11 January 2023

2022 Year in Review: Community stories from the Riverina

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From cartoonists to clockmakers, surgeons to students, the Riverina produces some fairly incredible people. Here are some of their stories.

18. Griffith’s oldest living Land Army member celebrates 80th anniversary
by Oliver Jacques

Kathleen Savage next to monument

Kathleen Savage at the Girl with Grit monument in Griffith. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

At 96, Kathleen Savage is Griffith’s oldest living Land Army member. She recalls earning just $2.50 a week, the “terrifying” 1944 Cowra breakout, and the fight to allow women to march alongside male soldiers on Anzac Day.

17. Clockmaker Dom Tancredi is surrounded by time but has none to spare
by Chris Roe

Man and clocks

Dom Tancredi has plenty of clocks but little time. Photo: Chris Roe.

If you stroll through South Town Walk at the southern end of Baylis Street, you can’t help but notice the window filled with beautiful ticking timepieces at Dom’s Watch and Clock Repair Service.

Dom Tancredi describes himself as a man “surrounded by time, but with none to spare”, and sure enough, as he tells his story, a steady stream of customers stop in with cracked watches, flat batteries and antique mantle clocks.

16. Griffith’s Princess of Wool relives her past glory
by Oliver Jacques

Kay Mitchell with an 1963 Princess of Wool insert.

Princess of Wool Kay Mitchell relives that glorious day in 1963 (insert). Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Imagine when ‘wool princesses’ paraded their grooming for judges while wine tasters raised money for The Spastic Centre. It’s a good thing Twitter didn’t exist in the 1960s.

15. SpongeBob SquarePants comes to life courtesy of Wagga cartoonist
by Shri Gayathirie Rajen

Tobias Krebs

Award-winning local cartoonist and 2D animator Tobias Krebs works from home storyboarding for Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants. Photo: Supplied.

It’s a little-known fact that for the past two years, the hit American cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants has come to life in a Wagga study.

Tobias Krebs spends much of his time in a world under the sea creating new adventures for the energetic and optimistic yellow sea sponge that lives in a submerged pineapple.

14. ‘Prioritise people with a rural background’: retiring Wagga surgeon says the future of regional care is local
by Chris Roe

Man with picture

Dr Stuart Gamble with an engraving from “A System of the Anatomy of the Human Body”. Photo: Chris Roe.

Dr Stuart Gamble is hanging up his scalpel after almost 50 years of surgery. He is passionate about ensuring the future of rural medicine and questions the ethics of relying on foreign-trained doctors to prop up the system.

Content warning: This story contains images which may distress some readers.

13. Trish and Peter deliver bread with love to those who need it
by Chris Roe

2 people in bakery

Peter and Trish Hilton have quietly served the Wagga Wagga community for several decades. Photo: Chris Roe.

After quietly serving the Wagga community for decades, Peter and Trish have been named Wagga’s Community Heroes for 2022.

12. Leeton’s Iannellis celebrate a 30-year marriage of never being apart
by Oliver Jacques

Joe and Maria Iannelli start in front of garage.

Joe and Maria Iannelli hate being apart. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

To be married to someone for 30 years is an achievement in itself – but to do so when you’ve spent 24 hours a day living, working and sleeping together is something truly unique. That’s 262,080 consecutive hours with the same person, minus only the occasional day or two apart.

11. ‘Crows’ or ‘Dancing’? Are you still wondering what Wagga means?
by Chris Roe

crow statue

Wagga’s iconic crow stems from a translation error made by city founder Henry Baylis. Photo: Chris Roe.

It’s on the Wagga City Council’s logo, it’s been adopted as a sporting mascot and adorns the front of many of the city’s long-standing establishments – but the crow has nothing to do with the Indigenous name for our neck of the river.

Wiradjuri woman Susan Green is a professor in Indigenous Australian Studies at Charles Sturt University and says this is not news to the local Aboriginal community.

“It’s been something that Wiradjuri people have been saying for a couple of generations now. It’s just no one was listening,” she says.

10. Griffith’s oldest resident Berta Johnstone celebrates her 106th birthday
by Oliver Jacques

Berta Johnstone with flowers.

Berta celebrates her 106th birthday at Pioneers Lodge. Photo: Carmela Naseby.

Berta Johnstone is the same age as her beloved town of Griffith.

Known through her life for being a fashionista, dedicated homemaker, tennis player, mouth organist, super fast runner and dessert chef, Berta celebrated her 106th birthday with family at Pioneers Lodge’s The Settlers Unit on Thursday 1 September, 2022.

9. Principal Alan Le Brocque calls stumps on four-decade education career in Wagga and Griffith
by Oliver Jacques

Alan Le Brocque in front of brick wall.

Alan Le Brocque will remain involved with Catholic education. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Former deputy prime minister Michael McCormack has joined in tributes to longtime friend Alan Le Brocque, who has finished his tenure as principal of Griffith’s Marian Catholic College, calling stumps on an illustrious 41-year career in the Riverina Catholic school system.

“He had a vision for country education … he was someone who always wanted each and every student to reach their full potential,” Mr McCormack said.

8. Griffith student’s mission to rebrand autism as an asset
by Oliver Jacques

Noah Beltrame at home.

Noah Beltrame is changing stereotypes about autism. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A 17-year-old Griffith high school student is on a mission to change the way the general public views autism spectrum disorder, to help them understand the positive side of the condition.

“A world without different people would most likely suck … autism is a different way of looking at the world, which makes the world a lot better,” Noah Beltrame says. “If we all thought one certain way, we wouldn’t really get anywhere, would we? It’s good to have two different points of view and as well as different people.”

7. Son’s death inspires Darlington Point Wiradjuri woman’s art venture
by Oliver Jacques

Karissa Undy showcasing art.

Indigenous artist Karissa Undy selling her work. Photo: Supplied.

A Darlington Point woman has recovered from her infant son’s tragic death to launch a new art business and collaborate with record-breaking Australian singer Tones and I.

6. Bill Calabria to reopen Hanwood’s Big Wine Barrel
by Oliver Jacques

Bill Calabria at Big Wine Barrell

Bill Calabria is painting the Big Wine Barrel himself. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Nyngan has the Big Bogan. Woombye has the Big Pineapple. Now, Hanwood will have the Big Wine Barrel once again.

Region Riverina can reveal exclusively that Calabria Family Wines is refurbishing the iconic tourist attraction, with plans to reopen it as a cellar door.

5. The mystery of the girl beneath the floorboards
by Chris Roe

portrait of a girl

A surprise find beneath the floorboards of a Wagga home. Photo: Chris Roe.

Sam Ryan was renovating his heritage home in Wagga when he discovered a tattered envelope beneath the floorboards.

4. ‘Catwalks and Elvis days’: Sole survivor reflects on 25 years of Griffith’s first mall
by Oliver Jacques

Woman next to dresses

Liz Purtell reflects on her quarter century in retail. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

It was 25 years ago that Griffith’s first shopping mall, Griffin Plaza, opened on an old cannery site at the corner of Crossing and Yambil streets.

Only one staffer who was there on the first day in 1997 still works at the Plaza today – Liz Purtell, manager of women’s clothing store Autograph.

3. Hanwood student wins prestigious Ramsay university scholarship
by Oliver Jacques

Alya Vaessen on her farm

Ayla Vaessen’s dream is to work for the United Nations. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A Murrumbidgee Regional High School year 12 student from the tiny village of Hanwood has been awarded one of the most lucrative and prestigious university scholarships in Australia.

Ayla Vaessen, 18, recently found out she was successful in securing the $30,000 per annum University of Wollongong Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation grant, which starts when she moves to the coast and commences her studies in 2023.

2. Chief of Army returns to where it all began at Kapooka
by Chris Roe


LTGEN Simon Stuart at Kapooka and (inset) his graduation photo from 1987. Photos: Chris Roe and Supplied.

“You can start as a recruit and end up as Chief of Army.” Lieutenant General Simon Stuart has returned to Kapooka where he marched out as a soldier 35 years ago.

1. From homeless to houseproud, how a Canberra couple gave Aaron and Skye fresh hope in Harden
by Chris Roe

Couple outside house

Skye and Aaron Buschmann look to the future outside their new home in Harden. Photo: Chris Roe.

“I felt like God had just pulled it out from somewhere.” At their lowest point, homeless couple Aaron and Skye were offered a house and hope for the future.

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