A country teaching position set this city girl on a fulfilling life path

A country teaching position set this city girl on a fulfilling life path

After 42 years living at nearby Riverslea on a dairy farm, Trish Vardy resides in Maffra. Sadly, her husband died shortly after they had moved, but Trish keeps busy with family and community activities. She is in regular contact with her three adult children, their spouses and her five delightful grandchildren. Maffra is a close community and entertaining for lunch or dinner remains popular with Trish’s age group. Joining friends for a coffee is arranged at short notice. Most people are involved in organisations within the town and are on hand to assist with caring for grandchildren. Trish has always been interested in gardening and, as well tending to her own garden, is often involved working in and enjoying her son and daughter-in-law’s garden, The Barn, in the Bickleigh Vale Village at Mooroolbark. Open Garden days are held in this beautiful area that was set up by the noted garden designer, Edna Walling. Trish always enjoys meeting new people and over the years has made many, many friends.Read Trish’s story.

By Trish Vardy

My life began in 1946 in Melbourne. We moved to the suburb of Burwood where Dad had bought a house before war. In the next 10 years I was joined by three brothers.

Our block was very large, and my parents spent many years taming it and developing a beautiful garden. There was plenty of room for riding bikes, footy, cricket and, after an extension was built onto the house, a wall for hitting a tennis ball.

My school days were very happy. Along with several cousins, I attended Loreto Mandeville Hall, an independent Catholic school in Toorak. Lifelong friendships were made with fellow students.

Teacher training years were spent at Burwood Teachers’ College in the days when the girls wore dresses and skirts and the boys a jacket and tie. We were paid during training and seconded for three years.

In my final year, at the invitation of the Heyfield Bush Nursing Hospital, the College brought its musical, Free as Air, to the town.

One hundred staff and students were billeted in the district for a weekend. The Memorial Hall was booked out and ticket sales at $1 each raised $1000 for the hospital.

Having enjoyed the weekend so much with my hosts, the Gurling family, I applied to teach in Heyfield after graduation and was made extremely welcome by the community.

After-school activities included basketball, tennis and the Maffra Dramatic Society. While taking part in The Gondoliers, I met my future husband Alan. We married in 1969 and in 1970 moved to the family dairy farm at Riverslea. During the following three years we welcomed our children. The early years were busy with many visitors, school committees, cubs, scouts, ballet, music, tennis and later rowing.

By 1990 the children had all left home to attend university and make their way in the world.

Recently I attended an afternoon concert at the Heyfield Memorial Hall and observed the loving care a friend, Alison Howe, was giving to her very elderly parents. It was there that I was struck by the strength of friendship made during the Uniting Our Rural Communities, Gippsland Women’s Network, project.

During that time, regular meetings, many with motivational speakers, were held in Maffra. Groups were encouraged to think of a meaningful art project. The Maffra/Stratford ladies decided to make timber benches and a large picnic table. The importance of water to our region was a core theme. Each seat contained a river painted in marine paint and branded women’s and tractor symbols. Weekend after weekend members of the group met at the shed at Stretton Park Hostel and soon had a fire burning and branding irons heating up. Gradually a pictorial story developed.

I am fortunate to live close to Victoria Park in Maffra where the major construction, the large picnic table stands. Each section of the table depicts an agricultural pursuit of women in the district. Beef, dairy, sheep, alpaca, fruit and vine growing industries, all sustained by water, were engraved and painted. The bench seats were installed throughout the Wellington Shire.

We had been warned by one of the attendees that the marine paint wouldn’t last. This, over time, has proved to be correct. 

However, friendships did endure and, although at the end of the project we spread throughout the district, our paths continue to cross at agricultural events and all aspects of art and culture.

Our group benefited from the speakers engaged thought the project, bus trips, the Stratford project with the marvellous support of Amanda Goodge, the Moving the Posts led by Cathy Smith, Boxes, and the amazing International Women in Agriculture gathering in Melbourne so splendidly led by Mary Salce.

I was impressed with the commitment of the ladies, many of whom had busy lives and yet participated regularly to complete the project.

The suggestion of having 70 per cent agreement on an issue is something I’ve found helpful. With the attitude that everyone sees things a little differently, progress can be made, and outcomes achieved.

Post project, I was delighted to see several ladies begin new careers. In some cases, this meant years of study before taking on full time work. The Stratford community has benefited from the involvement of Beth Ripper and many others.

I set up a small rose growing business, Riverslea Roses. In June each year, as I pruned my roses, I prepared and planted cuttings. By late summer the resulting flowers identified the varieties. I would wear a little rose oil as perfume and that often prompted a discussion about the rose business. Interested people would drive to the farm and select a bush which was delivered to them wrapped in pink tissue paper ready to be planted in the winter.

I have experienced much pleasure over the years, to see these lovely flowers thriving in gardens in Maffra, Sale and Heyfield.

The years following the project have been ones of great change in society and personally. My dear mother died suddenly while planning her next day’s activities. It was then time to give extra care to my loving father. My parents-in-law were also in need of extra attention with appointments and general involvement in their lives. They all lived to their mid-nineties and remained interested in the activities of family and friends.

After 25 years as a relief teacher I decided to be more involved with our farming enterprise. I really enjoyed most of the work. It is hard to believe, after many dry years, that there were tough times trying to encourage a cow to walk through water and mud to be reunited with her calf at our turn-out paddock. Tractor driving in muddy conditions I found scary.

Since 1999 I have been fortunate to have enjoyed holidays overseas and have been on wonderful camping trips throughout Australia. Our country is so varied and vast. As part of an off-road camping group we were able to travel with 10 or so vehicles to interesting and beautiful places. While each was worth re-visiting, our adventures took us somewhere different each time. A great trip through the magnificent Victorian High Country concluded at Walhalla–we were home in an hour!

These years have also brought great joy with the marriages of our three children and the births of five wonderful grandchildren. Much of my life today is spent with the extended family. It is extremely interesting to see the grandchildren developing. They are all enjoying life at school and beyond and have been encouraged to have a go and do their best.

Sadly 10 years ago my dear husband developed prostate cancer. We had started to plan our future and had bought a house in Maffra. Unfortunately, while let, the house burnt down due to a fire that escaped from an incense candle. Alan’s final year was spent rebuilding.

Towards the end, Alan was placed in Palliative Care in Melbourne for a month. He really wanted to spend time in his “New Home” and was able to return and spend a week surrounded by family, friends and a bit of fun. Kathy Crooke, a member of our rural group, was a great support at this time and has also helped many others with her gentle, caring manner.

The following year I developed Type 1 Diabetes and last year breast cancer. Thanks to medical care I am being well looked after.

I love living in Maffra and have enjoyed developing a lovely garden. Each week brings a variety of activities. St Mary’s Church, gym, water aerobics, Garden Club, book club, Old Chalks, St Vinnies, the Wellington Blackberry Task Force, and other interests are all occasions for maintaining contacts. I am surrounded by a strong and supportive community and many friends made since that first weekend in Heyfield.

One Response

  1. Jill Gael says:

    Hi Trish
    Thanks for your memories! I well remember the 70 percent consensus- if we are all 70 percent OK with this, it’s a go!!
    I’m also pleased to see you are in contact with Alison Howe. Could you please reconnect us?
    Very best wishes
    Jill Gael

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