Judy Campbell- Towncrier

  • City Slicker to Bell Ringer

    Peter and I moved to Tongala on Father’s Day 1988, with our children, Rhiannon, 2 years old and Wayne an 8 week premature baby, ready to take on the wonderful world of Dairy Farming in the Goulburn Valley.  Tongala was chosen after extensive research in various locations throughout New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria.  We discovered Tongala via The Weekly Times newspaper and our first experience was amazement as a teenager not only opened the door of the milk bar for us but insisted we go in first! This was unheard of in metropolitan Boronia, where we were living at the time. We also loved the theme of Tongala “The Friendly Town”, the beautiful gardens and well kept streets, the way everyone greeted strangers and neighbours alike, stopping for a chat or lending a hand.  We visited several times before coming to the foregone conclusion that Tongala was the perfect place to raise a family and this was cemented when we experienced Tent Town! Peter came from a farming family in Gippsland so flood irrigation was going to be an eye opener for him, I was born and bred in Melbourne, first home being only 50 yards from the Collingwood Footy Ground and had watched every episode of A Country Practice, my first purchase from GTS Farm Supplies was a lovely pair of bright red gumboots! No learning curve at all really!

    Our arrival in Tongala caused quite a stir as the Tongala Caravan Park; Finlay Road entrance was undergoing an upgrade. Panels had been removed from the side road boundary to create access, pouring rain the week previously made a quagmire of the muddy entrance, so naturally our removal truck got bogged, successfully blocking the way for all and sundry!  We moved into our first farm at the end of the month and began milking our herd of Friesian cows, supplying Nestle as did most of Tongala’s dairy farmers.

    I had many adjustments to make including the discovery that shops closed at 5.30pm during the week and noon on Saturday! There wasn’t the range of produce I was used to purchasing from Ringwood market, but there was the fabulous fresh orchard items in Ky Valley where we wrote in an exercise book what we had taken and placed our money in the honesty tin! Shop keepers delivered and every store in Tongala ran on the accounts system with payments coinciding with milk cheques on the 15th of the month.

    The following winter I learnt all about calving, with the first rule being that the fouler the weather the more likely several cows would calve in the early hours of the morning! I was also very sympathetic to those still in waiting as we trudged up the boggy laneway together, me in my now not so bright red gum boots and also heavily pregnant with our 3rd child Andrew.  I nursed tiny calves, keeping them warm with hot water bottles and blankets and cried buckets of tears when they didn’t make it through the night, more still when they did and then went to the calf scales a week later. Vegetarianism was a seriously considered option.

    We stayed a few years at our first farm and battled the floods of the nineties before moving to our 2nd farm only around the corner where we started growing garlic. A labour intensive crop that wafted it’s aroma over the neighbouring farms and kept all of us very healthy and earned me the nickname of Mumma Campboli. We started our garlic enterprise in a small way but it rapidly expanded into 5 acres of pungent garlic bulbs the size of small apples, perfect for the restaurant trade in Melbourne, however the government of the day permitted Chinese grown garlic to flood the markets at only $1 per kilo and our crop had to be ploughed back into the ground.

    A couple of years after this the drought hit and we changed location again, this time into the Township of Tongala itself – wow Town water! No more washing in channel water or losing all water when the power goes off without warning or pumps blow up, what luxury is this? The drought meant we lost our front lawn and thirsty flowers but we didn’t suffer the terrible fate of all farmers trying to feed their stock and grow their crops. This also meant that Tongala banded together as one to help each other out wherever possible, something as small as a cuppa and someone to chat to can make all the difference when you’re battling the elements.

    Over the years I have been involved in community activities via playgroups, kindergarten and school with the children, various committees and fundraisers, including our local radio station, Power Country 88FM and the Kyabram and District Country Music and Variety Club. I also enjoyed The Cottage activities from where I was invited to audition for Tongala Little Theatre’s upcoming production of “A Wink at the Sphinx” theatre restaurant style performance.  Loads of fun and laughter was had by all throughout the years and numerous productions, we even toured the district, playing to audiences in Colbinabbin, Rochester, Lockington and other neighbouring small towns – videos are still available in the Tongala Little Theatre library of our thespian endeavours! Not bad for a bunch of farmers, teachers, mums and dads, in those days you were either in the production or supporting it, Tongala residents were always fully involved and justifiably proud of their community.

    A small group of the Tongala Little Theatre people (as we were referred to) were requested to assist with street Theatre in the Historic Port of Echuca. We were re-enacting the closing down of the brothel and the running out of town of the immoral “High Kicker”, ‘Flocker Liz’.  I played the part of a Temperance League lady and it was rapidly discovered that my voice could be heard from one end of the street to the other without artificial amplification as I berated passers-by!

    The street theatre committee had discussed the possibility of the City of Echuca and Murray Shire gaining their own Town Crier, as Sharps Movie House in the Port of Echuca had employed a gentleman to promote the penny arcade and old time movies being played. After consultation with the Guild of Town Criers, an open competition to appoint a worthy candidate was held on the 19th March 1994, with all entrants to write a Cry (100 words) promoting the Historic Port and proclaim their missive from the balcony of the Bridge Hotel.  Judging was done by members of the Guild and experienced Town Criers as they listened to the efforts of the four gentlemen and I, who had to project our voices across Hopwood Gardens. At an old time ball in the City of Echuca council offices that evening I won Belle of the Ball and I also was announced as the winner of the Competition, my career as Town Crier had begun.  Australia’s first officially appointed lady Town Crier was creating headlines as an ambassador for the Murray River towns of Echuca and Moama and district.

    Since 1994 I have travelled extensively as Town Crier promoting the Towns within Campaspe, Victoria and Murray, New South Wales, Shires as the ideal tourist destination and tree change location. My appointment was upgraded by the newly created commissioners of Campaspe Shire when council amalgamations took place in 1994 and endorsed by the first elected Mayor and Councillors in 1997.

    I competed in my first World Championship of Town Crying in Ballarat in 1995 where I achieved a creditable top 40 placing out of 100 Town Criers and went on to place Runner –Up World Champion in 1997 in Sidney, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. I have also been proclaimed Best Ambassador at myriad events world-wide, the Open New Zealand Champion numerous times and recently became Australia’s first Lady Town Crier to win the Australian Championship in 2011.

    I promote my Shires wherever I travel throughout Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, United Kingdom, Belgium and have been invited to attend Town Crier events in Bermuda, Holland, Germany and other European destinations. My dream is to one day have the funding to participate in the Northern Hemisphere Town Crier Championship circuit, so that I can expand my experiences and horizons as Town Crier, learning the nuances from my peers, whilst educating others as to the delights to be found in my Shires and the Town that is Tongala.

    With a voice registering 104 decibels, I’m confident they’ll hear me!