“I expect it will take two to three years to get it somewhere near its former glory, at which point we hope to be able to go to schools and to shows and rusty iron rallies, that sort of thing and just show it off and put Bellbrook on the map,” Captain Hall said.

“We are only a very small, fairly isolated village here and it’s nice to be able to show the rest of the world who we are.”

A man crouched near an old engine at the back of the old fire truck.
Offers to help with the truck’s restoration have flowed in from around the country.(Supplied: Adam Hall)
A rusty sign saying Bellbrook on the side of an old truck.
The old Bellbrook sign on the side of the truck caught the eye of a local fire captain.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Bringing community together

Bellbrook’s current truck now also has ties to the region’s Indigenous heritage, featuring an artwork created by Mr Toby, who works as a local cultural arts teacher.

An Aboriginal man stands with a firefighter looking at an Indigenous artwork in blue tones, on the side of a red fire truck.
Elwyn Toby (right) has created an Indigenous artwork for the current Bellbrook fire truck.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

“The artwork is recognized for our local Indigenous population in Bellbrook and the wider community,” he said.

“In the blue you have the fire truck, then water around the truck… the symbols in the yellow are people.

“It’s about coming together in the fires.”

A modern fire truck sitting next to an old rusty fire truck.
It’s hoped the old and new trucks at Bellbrook will eventually be displayed side-by-side.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)



Mindful matchbox art helps Bundaberg’s Marlies Oakley process floods and COVID

A south-east Queensland artist has been hunting for matchboxes — but the only fire she is interested in lighting is a creative spark.

Sharks leaping into a waterspout, penguins mingling with nuns and a space shuttle gliding over the Sydney Opera House show some of the stories inside Marlies Oakley’s mind.

The German-born Bundaberg woman creates miniature stories inside matchboxes using a cut and paste collage technique, then joins the boxes together to create large voyeuristic artworks.

A woman leans against an artwork of empty matchboxes filled with collage stories.
Individual stories contained in the matchboxes symbolize disconnect and isolation.(ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos)

“Every matchbox is different,” Ms Oakley said.

“They consist of a background, with a few other elements within the matchbox for a 3D format. All collage and hand cut.”

Ms Oakley began working with collage after her home and business were devastated by the 2013 Bundaberg floods.

Her early works involved cutting postage stamps to create large-scale portraits and the process helped calm her mind.

A portrait of Donald Trump created from postage stamps.
Ms Oakley’s early collage work involved portraits created from postage stamps.(Supplied: Marlies Oakley)

Working with matchboxes was triggered by a more recent stress — COVID-19 lockdowns.

“A couple of years ago, I got a big box of matches at the Tender Centre,” Ms Oakley said.

“I forgot about them, but then I opened them up during COVID lockdown and I thought, ‘Oh, what can I do with them?’ and I started to collage them.”

Each matchbox contains its own “weird” or “quirky” tiny tale and when linked they represent the common feelings of isolation and disconnection during lockdowns.

“They are all their own stories because during COVID we have all got sort of inside our own homes and cocoons and nobody went out,” she said.

Matchboxes filled with small pictures pasted inside.
Each matchbox has a background, with images pasted to form an individual story.(ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos)

“We started to think inside our own box.

“I love them all, I just giggle when I see them.”

Matchboxes strike interest

The artworks have captured the attention of galleries, with Ms Oakley claiming several art prizes for her works including the prestigious Martin Hanson Memorial Art Award and ‘Highly Commended’ Lethbridge Gallery Small Art Award, two years in a row.

Her 2022 entry ‘Thinking Inside the Box (cubed)’ is 462 matchbox stories linked to form a cube.

The cube took Ms Oakley about a week to create, in a process she describes as a “memory game” where she surrounded herself with images she had cut.

Creating the stories is a mindful practice for Ms Oakley but it is cutting the small images from op-shop books and magazines that has been the most helpful in calming her mind.

A woman holds a large box that is an artwork featuring matchboxes with miniature collages.
Marlies Oakley with her cube telling 462 collage stories.(ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos)

“For hours I’m just cutting things out,” Ms Oakley said.

“Even if I don’t glue in a day, every night, even in front of the telly, I’m cutting things out — it’s part of my life now.

“I had a holiday for three weeks and I didn’t do it and at the end I thought, ‘I need it, I miss it’. I go into my own little world and cut and glue.”

An expensive venture

Sourcing the matchboxes is one of the only downsides of Ms Oakley’s creations, with many shops no longer stocking them.

And they are not cheap.

“It’s quite expensive to find the old matchboxes,” Ms Oakley said.

“But I found a really good supply at a major hardware store — I don’t know if they use them for barbecues or whatever, but you can still find them.”

She removes the matches and places them into a large jar, which she may use in an artwork in the future.

Ms Oakley’s artwork ‘Thinking Inside the Box (cubed)’ is currently on display the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery as part of the HERE + now 2022 exhibition, which runs until November 13.



Why Play School means so much to so many Australians

If you walk into a playground and start to sing “There’s a bear in there”, chances are someone else at that playground will join you with “and a chair as well”.

For 56 years, Play School has taught Australian children and their families games, stories, songs and craft ideas.

To mark 90 years of broadcasting, the ABC has been asking Australians to share what the organization has meant to them over the years through Your ABC Story.

A common story has emerged of how Play School has made generations of Australians feel safe, happy and educated.

A black and white photo of Benita Collings and John Waters.  John is playing a guitar and Benita is playing with a toy.
Benita Collings and John Waters appear in a Play School episode during the 1960s. (ABC: Archives)

“As a young child, my first television experience was being allowed to watch ABC, Play School being one of the shows I adored,” Jade said in her submission to Your ABC Story.

“When my younger brother was born in 2001, my love for Play School was reignited and I loved watching the show with him. This is when we would bond, watching hosts such as Jay, Rhys and Georgie.

“I now have had a daughter of my own and cannot wait to share with her this incredible show.”

Play School was first broadcast by the ABC on July 18, 1966, as a copy of the BBC’s Play School program, and it is the second-longest-running kids TV show in the world.

Play School stuffed toys Humpty, Big Ted, Little Ted and Jemima celebrate 50 years on TV with party hats, cakes and sandwiches.
The presenters change but the toys are like familiar friends for many children.(abc kids)

While the program has changed over the years to reflect Australian society, key aspects have remained the same.

Liz Giuffre, senior lecturer in communications at the University of Technology Sydney, says this is part of the program’s ongoing appeal.

“There’s something very familiar about Play School. Of course the presenters change… but you do have the old staples of Big Ted and Little Ted,” Dr Giuffre said.

A white arched window displayed on a black background.
The different shaped windows, an early introduction to the show, was an original element that the British version didn’t have.(ABC: Archives)

For many parents, watching Play School with their kids can make them feel more connected, as they are sharing something they loved from their childhood.

“I grew up with the ABC watching Play School and felt a sense of pride when my son was watching it when he was little,” Michael wrote for Your ABC Story.

“I just love that I watched Play School as a child and am reliving all the fun games, songs and characters again with my daughter. So many generations have gained so much from this fabulous show,” Rebecca wrote.

The familiarity of the program format brings “dual comfort”, says Dr Giuffre, as parents know the program is comforting for the kids with familiar faces and activities, and it can also bring back memories of happy times for the parents.

For Tara, Play School was her “safe place.”

“Watching Play School as a child helped me to escape, particularly during story time,” Tara wrote.

“For half an hour a day, I could see what kind and safe adults were like.

“It was an experience of comfort in an otherwise very chaotic childhood.”

Play School presenters George and Benita sit next to each other.  They are smiling and both hold a child's doll.
George Spartels (holding Hamble) and Benita Collings (with Meeka) on the Play School set in the late 1980s. (ABC: Play School)

Dr Giuffre said this comfort factor was why Play School was so important during lockdowns, as a place to bring familiarity and reassurance to children and their parents.

And while Play School does not usually mention what’s going on in the world at the time, because wars and politics are “problems for the adults”, Dr Giuffre said she was pleased to see them make the Handwashing Song special segment at the start on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Something like COVID, it did affect those children… it did change what they were able to do, and [Play School presenters] had roles to play,” she said.

“We’ve never had something that has hit us all so immediately and for so long. There was nobody who wasn’t affected.

“I was so grateful that [Play School and the Wiggles] they were there because it felt like we could work together with them.”

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video.  Duration: 3 minutes 24 seconds

Play School’s Wash Your Hands song

Teaching little kids and their parents

Play School is an educational program at its core and many Australians have been helped to learn their numbers, colours, and days of the week by watching Play School.

“Play School gave me hours of entertainment and the clock segment taught me how to tell time on an analogue clock!” Tayla wrote to Your ABC Story.


The program has also helped many, both young and old, with learning English.

“I was eight years old and didn’t know a word of English,” Steph wrote about moving to Australia as a child.

“I watched Play School for one year to learn the days of the week and much more.

“I came home crying most days because of the language barrier, but Play School was always there to cheer me up.”

“My French husband arrived in Australia in 1990 with barely a word of English,” Meredith wrote.

“He would hurry home from his language classes in time to watch Play School. The simple and repetitive language helped him learn not only English, but Australian.”

While Play School is written by people with expertise in early childhood education, the presenters are actors, musicians and comedians who usually do not have an educator background.

Alanna wrote that she grew up watching Play School when it was in black and white.

When she was studying to become a teacher, Alanna worked on an assignment comparing early childhood TV programs.

“One of the differences being that Play School was shot in one take. Minimal room for error,” she wrote.

“All the presenters brought their own style and personality to the table.”

The joys of being a presenter

Black and white photos of John Hamblin and Noni Hazelhurst.  They are both holding soft toys on the Play School set.
John Hamblin and Noni Hazelhurst with some old favorite toys on Play School.(ABC: Archives)

Many of the Play School presenters have gone on to have successful careers outside of the program, but there are a few favorites from over the years that are mostly known for their Play School roles.

Benita Collings was the longest-running presenter, appearing in 401 episodes over 30 years, with John Hamblin in second place with 357 episodes and 29 years.