1 January 2022

2021 Year in Review: A dozen stories from our community

| Tim White
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Say what you will about 2021, but no-one will argue it hasn’t been one hell of a ride!

Despite the doom and gloom brought on by a global pandemic, our communities have rallied together in all sorts of ways.

About Regional has brought together a dozen of the community stories that had you clicking throughout the year. Count them down with us.

12. Cowra’s cheeky campaign set to get Chris Hemsworth to town

A still from Cowra tourism's #GetChrisToCowra campaign video of man and woman dressed as Thor sitting by roadside

A humorous still from Cowra tourism’s new #GetChrisToCowra campaign video. Photo: Facebook.

Where the bloody hell is Chris Hemsworth?

Until recently, Cowra’s claim to fame was its fat lambs, stunning canola crops, Japanese gardens and historic wartime breakout, but in 2021 the NSW country town managed to go viral with a clever advertising campaign based around Hollywood heavyweight Chris Hemsworth.

The #GetChrisToCowra campaign got up a head of steam with a tongue-in-check pledge to build a ‘Big Chris’ in regional NSW if the Thor star agreed to visit.

And it seemed to pay off, after the heart-throb used social media to accept the town’s invitation and promised to visit the town in 2022.

11. Six days of freedom: How a village unknowingly sheltered fugitives

Police and armed landholders in ute

Police and armed landholders search for Bullock and Foster between 29 May and 2 June, 1959. Photo: Bigga General Store.

On Friday, 29 May, 1959, Brian Thomas Bullock and Anthony James Foster, both aged 19, escaped Berrima Prison in the NSW Southern Highlands by hitting a prison guard on the head and fleeing in the prison superintendent’s car.

Ironically, stealing cars and armed robberies had landed them in jail and here they were using their questionable skills one again – this time to escape. Hannah Sparks recounted their story.

10. Meet the residents of Australia’s most haunted house in Junee

Silvia Heszterenyiova and Lawrence Ryan

Lawrence Ryan and his wife Silvia Heszterenyiova run the ghost tours at Monte Cristo Homestead. Photo: Supplied.

It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to live in Australia’s most haunted house, but Monte Cristo Homestead in Junee hasn’t scared away the Ryan family.

Aged 90, owner and resident Olive Ryan has a lot of experience with the dead, yet her advice to visitors is to watch out for the living.

It was her late husband Reginald’s dream to own and restore the homestead built by Christopher Crawley in 1876.

9. Tragic death of fiance inspires Maddie to campaign for level crossing safety

Ethan Hunter and Maddie Bott

Ethan Hunter and Maddie Bott. The pair were to marry last weekend but Ethan was killed in a level crossing accident near Bribbaree in March. Photo: Maddie Bott.

Two tragic level crossing crash deaths west of Young hit the community hard in 2021 and prompted a national campaign for better safety measures.

Ethan Hunter, who was set to marry Maddie Bott at Easter, was one of the local lives lost. In an inspiring and selfless act, Maddie channeled her grief into a campaign calling for flashing lights to be made mandatory at all level crossings in Australia.

8. A Shearer’s Gift: Sam Picker helps regional transplant recipients after losing a friend

Sam Picker with ram on farm

Sam Picker, from Bigga, auctioned a ram from his family’s property, ‘Hillcreston’, to help raise money for organ donation. Photo: Hillcreston Superfine Merino Stud Facebook.

Shearer’s Gift is Sam Picker’s way of supporting regional people through organ transplants and honouring the life of his late friend.

Sam, from Bigga, in the NSW Southern Tablelands, had been raising money for organ donations for some time, but didn’t realise the true impact of the cause until his friend, Jake Apps, passed away in October 2019.

The friends met in primary school and Jake sadly died from cystic fibrosis at age 25.

7. Paralysed at 16, living independently and teaching at 21

Bradley, Emily and Matt Hayes with puppy Jimmy in house front yard.

Brad, Emily and Matt Hayes with puppy Jimmy at the newly renovated house in Crookwell. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

In 2016, a rugby league accident caused paraplegia for Brad Hayes, but thanks to local generosity in Crookwell he has gained his independence.

Major fundraising efforts by his local community gave Brad, now 21, the opportunity to live independently for the first time since the accident.

The money was raised by Brad’s team, the Crookwell Green Devils, and an anonymous donor, and has been managed by the Crookwell Community Trust since the accident.

6. A colourful character shares his memories of Moruya

Michel Nader next to plaque at Monarch Hotel in Moruya

Michel Nader outside the Monarch Hotel in Moruya. Photo: Karyn Starmer.

Michel Nader’s first home in Moruya was little more than a tin shed, but the colourful character has some stories to tell of life as a local publican and entrepreneur.

Known for the colourful paintwork of his commercial buildings in the Eurobodalla town centres, Michel has seen a lot of change since arriving in Moruya in 1929. Now aged in his 90s, Michel can still be found working at the Monarch Hotel on Moruya’s main street.

With a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, it is easy to see that Michel has lost none of his enthusiasm for life in the Eurobodalla.

5. ‘Whatever will happen to Dick?’ How an icon came to call Gundaroo home

Dick and Pip Smith

Dick Smith and his wife Pip on their travels to New Zealand. Photo: Marilyn Anderson.

If Dick Smith could choose between the concrete jungle and the rural life, he’d choose the latter every time.

Whenever he can – which is about six times per year – the 77-year-old flies with his wife Pip from their Terrey Hills home in Northern Sydney to their 4000-acre property in Gundaroo in the Yass Valley, which he purchased for an estimated $4.2 million in 1995.

To Dick, this is living out bush, although he concedes it’s only a 30-minute drive – or a six-minute helicopter ride – to Canberra.

4. Breadalbane’s restored historic inn reveals colonial history

Mary and Shlomi Bonet at 'Sweetwood Lea Inn' at Breadalbane

Mary and Shlomi Bonet at the charmingly restored ‘Sweetwood Lea Inn’ at Breadalbane. Photo: Supplied.

When an old inn revealed its history to owners Shlomi and Mary Bonet, it prompted an almost two-decade-long love affair of restoring it to its former condition.

‘Sweetwood Lea Inn’ at historic Breadalbane, in the NSW Southern Tablelands, is a piece of colonial architecture built in the 1850s. Located on what was once the only route between Sydney and Melbourne – the two cities of colonial Australia – it is easy to imagine everybody who was anybody having either stayed at the inn or passed by it.

Between 1858 and 1878 it was a hotel, coach house and post office, and was known as Breadalbane Inn, Lodge’s Inn and Breadalbane Hotel. From 1878, the inn became a family home to John Hannan, and until 2002, it had been succeeded by his descendants.

3. Bidding farewell to the old Bay Bridge and its operators as new structure soars

Rodney Plumb on Batemans Bay Bridge.

Rodney Plumb has been operating the Batemans Bay Bridge for 20 years. Photo: David Jacobs.

For more than 20 years, Rodney Plumb has quietly enjoyed one of the best views in the Eurobodalla, if not the whole NSW South Coast.

Perched high in the little cabin atop Batemans Bay bridge, he raises the span twice each day and sits 15 metres above the water, gazing out to the Tollgate Islands while the ferry passes beneath.

But that all came to an end this year, when the new bridge opened and the old one was dismantled.

2. You muddy beauty: How Sydney entertainment A-listers built in the bush, brick by brick

Richard Glover, Debra Oswald, John Sullivan and Peter Davies outside Taralga house.

ABC journalist Richard Glover (right) and screenwriter Debra Oswald pictured in front of their mud-brick house with Taralga Rural Fire Brigade Captain John Sullivan (left) and member Peter Davies after the 2019 Green Wattle Creek Fire. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

At the end of a maddening week, as husband and wife, Richard Glover and Debra Oswald, shake off the three-hour drive from Sydney, they pause for a moment and marvel at the fact their Wombeyan Caves weekender is still standing.

The slightly sloping, very rocky bush block was purchased by the well-known ABC Radio presenter, the creator of the television show Offspring, their friend Philip Clark and his then-girlfriend, Gillian, for $27,000 in 1984.

It was what you would call the best of a bad bunch, and looked even better after consuming a bladder of cheap port – a reminder that you were broke.

1. What happened to Paul West and the River Cottage?

Paul West on farm with chickens.

Former River Cottage Australia host Paul West. Photo: Supplied.

It’s hard to imagine that the popular lifestyle television series, River Cottage Australia, stopped filming five years ago. However, its ethos of showcasing local, seasonal produce lives on in the show’s former host Paul West’s current work and the cottage’s new incarnation as an Airbnb.

These days, the chef is living with his young family in Bermagui, on the NSW South Coast, in a house they bought during their River Cottage Australia days, 30 minutes’ drive from the old TV set in Central Tilba.

Paul juggles hosting a weekday breakfast radio show on ABC South East NSW, taking care of his eldest son, Otto, and youngest, Bowie, in between school and daycare, teaching a wrestling class at Bermagui Surf Life Saving Club – a hobby he started about five years ago – and taking his famous dog, Digger, to the beach every day.

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