It was 2011 when Wally Tyson was given the honor of opening the Bellingen Show. Wally took to the microphone and began his opening address..
“In 1861 two brothers came as settlers to the Bellingen Valley- one was my great grandfather William Tyson, who cleared land for farming on the northern bank of the river at Fernmount and I still live on a portion of that property. The other brother, my great uncle George Tyson, settled in Fernmount and built the cheese factory, Butchers shop and the public hall. He was affectionately named Fernmount’s favorite son. “
22 years after the brothers settled in the valley in the year 1883, George Tyson opened the very first Bellingen Show in one of his paddocks in Fernmount, which was the first show to be held between Maitland and Grafton. Five years later the show moved to its current site.
As a young boy Wally remembers the Bellingen Show as “the biggest event in town.” He has been a volunteer with the show for more than 50 years. His first role during the 60’s and 70’s was working with Show Society Life Member Jean Kelly to take the entries for the ring events. “In those days we saw some of the greatest horse riders in the show’s history, with John Fahey, Kevin Bacon and Gertie Brooks among the top riders, who had won at the Sydney Royal Show and World Championships in the Show Jumping.” All entries were manually recorded and paid by cheque. “If riders tried to sneak in without paying we would announce it over the microphone. That would fix that.” Wally remembers the excitement of the bull riding, camp drafting, high jumping and the Hurry Scurry- one lap around the oval on horse-back. “The horses flew.” For all sorts of reasons these events are now a distant memory.
In 1973 Wally left the family dairy to work full-time, so he handed the reigns to Yvonne, who continued to process the horse entries for the show for another 5 years. Yvonne wasn’t always comfortable with the treatment of the horses, so decided to move on to selling cordials and lollies at the soft drink stall. “We kept the drinks cold in bathtubs filled with ice blocks”. When the stall moved into a proper building with a fridge, “We thought we were in heaven.” However, in 1982 Yvonne moved into the luncheon pavilion, where she has remained for 35 years. “We would boil up the plum puddings in a copper at the back door.” Yvonne remembers most fondly the Centenary Show in 1988. “There was so much excitement and then the rain started to fall.” Miraculously the show went on. “We sold 250 lunches on the Saturday and 100 afternoon teas and another 100 lunches on the Sunday. It was the most marvelous weekend.”
Wally was raised on the family farm on North Bank Road. He would travel across the Bellinger River by punt to meet the other Bellingen students being schooled in Coffs Harbour. “We would catch the North Coast Mail Train to school, always arriving 40 minutes late.” Like most of the local students, Wally left school at 14 to join his father on the dairy farm. Wally was only 17 when his father died suddenly, leaving Wally to run the farm. Yvonne was also born and raised in Bellingen but was schooled in Bellingen at the public school, an old timber building which was later pulled down to make room for our current Shire Council building. “People climbed on the roof to protest the school’s destruction. I was sad but not up on the roof,” claims Yvonne.
The couple first met at a dance in the Bellingen Memorial Hall, when they were both 17. Wally remembers walking Yvonne home that night. “And that was that” says Wal. Three years later the couple married at the Bellingen Anglican Church. They now have 5 children, 10 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
Wally and Yvonne are passionate about Bellingen and its community. Their ethos is simple “help one another and your community.” Wally is a life-member of the Urunga Anglers Club, of which he has been president since 1984. Thirty one years ago he organized the inaugural ‘Bellingen Eel Fishing Championship’, a week long catch and release competition for children under 16 years, which is now an annual event. The very first event was won by one of Wal’s grandsons, who also earned an Australian record for his catch. The biggest eel ever caught weighed 11.65kg. Each year the winner is awarded a two-foot high timber trophy in the shape of an eel. Wal was also an integral member of the local volunteer bush fire brigade for years. “It was a fairly loose organization. Just a hard hat and your regular work clothes,” says Wal. Similarly Yvonne is still a volunteer at the Bellingen Op Shop, Meals on Wheels, the Red Cross and Bellingen View Club. “There is always so much to do,” says Yvonne. In fact, when wanting to meet with Wally and Yvonne for this interview, I was told by Yvonne “We can see you next Tuesday week. We have to make an appointment to see each other.” Both Wally and Yvonne agree, “You have to get out and mix with people and do something constructive.”
This year in May Wally and Yvonne, both life members of the Bellingen Show and both 82 years old, will be volunteering as usual. Wally now works with the Lions Club (of which he has been a member for 43 years and is now a life member) to clean the showground before the show begins. Wally will be high pressure hosing for days prior and will be manning the BBQ on the day. Yvonne makes the raffle books, “We cut them out and sew them together to save money.” And general consensus amongst the horse judges is that Yvonne’s morning teas, particularly her jelly cakes, are sublime.
Well done Wally and Yvonne. For more information on the Bellingen Show.