I read with a great deal of interest your article on the forthcoming closure of Bellorana Village in Watson Street.
If I may I would like to share with you a few things of interest leading up to the opening of Bellorana on or about November 1, 1975.
As you may recall Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister of Australia in 1972. Before than there were not a lot of community-based retirement villages. The Liberal Country Party Government gave $1 for every $3 raised by the community. When Gough became PM he reversed that: every $1 raised by the community the Commonwealth would give $3. The people of Bellingen rallied and decided it was time for a retirement village to be built in Bellingen.
I was not living in Bellingen at that time having left Bello in 1960 in my occupation in Local Court having commenced work at the Courthouse Bellingen in 1958.
Because Gough changed things it was decided to invite Mr Whitlam to come to Bellingen and open the Village.
My wife and I and family decided to take holidays and come to Bellingen for the opening. You may also recall that at that time Whitlam's Govt was in turmoil and the Opposition were threatening to block supply.
At that time I was working at the Liverpool Court and the District Court Judge was Erny Knoblanch (nickname Knobby). Gough and Erny went through Law School together and every Monday (when Gough was in Sydney) he would come to the Courthouse and have morning tea with the Judge.
He would pull up outside the Court, unannounced, no Police Escort, just Gough and his driver. He would walk up the steps, through the Vestibule, crowded with people to go into the Local Court or the District Court. Gough would stride through the Vestibule and around to Ernny's Chambers and have morning tea with him. After that he would again stroll back to his car with his driver waiting for him.
Also the local Police and the Court staff often would put on a barbecue underneath the Courthouse. Gough almost always would attend, as his electorate was Werriwa which took in Liverpool, again usually just with his driver and sometimes with one other person. I mean, no Police escort, no security or police surrounding the Court - just Gough and a couple of his staff. How things have changed!
Anyway to the get to the point. My wife and I and family came to Bellingen for the opening.
Given Mr Whitlam was in deep crisis with the Senate, the cynics of the town were saying “Whitlam wont come, he will send someone else”. But Gough did come. He flew into Coffs Harbour, just with his secretary, wife Margaret, and two staff. He went to the Coffs hospital and visited every ward in the hospital. He then came to Bellingen and again went to the hospital and went to every ward. Our father was then a patient. He shook hands with Dad.
Dad said to him “Gough, that Kerr is a bastard”.
Gough replied “You can say that again Mick”.
Around 2pm he and Margaret came to Bellorana and officially opened the Village. He gave one of the most moving speeches I have ever heard. Not once did he mention politics or the crisis his Govt was in.
In his speech he said this: “I have never ever been to this part of Australia but this morning as my plane started to descend over this most beautiful Valley and I looked out the window and saw the beautiful mountains, the lush pastures, the lovely Bellingen River I did not have a care in the world”.
I shall never ever forget that speech.
He and Margaret stayed and had afternoon tea, he went around and mingled and talked to the people there. I have the most fantastic photo of Gough, with cup of tea in his hand, with my Mum and a sister Aidan who was a Nun at the Convent at that time.
As we know on November 11, 1975 (about 10 days after his visit) he was sacked by Governor General John Kerr and as they say “the rest is history”.
I just thought that this may be of interest to your readers.
Many of the people now living in Bello and the District would not have been around in 1975 and may not know the history of Bellorana.
Our Mum who lived in Ford Street on the corner of Watson/Crown Street (where my nephew Paul now lives).
As the years passed Mum became a resident of Bellorana until her death in 1996 … as being a Foster and brother to Carl J I enjoy talking about the history of an era passed.
I still love to visit Bello. I know it is a totally different place to 1972-1975 but as they say: “You can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy”.
Letter by Michael Foster
The Bellingen Shire Courier-Sun wrote a story about Mr Whitlam’s visit to the local area in November 2014. You can read it here.
The story about Bellorana closing the Watson Street home can be read here.
A letter to the editor about Bellorana closing the Watson Street home can be read here.