Ruth Holmes is a name that is synonymous with volunteering. Ask anyone on the Dorrigo Plateau about community service and Ruth will be mentioned. Her 80th birthday is fast approaching, but she has no intention of slowing down. “Like most of the volunteers in our communities, I come from a family that have always helped. When they saw something needed doing they just got in and did it,” says Ruth (photo credit Bruce Jacups).
The Corona Virus has meant a lull in many community activities, so one could imagine Ruth finally has some spare time. “I’ve actually never been busier. I’ve dedicated the past few weeks to my Landcare duties, where I can still socially distance. It’s been a a great opportunity to tackle the Fire Weed,” says Ruth. It appears that there is certainly never a dull moment. But Ruth and her fellow volunteers are slightly bemused about the use of the word ‘Resilience’ since the Corona Virus hit. “We have always been a resilient lot. We were brought up to be resilient like our parents and grandparents.”
Chatting to Ruth, one quickly realises that busyness and resilience are a constant and always have been. She has spent most of this full life living on the family farm in Dorrigo. However, her schooling actually commenced in Urunga due to the absence of a school bus to get into Dorrigo. “I lived in Urunga with my Grandfather Alf Christian between the years of 1946 and 1949. That was where I first started volunteering. My Dad was in the Urunga Progress Association and they were helping the Hungry Head Surf Live Saving Club raise money for a Cedar Surf Boat. I took my Pony Trixie out to Hungry Head to raise money for the boat by charging children sixpence a ride! That was my contribution. We were out there all day,” she says.
Pony rides were just the beginning of a long life of community service and raising money for a good cause. “For communities to survive they just have to all pull together and do it. We never thought of it as ‘volunteering’, it was part of life! Very often you did not have the money to give to charity but you gave your time to help neighbours and the community you lived in. In rural communities that I’ve visited all over Australia it’s the same.”
Ruth’s move back to the Dorrigo farm in 1949 marked the start of her life-long contribution to her local community. “At that time we all helped raise funds for Maynards Plain Hall and in 1951 my Dad was a member of a Tree Planting Committee that planted the Jubilee Avenue (Jubilee of Federation) of Liquid Amber trees from top of the Dorrigo Mountain into Cemetery. All the families were a part of this project, planting trees and watering them. I remember little Alan Jarrett before he went to school watering the trees.”
Girl Guides was also an integral part of Ruth’s life at that time. “We made beds at Dorrigo Hospital and waited on tables for the Agricultural Show ladies at the Dorrigo Show. My mother was in the CWA & they catered once a week for Rotary so I’d go in and help her, the same way that Nola Tyson (nee Read) helped her mother. This ‘Volunteering’ work was just helping the family and your community. Our Hall was the focal part of the community. Like most local families we’d cook for street stalls and make things to raise money for what project was on the go at that time.”
Ruth and Rod married in 1972 and did leave the region for a spell. However, it didn’t take her long to start volunteering in her newfound communities of Tibooburra, Coonabarabran and Glen Innes. “I was in the CWA at Tibooburra and Coonabarabran & in the Historical Society and an Adult Advisor for Rural Youth at Glen Innes. Everyone in those towns worked hard for their communities just like in Dorrigo”, she says.
Since her return to Dorrigo in the early 90’s, Ruth’s volunteering stepped up a notch. “I was Secretary of NSW Farmers’ Assoc Dorrigo Branch for some years and a steward in the Beef Cattle Section at the Dorrigo Show. In 1991 with other residents along Mountain Top Road, we started the first Landcare group on the Plateau. We did lots of work along the road, planted trees and transformed Griffiths’ Lookout into a place where locals and visitors like to visit.”
In fact, the Landcare work has become a real priority for Ruth. “We maintain along our road and the Lookout. Over the years we’ve expanded our work to include the Rocky Creek Reserve that was covered in Privet and Honeysuckle. Our plan was to fence off our waterways from cattle and put in alternative watering points for livestock. We commenced a mosaic of Wildlife corridors across the landscape to Dorrigo and Bellinger River National Parks. We won a number of State Awards. Now that the Wildlife corridors have been established our time is spent doing weed control and supporting other Landcare Groups. We would like to monitor the flora, fauna and insects in these areas. We have fenced off 350 acres of rainforest on our farm.”
Presently, Ruth is on the Dorrigo Committee for Prevention of Suicide in the Bellingen Shire, under the leadership of Celeste from North Coast Primary Health. This group was created when the bushfires threatened the Dorrigo Plateau from September to January following the drought. Along with the Dorrigo Chamber of Commerce, the group were busy organising a community event and a thank you to the volunteers when the Covid-19 hit. The group are now meeting once weekly on ‘Hangout’ and have been getting flyers and important information out into the Community via social media and email. They are really hoping for some of the bushfire money given to Bellingen Shire by Federal Government to fund a happy event for the community later in the year.
Pre Covid-19 Ruth was an active member of The Don Dorrigo & Guy Fawkes Historical Society. She was also active at the Dorrigo Museum, compiling the roster and visiting ‘Highview’ at Dorrigo Health Centre once a month for the project ‘Taking the Museum to the People’. She also conducts tours of the Museum for tourist groups and has contributed to putting on several community concerts honouring Buddy Williams, Dorrigo and Australia’s first Australian Country Music singer. Since 1969, Ruth has also been a member of the Dorrigo Drama Club on and off, helping to raise the funds required to build the present Old Gazette Theatre. “We only do ‘Front of House’ duty now when productions are on,” says Ruth.
Ruth admits that life has been all the richer for volunteering and during this week of celebration has a simple message for the uninitiated. “To the young members of our communities- have a go at volunteering if you haven’t done it before. The local SES and Rural Fire Brigades are excellent places to start and their training prepares you for many living skills. If you like mixing with people, travelling and local history try volunteering at the Visitor Information Centres or Museum. The local service Clubs like Rotary and Lions Clubs, plus Drama Clubs are excellent if you are new to town and want to meet new people. They do a variety of things for their communities. Another excellent group is the Hospital Auxiliary. They work so hard to buy equipment for our hospitals. You never know when it might save your life.”
“Survival of a small town like ours is dependent on the volunteers. And I can ensure you that caring for others and your community will give you a lot of satisfaction throughout your life.”