22 December 2023

2023 Year in Review: 15 stories from our community

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It’s been a topsy turvy year across the region as 2023 unfolded. As always, it’s the people who make our communities strong. Here are 15 stories showcasing the highs, the lows, the histories and the human stories of our region. Number one is a killer.

15. Bungendore history waits to be told, by George
by Sally Hopman

Woman at pub

Bungendore resident Emily Cunich outside the 1838 Lake George Hotel, which she believes was built by one of her Dwyer family ancestors. Photo: Bethaniel Black, Shout Out Photography.

There was always something about Bungendore that drew Emily Cunich in – a connection that she knew was there but didn’t quite understand.

Living in Canberra with her partner, they’d decided to move out of town, find somewhere a little more peaceful where they could grow a few vegetables, raise some alpacas, and generally just live the good life.

They ended up in Bungendore, with Emily saying she felt she had “come home”. And it turns out she had, in more ways than one.

14. The Gundagai lad who came to epitomise all that the Light Horse was
by Edwina Mason

man and horse

Harden-born-and-bred horseman Luke Dowell was determined the Light Horse Regiment would be remembered for generations to come. Photo: Kerrie Stewart.

It’s a long way from Gundagai to Kondinin in WA but the two towns are now inextricably linked by one person’s determination to keep the story of the Australian Imperial Forces Light Horse Regiment alive.

On Anzac Day, hundreds of locals gathered in darkness before the Light Horse monument at Kondinin’s nearby striking granite formation, Yeerakine Rock, many miles from the South West Slopes where Luke Dowell grew up.

And although he can’t be there, a giant mural adorning a water tank adjacent to the memorial certainly moves, lives and breathes Luke in all shades of grey, which in reality he rarely was.

13. There’s more history to Hogan’s General Store than you would have thought
by John Thistleton

Billy Wilson working at Hogan’s General Store

Billy Wilson worked for two years at Hogan’s General Store, as it was known in the 1990s, when corner shops stocked groceries. Ali Hogan took the photo for her high school photography assignment. Photo: Ali Hogan.

Picking up the paper and a loaf of bread brought thousands of Goulburn people through the doors of Hogan’s Takeaway & General Store for more than 80 years.

Having worked on the railway for many years, Billy Wilson knew a lot of people in Goulburn, and gave his daughter Kathy and son-in-law Grahame Hogan two pieces of advice when they bought a corner store.

Billy, who worked alongside the Hogans for the first two years in their new venture, said no matter who came through the door they were to be greeted with a smile and don’t gossip, because you didn’t know who you were serving.

12. How the tragedy of Young’s Monarch plane crash paved the way for safer skies
by Edwina Mason

Police officers at the scene of the Monarch Airlines crash near Young 30 years ago. Image: National Library of Australia.

On 11 June 1993 a small 10-seater Piper PA31-350 Navajo Chieftain attempted several landings from the south of Young’s airport around 7:10 pm. Travelling from Sydney, the Monarch Airlines flight OB301 flight carried seven occupants, including the two pilots.

It was a bleak moonless night, so characteristic of June in the NSW South West Slopes, one where low cloud and darkness conspired with blowy, icy conditions and undulating tree-scattered terrain to challenge any pilot flying into the small aerodrome.

The outcome would be tragic for seven people and a whole community. But in the aftermath, important change ensured greater safety for passengers everywhere.

11. North Goulburn’s unforgettable hotel matriarch
by John Thistleton

Jean Bowerman behind the bar at the Hotel Gordon.

In her happy place, Jean Bowerman behind the bar at the Hotel Gordon. Photo: Bowerman family collection.

Remember Jean Bowerman? Hair in a bun, pearls, wide-rimmed glasses framing all-seeing eyes and a ready smile behind the bar of the Hotel Gordon. Make no mistake, Jean was the matriarch. Step outside the bounds of good behaviour in her pub and she would put you back.

But come anywhere near her pub in need and her kindness knew no bounds.

Before random breath testing, parents drinking into the night while their children waited outside in cars troubled Jean. She regularly brought two youngsters inside out of the cold or rain at about 9 o’clock. “Still in their school uniforms and they hadn’t had any dinner,” her daughter Nerida said. “She would heat up some soup or whatever – one little one had no idea how to eat soup.”

10. Is Yarrangobilly’s geothermal pool Australia’s slice of Iceland? Not everyone thinks so …
by James Coleman

Yarrangobilly Caves geothermal pool surrounded by snow

Yarrangobilly Caves geothermal pool. Photo: Visit Canberra.

Tucked away in a valley in the Kosciuszko National Park, about a three-hour drive from Canberra on the Snowy Mountains Highway, is Australia’s only geothermal pool in an alpine area.

Yarrangobilly is better known for its caves, including one that lights up like an empty warehouse in a movie, thanks to sensor lights that pick up visitors walking through it, but due to seemingly idyllic posts on social media in recent years, it’s also become known as a place where you can soak in the steam and the mountain views while surrounded by snow.

Kind of like Iceland. Maybe.

9. Long search for historic grave ends in seconds thanks to new website (and a freakishly timely meeting)
by John Thistleton

man in front of grave

Family history researcher David Weeden from Canberra searched for hours for his great-great-grandfather’s grave at St Saviour’s historic cemetery in Goulburn. The grave’s inscription is almost illegible, which made his task even harder – until a stranger helped him. Photo: Terry St George.

Goulburn’s historic cemeteries hold records of extraordinary European settlers that only come to light after painstaking research by their descendants and historians. Now that search for clues is much easier thanks to the efforts of a former Goulburn resident.

Terry St George has launched a Goulburn website that will save family history researchers much time and effort looking for ancestors’ graves.

Raised in Goulburn and now living in Newcastle, Terry has a deep affection for the city. For the past 20 years, he has run his own software company, which has produced websites for cemeteries in Sydney and Newcastle, among other projects.

8. Mysterious lights have Moruya man looking for answers
by Zoe Cartwright

Lights on Moruya River.

Do you know what is causing this light on the Moruya River? Photo: Brendan Sheldon.

It’s uncommon – but not unheard of – to see strange lights in the sky, but Moruya man Brendan Sheldon can go one better.

Early on Christmas morning, he spotted a strange spectacle on the Moruya River, and he hopes someone might have an explanation.

Mr Sheldon has lived in his North Head Drive home for about eight years. The property backs onto the river, and he says he has never seen anything like it. Do you know what’s behind the mysterious Moruya lights?

7. Gorilla Kaius settling into new home after being hand-raised by zookeeper
by Claire Sams

Zookeeper Chad and baby gorilla

Gorilla Kaius has moved from the care of humans into an enclosure with his fellow primates. Photo: Zookeeper Chad.

August was a big month for 11-month-old Kaius the gorilla, who moved from the care of Zookeeper Chad into an enclosure alongside his fellow primates. And as any new empty nester would know, there’s a mixture of pride, apprehension and excitement as your charge leaves home.

In late August, the young western lowland gorilla moved from Mr Staples’ care into an enclosure alongside his fellow primates and is thriving after a tough start to life.

6. Photographer captures memories of last drinks at Yass’s old Commercial pub
by Sally Hopman

Empty old bar

All that was left of the Commercial Hotel’s main bar in 2017, rubbish, graffiti and all. Photos: Ray McJannett.

Had it not been for a chance encounter, one of many open doors and a passion for history, we may never have known what the final days of one of NSW’s most historic hotels looked like.

It was back in 2017 and photographer Ray McJannett was wandering around the old Commercial Hotel in the main street of Yass. He remembers it clearly as a sorry, yet intoxicating, sight.

“It was a very solemn place,” he said. “Like a labyrinth. It was incredibly quiet even though it was on the main street”.

5. Baby George was born on the hospital kerb – his mum wouldn’t have it any other way
by Zoe Cartwright

mum and newborn bub in hospital bed

Kelsey Pye and her baby, George Lee, shortly after he was born in the drop-off zone at the front of Moruya Hospital. Photo: Supplied.

Most women wouldn’t describe giving birth in the gutter as a “dream come true”, but for Kelsey Pye, it was everything she hoped for.

The 24-year-old Tomakin mum wasn’t too worried when she began to feel contractions – they were about 10 minutes apart and so mild she could sleep through them.

She checked in with her midwife, who also wasn’t fazed – Kelsey was only 38 weeks pregnant, and the baby wasn’t due for a while yet. But the next few hours were more dramatic than anyone could have imagined.

4. Rare old photographs found at Gunning tip. Can you help identify anyone?
by Sally Hopman

Man looks at photos on a light box

Jerrawa photographer Ray McJannett takes a close look through a light box of the two “milk glass” portraits he found at the Gunning tip. He hopes they can be reunited with descendants of the family. Photograph: Rae O’Brien.

There are coincidences, there’s fate – and then there’s the good old country rubbish tip.

Like many artistic souls, photographer Ray McJannett knows the value of country tips. Perfect for folk who live out of town to take the bits they no longer need to and just as good for those recyclists who are looking for that particular piece to finish a project – like the bespoke bird houses he creates or even that special piece of timber, window frame or old piece of “something” perfect to finish off a house.

Visiting the Gunning tip recently, Ray, who lives on a 20-hectare property at nearby Jerrawa, saw two old glass portraits leaning against a “glass only” wheelie bin. While Ray discovered the treasure, that wasn’t the end of the story.

3. Neighbours laughed at them 12 years ago, now they’re learning from this couple’s bountiful food bowl
by John Thistleton

man and woman with aquaponic tanks

Debbie Hunt and Kieron Malone next to one of their solar-powered aquaponic tanks. They are growing strawberries, fig tree cuttings and grevillea cuttings among a variety of plants. Photo: John Thistleton.

Bungonia would not be many people’s first choice to grow fruit and vegetables. The soil is mostly heavy clay, summer’s heat is extreme, the rainfall is low and winters are below freezing.

When Debbie Hunt and her partner Kieron Malone turned up from the Central Coast on a 25-acre (10-hectare) block near Bungonia to grow their own food, some locals laughed at them.

Undaunted, the couple came with ducks and chooks and determination, keen to put their research, horticultural experience and planning into practice. They dug up extra-large holes that they filled with the chicken poo-enriched mulch gathered from their coops, added worms from their worm farm and three months later, planted fruit trees.

2. Spectacular, shrieking, sociable Rainbow Lorikeets spreading, fast
by Ian Fraser

Rainbow Lorikeet feeding on bottlebrush

A Rainbow Lorikeet feeds on Callistemon flowers, a natural food. Photo: Ian Fraser.

Have you noticed more Rainbow Lorikeets than usual? As their numbers increase, the vibrant parrots are also moving further and further inland.

A few years ago, screeching squabbling Rainbow Lorikeets in the bottlebrushes would have been a sight for coastal dwellers. Now, though, it’s a commonplace occurrence all across eastern NSW. The birds first appeared in Canberra in 2004 and have now reached as far inland as Wagga.

They really must be among the most spectacular parrots in the world, let alone Australia, with a brilliant blue head and bright green back separated by a pale green collar, and bright red eye, bill and breast.

1. Watch as anglers encounter a huge pod of rare killer whales off Batemans Bay
by Katrina Condie

Killer whale

Large pods of killer whales are a rare sight off the South Coast. Photo: Dave Harvey.

A Batemans Bay angler got the surprise of his life when a pod of between 50 and 100 killer whales surrounded his boat during a weekend fishing trip.

Jayde Theodore, who operates Blacklip Wetsuits, has been fishing, abalone diving and surfing off the Batemans Bay coast since he was eight years old, and had never encountered an orca, so when he saw the massive pod, he said he was blown away.

“I looked up from sending a text message on my phone and they were everywhere,” he said.

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