The year that challenged me was 2013. The activity started in 2012 and continued on into 2014 During this time I was the Chairman of the Swanpool and District Community Development Association and a volunteer in a number of community organisations including the Benalla U3A and the CFA, which I had been involved with for over 30 years.
By June 2012, I had reached the final stages of research for the Diamond Jubilee history book being written pro-bono for the Samaria Fire Brigade, to acknowledge 60 years of continuous volunteer service to the community, which would fall due in September 2013. The research had been in process for around three years and the final draft of the book was now ready for review and editing by fellow researchers at the Benalla Family Research Group. At that point in time I was the Samaria Fire Brigade Secretary/Treasurer as well as being the brigade representative on the Benalla and District Fire Brigades Group. I was also involved with the Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria Group, which is the volunteers representative organisation with 52 brigades in my area of responsibility.
Later in 2012 a war of words erupted over the rejection of the Bald Archy Prize Exhibition which had been offered to the Benalla Art Gallery by the creator and director, Peter Batey. Peter had been educated in his early years in Benalla. The controversy received extensive coverage in all forms of the media. The basic issue was that the gallery was already committed to a program for 2013/14 and could not accommodate the touring exhibition. The news reached myself, and my wife, while reading the Benalla Ensign one afternoon, as we sat down for afternoon tea. We looked at each other and decided that, as the Swanpool hall was likely to be available during the cinema’s winter break, we might be able to retain the exhibition within Benalla Rural City. We immediately canvased some of the key local decision makers, gaining a general consensus that we should at least put in a bid. My wife, Pamela, contacted Peter Batey and he agreed to consider our proposal. In November 2012 Peter Batey came to Swanpool from his home in Coolac, New South Wales, to speak with us and look at the facilities. He was very impressed with the hall, but expressed some concern about the lack of hanging space and lighting. He was assured that if we were to be allocated dates for the 2013 tour, we would have the required infrastructure in place. We must have been convincing, as two weeks later we received an email confirming that we would be allocated the dates of 10th to 25th August 2013.
There is an old saying, bite off more than you can chew, and then chew like hell!! This was about to be chewing on a monumental scale. Firstly, we had to meet with representatives of all of the seventeen local community groups, put our proposal to them, and request their assistance with volunteers. The plan was to allocate donations from the event proceeds to our local community groups based on their contribution to operating the event. This was not payment for service as this would raise issues with payrolls and associated taxes. The hours would be simply a guide to allow us to reward the community groups contributing to the event. Some seemed very sceptical and some thought we were off with the fairies, however enough volunteers stepped up to fill the roles.
Next we had to address the lack of lighting and the hanging space in the hall. We were able to obtain some wall modules on permanent loan, and the Swanpool Men’s Shed refurbished them and installed the latest in art gallery hanging equipment. Lighting was addressed next. Fortunately, there had just been a paper issued in March 2013 by the Smithsonian Art Museum on the latest energy efficient and zero emission gallery lighting. We attempted to source this new lighting format, but supplies in Australia were in industrial flood lighting fittings and in the wrong Kelvin colour range for art illumination.
Middy’s in Benalla contacted the manufacturer, and yes, they could produce the lights in the correct colour range, but could only supply industrial light fittings. The order was placed. The lights duly arrived and were installed in the hall and on the wall modules. It is believed that Swanpool was one of the first locations to install this new Cree (chip) lighting in a gallery in Australia. This lighting format is now used almost exclusively in art galleries and conservation workshops around the world. The hall gallery space was set up to ‘world’s best practice’ for art exhibition lighting, viewing height and distance.
Now that we had these two main issues sorted, we needed to organise a roster for the 66 volunteers and provide the necessary training and certification for us to be able to run the event. Among these were, obtaining a liquor licence, food handling certification for the volunteers and the facility, event approval from Benalla Rural City Council, design and source merchandise to promote Swanpool and the event, and obtain an insurance extension along with running orientation sessions for the volunteers. The advertising and promotion timetable was commenced in March and ran until the exhibition closed in August. Special vests and aprons were sourced for the volunteers, as we had them all attired in similar dress as used when the cinema is operating. This allows visitors to instantly recognise the volunteers, if they needed assistance or advice. The first event set attendance records for the exhibition with 3,539 visitors over the 16 days, with 1,700 meals bring served in the dining room. Volunteers contributed 1,630 hours to the running of the event.
However, that was not the only event that I dealt with in 2013. I had just completed a community survey in conjunction with Benalla Rural City Council in February 2013 and completed the second edition of the Swanpool and District Community Plan in June 2013.
During the Bald Archy event, the fire brigade books arrived from the printers and a quick review located the fact that one page had been duplicated and one deleted. All copies had to go back to the printers for correction.
In July, just prior to the Bald Archy Exhibition being set up, we held a ‘Christmas in July’ in the hall for the local community and friends.
On 14th September the Diamond Jubilee event took place in the Moorngag Hall for the Samaria Fire Brigade. The book was launched and service awards given out to the volunteers.
In December 2013 we ran the annual Swanpool Swap Meet and Village Market.
I was glad to see the end of 2013, however I was to be further surprised by being nominated as the Swanpool/Lima Local Hero on Australia Day 2014. Following this award I was required to go to Benalla for the formal Australia Day event. I was indeed very surprised and honoured to be named Benalla Rural City, Citizen of the Year.
Whilst I was challenged during 2013, it was a very rewarding year, as I was equally supported by my wife and a very talented and enthusiastic group of extraordinary volunteers in the Swanpool district.