“Keep going and see what comes” – Bombala’s Sandy Lewis

Sandy Lewis, making a new life in Bombala. Photo: Ian Campbell
Sandy Lewis, making a new life in Bombala. Photo: Ian Campbell

Sandy Lewis is putting down roots again. After a life living in all parts of Australia, this Army brat from Western Australia has settled in Bombala, with a sense of fate guiding her hand.

Mind you Sandy says she is still West Australian to her core.

“Dad was SAS (Special Air Services), so it was an interesting childhood – 16 schools,” Sandy remembers.

“When dad left the Army after Vietnam we moved up to Karratha, that was heaven on earth, that was it for me, I was never a city kid again.”

Sandy’s life is a jigsaw of experiences that all combine to shape the life she is now building in southern New South Wales.

Overseas travel to places like Iceland and Mexico are part of her story, “I like to go to places that are a little bit different,” Sandy says.

This short biography of Sandy’s life starts forty plus years ago. After abandoning study and a career in art and graphic design, Sandy’s aunt bought her a ticket to Melbourne on the Indian Pacific.

“You can’t be taught to be an artist and I just knew I didn’t have it,” Sandy says.

“Melbourne was the big smoke and I wanted to learn the hospitality trade so that I could travel.”

And so began a life that has followed opportunity, adventure, and a spirit of community.

Twelve years of family life in Canberra are at the core; two children with her first husband  – a boy and a girl, now in their mid to late thirties.

“When that marriage broke up I went back to the Pilbara licking my wounds,” Sandy says.

Time as housekeeper and cook at the Forrest families historic Minderoo Station was next.

“Yeah, I saw Twiggy a few times, not fond of the lad, bit of a spoilt boarding school brat,” Sandy laughs.

Fencing, roo shooting, and work on a fruit plantation all in North West WA followed before time on the iconic Hamersley Station.

“But that was after Lang Hancock, it was fantastic, Hamersley Gorge was our swimming hole,” Sandy says.

The Australian Army Reserve is mixed through these years, with Sandy taking up a position with the Pilbara Regiment.

“The motto of the Pilbara Regiment is ‘Mintu wanta’, which is a Western Desert Aboriginal dialect for ‘always alert’,” the Army website says.

Its work involves surveillance operations throughout the North West of Australia.

“It was a pretty incredible experience, sometimes we got to try stuff out even before the SAS or Commandoes did,” Sandy says.

And then there’s a car accident 10 years ago, Sandy is shy about having her photo taken, self-conscience of facial reconstruction surgery only she can see.

“I failed to negotiate a corner and sadly I totalled my 1952 Plymouth,” she says.

“No seat belts so when I saw that there was no way out, I ducked, straight into the glove box.

“I spent 10 days in an induced coma, two and a half weeks in ICU, a trachy in my throat all that time.

“Then a further 2 weeks in a general ward. There were a further 5 or 6 operations and much dental work. I am one lucky lady,” Sandy says.

It was love and husband number two that got Sandy back on the East Coast, the pair spending 12 months travelling in a 10 tonne D Series Ford truck across the top to Queensland.

Learning the Bombala region's history is part of Sandy's new passion. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Learning the Bombala region’s history is part of Sandy’s new passion. Photo: Ian Campbell.

“There was a bedroom in the back and two Harleys and off we went,” Sandy laughs.

A magnificent house and tropical garden on the Atherton Tablelands was the next focus.

“We had in the meantime bought a bush house in Gulf Country, 600k’s up and inland from Cairns, old gold country.”

The bush home served as Sandy’s retreat when her second marriage broke down, but the heat and humidity become too much.

“I was basically living in an air-conditioned room during summer with my dogs and a TV – that’s not a life,” Sandy says.

“I was walking the dogs at 9 o’clock at night so I could breath and their feet didn’t melt.”

Having an eye for vintage design, Sandy bought an old caravan, packed up the dogs and headed south, with no real plan or intention.

“I had a wonderful time just cruising down and ended up in Queanbeyan so I could spend Christmas [2015] with my son and granddaughter – light of my life.”

“Ten days in Queanbeyan in a sardine can had me heading to the coast through Bombala,” Sandy chuckles.

“It was January the third when I arrived [in Bombala] it was raining and I was so tired, I pulled into the caravan park, and then woke up to the most glorious day.

“I walked the dogs around the river walk and I was just hooked,” Sandy beams.

Chatting with others in the caravan park inspired Sandy to investigate Bombala a bit deeper and longer than her usual three-day stay.

“I came over to the information centre and there was a guy working here named Peter Mitchell,” Sandy says.

“I said to Peter- I’ve heard that it is pretty affordable here, could you tell me some more?

“And he said – I am actually thinking of selling my cottage, come with me.”

Sandy fell in love with the place and a cuppa at closing time sealed the deal, by April Sandy and her five motorbikes and two dogs were moving in.

Having sold his house, Peter’s job at the Bombala Information Centre came up and before too long Sandy had picked up where Peter had left off.

“When I found out I’d got the job I cried,” Sandy says.

“I was a blow in, I thought a local would get the job.”

A sense of pride and purpose had been restored for Sandy after a difficult break-up.

“My son knew Bombala a bit because he’s a mad keen fisherman, but I didn’t really know Bombala at all,” Sandy says.

Two years on and just about to turn 61, Sandy is enjoying being close to her granddaughter in Canberra, as well as the coast and the snow.

“Skiing is not like riding a bike,” Sandy chuckles.

Sandy says a stubbornness and a determination to “make it work” has guided her life and it’s twists and turns, a sense of “keep going and see what comes.”

Her travels and agility are now being used to guide, inspire, and welcome fellow travellers, a role Sandy seems to revel in.

“And I’ve needed to immerse myself in the region and get to know it – I love that,” Sandy says.

Researching the skeletons in Cathcart’s history has been a highlight

“And my own house, it was a grocers store, built in 1865,” she says.

“I like being kept fascinated, I am like a dog with a bone, learning more and more about this area.”

Locals and visitors can see that and have started throwing Sandy questions to research and explore.

Part of her mission is to also remind locals of the riches around them.

“When I was living in the Pilbara, I backed on to Ningaloo Reef – I never went to Ningaloo Reef, that’s nuts, I was on its doorstep for years,” Sandy laughs.

“But the thing is, there are fifteen hundred people in this town that don’t need me, but I need them.

“I am too old to be a local now, but there is such a great sense of community here, you’ve gotta get involved and try and give back and meet like-minded people,” Sandy says.

Sandy works most Mondays and Saturdays at the Bombala Information Centre, the museum next door is part of her work and passion, drop by and see where a conversation will take you.

Bombala, on the southern Monaro. Photo: Google Maps
Bombala, on the southern Monaro. Photo: Google Maps

*About Regional content is supported by Julie Rutherford Real Estate at Bermagui, Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre, Sprout Cafe and Local Produce Store in Eden, Jeanette Westmore, Patrick and Meagan O’Halloran AKA Oh’Allmhurain Films, Claire Blewett and Neroli Dickson, Kate Liston-Mills, Fay Deveril, Shane O’Leary, Fiona Cullen, Nancy Blindell, Jo Riley-Fitzer, and Jenny Anderson. Thank you.

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