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A 65th Birthday in New South Wales

A 65th Birthday in New South Wales - Mendooran, Kyogle and Glen Innes
The birthday girl was Joan Wills, long standing wife of Bryan Head of the Wills Family in Canada, and mother of four Clan members, Greg and Christopher at Whitehorse in the Yukon, Stephen in Edmonton and Fiona in Eugene, Oregon. She and Bryan had in early October already visited Kati Kati when seeing her family in New Zealand so a trip to Mendooran to meet Karin Duce and see her collection of murals there seemed obvious. What better birthday celebration? ( Suggestions to Bryan by email please for the 66th )

We little realised it was going to be 1800 kms when we threw in a visit to Toowoomba as well so that Bryan,the family's senior horticulturist, could also see their Spring flowers. Truly magnificent up there on the Darling Downs .

We set out from Main Beach on October 23rd and had a most agreeable bonus on that first day .. indeed two most agreeable bonuses. First stop for morning coffee was Kyogle ( ) and as we browsed pavement style through the Kyogle Newspaper ( like you do ) you can imagine our surprise to read that local artist Pam Armstrong intended to make the town the Mural Centre of the Far North Coast of New South Wales. It is admittedly Far North, and it is New South Wales of course ( as we Queenslanders might say ), but Pam was not aware of her illustrious Victorian Borderer and fellow artist Karin Duce. No worries, that was soon put right in a lightning chat followed by a careful look at the Mitre 10 hardware store opposite the pavement cafe where Mural No. 1 of Kyogle is to be seen - Fairymount and Workers (pic 1). But in her defence we must add that she had heard of Chemainus!

Perforce the Kyogle stopover was short and we sped on to the inappropriately named New England Highway across the magnificent Great Dividing Range with its plethora of Scottish place and family names that soon had us thinking we must be in a time warp. Indeed we were not far off because as we passed through Glen Innes, being the Scottish capital thereabouts, we were to learn of its annual Highland Gathering in May each year. Our interlocutor was in the motel car park ( where else ), one Lance Sibbard, all too English by descent and a contract sheep shearer by trade; but his wife Jean McLeod was the life and soul, and promised that the good news of Burke's Landed Gentry: The Kingdom in Scotland would most certainly reach the local pharmacist. He is of course a leading light in the Committee for All Scottish Affairs in Glen Innes. Seems that most prescriptions filled are old Scottish remedies that supplement anything any local quack might say otherwise!

By now it was October 24th and the memorable anniversary. So off we went to Macdonalds (pics 2-5) in Gunnadah for the proper treatment. A local Leeds United supporter (because some rather capable Socceroos i.e. Australians are now on that team it seems) insisted on personally giving the HB2U serenade ( widely reported he's a 24/7 'ner at Macdonalds ) and the management obliged with the use of the party room. No presents at this juncture .. that was for dinner time at The Town House in Goondiwindi, widely known in Australia as 'tea'.

Toute suite, and as mutually agreed, we reported to Karin Duce at the Castlereagh Country Store and Murals Cafe in Mendooran at 10 am. That was after refueling at the friendly neighbourhood garage opposite at 99.99 cents per litre, some 25.99 up on the Main Beach tariff.

Karin is a member of the Global Mural and Arts Tourism Association and wore the neck badge with pride. She is a veteran of the 1st Global Congress in Chemainus in 1998 although sadly missed out on 29 Palms in 2000. Her store is a mass of indoor and outdoor murals, from the counters and the cafe to the cash desk on high including the Mendooran Races and Rodeo and sheep shearing. She has also worked picturesque wonders at the Royal Hotel, the century old Tennis Club, elsewhere around the town and at its gateway too. And although one other group of artists has also added some elegant birds, everywhere else it is her own work. The murals tell some of the stories of the township and much of the surrounding land and animals.

She has elegant tales of why some local folk thought some of her ideas were not shall we say appropriate, and indeed knocked some of the better ones on the head. But she describes herself as a stir-er in her 400 people township, and now her fame has spread as far as National TV even the naysayers are wondering if they are still right. She was declared Telstra NSW Woman Small Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000 and came third nationally.

Her ambitions are still to keep painting the town but immodestly to launch an Australia wide even global franchise of Murals Cafes. The menu she has in mind is already being tried out on Mendooran's visitors and the local populace. And for our own modest beginnings in Prestoungrange with talk of a new bistro service in 2002/ 2003 the ideas were greatly encouraging.

She came by the Country Store from a retiring owner who boldly announced to her that he was either going to close it down or sell it to her. In a moment of bravado that even she remembers with amazement she paid her $1 deposit and then surprised herself when the bankers gave her the necessary funding. From then on until GST it has been painting all the while ... but GST's arrival last year in Australia meant her nose had to go back to the store's grindstone for all too many months.

Thus far there is no Mendooran website but there are a couple of rather excellent postcards. The picture of most of Karin's murals ehich we took as we drove around in the rain are linked here (pics 6-19).

This trilogy of circumstance, Kyogle, Glen Innes and Mendooran could almost have been too much for Joan to absorb at her new age. But she struggled and after all of us had washed our hair and changed a bit we hit Goondiwindi for tea. Preceded by Australian champagne and complemented by Houghton's White Burgundy the tea was good, very good and that night Bryan reports he slept without awakening. Eventually however it was time to spin speedily to Warwick, to Toowoomba, to Ipswich and home to Main Beach, not even pausing for a Yattala pie on the M1 Pacific Highway.

We unwound finally at the Southport Yacht Club with Queen Adelaide's finest Chardonnay, fish and chips.

Published Date: October 24th 2001

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