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Our speaker this month, Graham Sims, held us spellbound as he recounted the amazing story of Bernard O’Reilly and his search for a Stinson airliner which crashed in the MacPherson Ranges west of Lismore in 1937 while trying to avoid a cyclone. The two pilots and two passengers died instantly but although three other passengers survived the initial crash unfortunately one, Jim Westray who was basically unhurt in the crash, was killed when he fell over a waterfall while going for help.

As there were no radio connections in those days, official searches for the plane were centred around Barrenjoey and the Hawkesbury and were abandoned after 8 days when no wreckage was found.

Bernard O’Reilly, a farmer from Lamington, believed that as the plane had been seen near Lismore but hadn’t stopped there then it must have turned inland and crashed. He set out on his horse with only very basic provisions and 8 hours later found the crash site and two badly injured survivors, John Proud and Jack Binstead. 

Bernard then went off to get further help and, with the assistance of Frank and Eric Buchanan and others, managed to get the survivors to safety.

Graham Sims is a born story teller and managed to inject some humour into what was a very tragic story, albeit with a happy ending for the two survivors who made a full recovery and went on to live long and productive lives. Graham’s description of the Stinson’s on-board facilities brought smiles to our faces, as did the two survivors’ first words to Bernard -  ”what’s the latest cricket score?”.

Graham had a 40+ year career in education, as a teacher, consultant, Chief of Public Relations,  Principal,  Inspector of Schools , and Director. He specialised in Languages, teaching French, German, Indonesian, Malay and English, both here and overseas.

After his retirement in 2000, Graham served as Principal of two Islamic Colleges in Sydney, being at one when ‘9-11’ happened in New York, and at another when the ‘Bali Bombings’ took place in 2005. In his words, these were tense, difficult and challenging times.

Graham’s presentation was, without a doubt, one of the best we have had and was very much enjoyed by all those present.


DI PAAS – wheelchair sports and the Paralympic Games.

Our speaker for September, Di Pass, stepped in at very short notice when our scheduled speaker had to cancel due to illness. Di is a director of the recruitment company 360HR, and has had more than 20 years local, national and international experience in the recruitment and consulting industry.  A career highlight was leading the team that won the Staffing Services Sponsorship for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and saw more than 12,000 job seekers live the dream of working for the Olympic Games.

Di spoke passionately about her involvement in providing employment opportunities for the disabled. In her youth Di was inspired by Helen Keller, who had no sight, power of speech or hearing but learnt to live with her disabilities.

Di has been an advocate for disability sport for many years and a great supporter of Wheelchair Sports NSW. In 2011 this led to a position on their Board of Directors. She explained that for  wheelchair sport, participation of the athletes and their families is more important than creating champions. There are a number of ways of promoting these sports, such as ”Come and Try” days and Roadshows which go to schools where classes of children are put into wheelchairs and encouraged to play sport.

Di related a number of anecdotes about the Paralympic Games which are the “Parallel Olympics”, rather than paraplegic games. Her company, 360HR has been a proud sponsor of Australian Paralympian, Kurt Fearnley over 13 years of his inspiring career.

We are very grateful to Di for providing us with an insight into the issues which face the disabled and for giving us her time at such very short notice.


August 2018 - James Warrand

Maritime Museum Volunteer Guide

James has been a keen sailor since he grew up on the Pittwater sailing VJ’s, and then owned a small yacht on Sydney Harbour for many years.

His working life included being a dairy farmer and contractor, also as a life insurance and general fire insurance agent, marketing of insurance funding companies and as a financial planner. He has been a volunteer guide at the Maritime Museum for five years and enjoys showing visitors over HMAS Vampire, HMAS Onslow and Bark Endeavour. James was very involved with the Rural Fire Brigade for over 35 years, and also in several other local organisations.

James’ subject was “The Bombing of Darwin February 1942” from a naval and aviation perspective. He told us that Darwin pre-war was an isolated small community and with the coming of war great efforts were made to strengthen its defenses. However, the logistics of moving equipment in and out of Darwin were very difficult, due partly to the fact that Darwin has 30-foot tides so loading on and off vessels at the wharf was extremely slow. There were also virtually no formed roads from Alice Springs into Darwin. James showed us some very interesting photos of pre-war Darwin.

The attack itself on 19th February was ferocious in its intensity and had a significant impact on the town, the shipping and the airfields. Service men who were required to fly Kitty Hawks to defend Darwin had less than 20 hours’ flying experience, so most were shot down.

There were more bombs dropped in a single day on Darwin than occurred in the attack on Pearl Harbour just over two months previously. However, there were only 235 casualties compared with 2,450 at Pearl Harbour. Seven ships and 30 aircraft were lost in Darwin, but 20 other ships survived and the railway was undamaged.

James shared an interesting anecdote regarding the prisoners in the gaol – all were set free and one who had ambulance training spent 24 hours tending to the wounded and dying. He was later granted a pardon.

James is clearly a keen historian and we appreciated having him share his knowledge with us.


July 2018 - Pete Graham

Radio Host and Celebrant

  Pete Graham gave us a real trip down memory lane as he recalled his long career in radio, both for 2WS and 2UE.  Pete started out in country radio but moved to Sydney where he worked for over 30 years. He is well remembered as the host of the long running show “Jukebox Saturday Night” where his list of guests read like the “Who’s Who” of Australian rock musicians.

He regaled us with tales of the rock icons – Alan Dale, Johnny O’Keefe, Lonnie Lee, Col Joye and the Joy Boys to name just a few. He also reminded us that Frank Ifield was the first Australian to “make the big time” overseas.

It was interesting to hear how the Top 40 charts were compiled in those days. Basically a radio programmer would ring 4 or 5 record shops and ask which artists/records were selling the most records at the time. This became the Top 40.

Pete also spoke of the recording history in Australia, particularly the involvement of Festival Records.

These days Pete is very much involved in organising overseas travel excursions and provided the details of some very interesting forthcoming trips.

For some years now Pete has organised the homeowners in his street to light up their properties for Christmas. All funds raised go to the Parramatta Mission to provide blankets for those in need.

Pete is a man of many talents and we very much appreciated him taking time out of his busy schedule to come and address our meeting.


June 2018 - Bill Fleming

"The Beautiful World of Camellias"

Our guest speaker for June, Bill Fleming, opened our eyes to the beautiful world of camellias of which he has many in his magnificent garden, Elegans, at Galston.

Bill is now retired having spent many years as a TAFE chemistry teacher. About 40 years ago he purchased a vacant 5 acre lot in Fishburn Road, Galston and set out to create a garden. This property is now considered by many to be one of the best Gardens in Sydney and has been visited by many thousands over the last 20 years. It is a collector’s garden containing a huge range of interesting plants, including lots of begonias, bromeliads, cordylines, ferns, succulents, and a wide range of shrubs and perennials. During Winter the outstanding feature of the garden is the collection of 300 different camellias. Bill has been very active in the Galston Garden Club for many years, having served as President, Secretary and Open Gardens Convenor.

Bill commented how suited camellias are to Sydney gardens because of the temperate climate and quality of the soil. Sasanquas in particular are very popular as they tolerate full sun. However their flowers tend to drop off fairly quickly whereas flowers from other varieties, such as japonicas and reticulatas, last much longer.  Even after they have flowered camellias are very attractive plants as they have glossy leaves which provide great contrast in gardens and can also be used in floral art.

He gave us some good tips on how to get camellias established, for example it is important to make sure that the root ball of the plant is well watered before you plant it. Bill suggested soaking the pot containing the plant in a bucket of water for 15-20 minutes before planting. He uses peat moss and water crystals when planting and mulches the surface around the plant.

Bill showed us slides of the many beautiful camellia flowers and had also brought lots of samples from his garden, which he kindly left for us to take home.

Galston Garden Club will be holding its annual Open Gardens weekend from 19th- 21st October this year and Elegans will be one of the 8 featured gardens on display. It is well worth a visit.


May 2018 - Judy Horton OAM

"History of the Australian Backyard"

Our speaker for May was the well-known horticulturist and garden adviser, Judy Horton OAM who gave us a very impressive presentation entitled  History of the Australian backyard”.

Originally a primary school teacher, Judy‘s interest in gardening led to her joining Yates in 1992, where she spent the following 22 years. Since retiring from Yates Judy has taken on a role as a botanical guide for travel company Botanica World Discoveries and as the editor of Our Gardens, the Garden Clubs of Australia quarterly magazine.  She has also been a radio garden adviser for more than twenty years and many of you will have heard her on 2UE and the ABC. Judy was awarded an OAM earlier this year for her services to the field of horticulture and promotion of gardening.

One of Judy’s responsibilities at Yates was to look after the company archives.  These give a wonderful overview of gardening in Australia, particularly during the 20th century.  

Judy was able to draw on these and other resources to give us a fascinating overview of the conditions, fashions and trends which have influenced gardeners dating back to the early settlers. Many of the settlers longed for the style of gardens which they had back in England and so cleared acres and acres of trees.

We also learnt that the founder of Yates, Arthur Yates, was born in Manchester in the UK and because he was an asthmatic, decided to come firstly to NZ where he opened a shop in Auckland in 1883 and then came to Australia and opened a shop in Sydney in 1887. Yates grew daffodil bulbs in the Southern Highlands in the early 1900’s and was the first company to introduce packet seeds to the market.

In 1906 Australia became a “suburban nation” and 1/4acre blocks became the norm. Judy showed some wonderful photos of Australian backyards over the years - including the Hills Hoist and tyre swans. She also reminded us of some of the pesticides which were in use in the earlier days, such as DDT and arsenic.

Judy is an excellent presenter who made the history of gardening come alive and even the non-gardeners enjoyed her presentation.



April 2018 - Judy McCulloch

Driving Instructor

Our guest speaker this month, Judy McCulloch gave a very lively presentation on the “do’s” and “don’t’s” of safe driving. As a driving instructor of over twenty years Judy is well qualified to speak on this topic, and regularly gives talks to groups ranging from high school students to more mature age drivers. She could also teach us to ice skate or marry us – she is a marriage celebrant in her spare time -  but for some weird reason no-one present took her up on either of those offers!   

Some of her tips may have seemed obvious, such as using your indicators - but were a timely reminder of what many motorists forget to do, especially on roundabouts. “Indication is communication” is her motto.

Judy also stressed the need to keep an appropriate distance from the car in front, even when stationery because if you are shunted from behind and hit the car in front you will be responsible for the damage to that vehicle and could even be charged with negligent driving!  

We were reminded that once we reach the age of 75 we need to have a medical each year and a driving test at 85.  

Judy suggested that we visit the RMS website – and do the Knowledge Test and the Hazard Perception test because no matter how experienced we are as drivers there is always something new to learn.

We all benefitted from Judy’s excellent presentation and her willingness to answer the many questions from the floor  .  Judy's "More Tips for Oldies" can be found here.



February 2018 - Stephen Snars

Castle Hill Players

Stephen Snars gave us a very informative presentation on the Castle Hill Players Inc, where he has been President since 2011. Many of our Probus members will have enjoyed plays staged by this group which was formed back in 1966 and operates out of the Pavilion Theatre at the Castle Hill Showgrounds. The current Theatre is a far cry from the original and has been upgraded with 157 padded and raked seats.

The Castle Hill Players is an amateur, volunteer group with approximately 120 members, many of whom volunteer as front-of-house staff for the performances.

Stephen is a Baulkham Hills resident and joined the Players in 2002. He has been very involved in the group since that time, having been on Management Committee there since 2003. He is a man of many talents - having built sets, sourced and constructed props, run lights and sound, written, directed and performed short plays for Subscriber Nights, directed two major productions, “Bell Book and Candle” and “Boeing Boeing”, and has acted in a total 28 plays at the Pavilion and other local theatres currently appearing in the first play in the Pavilion’s 2018 season, “Four Flat Whites in Italy”.

He is a dentist by day but also occasionally works as an extra or bit player on TV series such as Rake, Love Child and Doctor Doctor.

It was fascinating to hear how a play gradually takes shape, from the decision by a selection committee to choose a specific play, to the appointment of an artistic director and choice of the cast. It takes a whole year to organise 6 shows for the following year. Some plays are restricted by “rights” and either can’t be performed or there is a cost between $2,000-$5000 to purchase the rights. Over the years the Players have staged a wide variety of plays, but being a dramatic society they don’t do musicals.

Stephen also explained how the stage sets are built, and that, once the play’s run has finished, they have to be dismantled by Sunday lunchtime so that the set for the next play can be installed that afternoon.

Unfortunately the present Pavilion Theatre is to be demolished but it is hoped that a replacement will be built by Council and the Castle Hill Players can continue to bring us their excellent entertainment.



January 2018 - Richie Cotton

"Creativity after 50"

Our Probus year is off to a great start with a very funny speaker at Tuesday’s meeting. The theme of his talk was “Creativity after 50” and Richie Cotton proved to be a great example of what you can achieve if you just give it a go.

Sixty three year-old Richie wears many hats. He’s an ex-butcher, a part-time actor, a father, a husband and children’s book author.

He told amusing tales of his butchering days – including one about meat rissoles and sawdust, which would put you off rissoles for life!

A few years ago, after his job was restructured, Richie was inspired by his toddler son, Billy, and decided to turn his hand to writing books for kids. Each of his books features 23 little rhymes and some have been illustrated by his wife, Rhonda.

Several years later, the couple have produced two books and had 10,000 copies published which have been sold to 500 schools. Richie’s golden rule when writing children’s books is that “you need to think, behave and write what they understand. Kids don’t have a great attention span, so I make 23 different little stories and it exercises their imagination.”  His maxim is “the least amount of words create the biggest picture”.

Richie has submitted two entries to a poetry Awards competition in Orange in August this year and read one of his entries to us. It conjured up so many images of Australia and we wish him well in the competition.

Richie has also been an actor for over 30 years, mainly doing commercials and walk on parts in other features.

He is a man of many talents and brightened our day with his anecdotes and jokes, particularly the G40 joke!