Reunion of Halpin grandchildren in Bellingen

Grandchildren of the late John Patrick and Agnes Halpin are gathering in Bellingen on the weekend to reminisce about the olden days when they were kids growing up in Bellingen, Dorrigo and Raleigh.

JP Halpin built his new store in 1927 on the corner block of Hyde and Church Streets, after Sutherin's premises burnt down

A very modern store with large plate glass display windows and art deco touches, the significant architectural feature was that the awnings were cantilevered from above and not reliant on supporting posts on the pathway.

JP had the opportunity to purchase a block of land on the corner of the Pacific Highway and High Street Coffs Harbour but chose to settle in Bellingen as it seemed to be a more stable and flourishing town with greater prospects for his family.

His elder son, John Lawrence (Jack) spent his entire working life managing the grocery department of the store. Richard's working life (apart from time in the RAAF during World War II) was spent managing the mercery and drapery departments. Eventually, JP incorporated Jack and younger son Dick as partners and the business became JP Halpin & Sons.

It was the end of an era when the shop closed, but a welcome change for Jack and Dick.

The home of JP and Agnes Halpin in Hyde Street holds many memories of good and sad times, but it was a home where there were constant comings and goings for their six children and over 26 grandchildren.

This home, now a solicitor's office at 9 Hyde Street, is being opened for the family on the weekend of the reunion.

Bob Halpin, the youngest child of Jack and Madeline Halpin is the only grandchild who stayed in Bellingen.

Madeline and Jack celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 1993 and had been married almost 63 years when Jack died in 1996.

Bob, John, Anne, Madeline, JL, Narelle and Peg

Bob, John, Anne, Madeline, JL, Narelle and Peg

In 2006 Madeline was invested with an OAM for services to the community.

Bellingen was an idyllic place to rear a family, a natural paradise with its lush vegetation, trees to climb, bush to explore and a pristine river for swimming and picnics. Everything in Bellingen was within walking distance and there were very few cars on the streets. Our lives were safe and secure. The outside world didn't intrude much. The Sydney daily newspaper arrived a day later and our radio (wireless) only received the ABC.

Many Doepel, Regan, Rugendyke, McLean and Halpin children were baptised in St Mary's Church and attended St Mary's School, Bellingen.

Our regular source of entertainment was the Picture Theatre, otherwise known as the Memorial Hall. We could attend the matinee on Saturdays (I think admission was sixpence), and yes, they did roll Jaffas down the aisle. There were night sessions for those who preferred something more sophisticated than Westerns!

The hall was also used for lavish and memorable debutante balls and concerts.

Cousins Joanne Halpin flower-girl, debutant Peggy Halpin and partner Brian Mc Lean from Dorigo.

Cousins Joanne Halpin flower-girl, debutant Peggy Halpin and partner Brian Mc Lean from Dorigo.

Anne (Fitzgibbon) Halpin reminisces: "Dad, JL Halpin, was a volunteer fireman and during the war they acted as Civil Defence. The firemen had practice nights so when it was Dad's turn to take the engine for a run, we kids would go along for the ride. The fire station alarm was located on our side verandah. If it rang at night (or after working hours), Dad would jump on his bicycle and pedal 150 yards to the station.

"On the morning Peace in the Pacific was declared (August 15, 1945), we were setting up for St Mary's Sports Carnival in the park. We had been to Mass for the Feast of the Assumption and were very excited about the Sports Day. So, we were very disappointed when the news broke and our athletic plans were abandoned. However, we recovered quickly when our parents arrived to take us to the main street where it seemed the whole town was gathering. We were greeted with a cacophony of car horns, whistles, drums, kerosene tins dragged behind bicycles and every kind of noise imaginable.

"Pop Halpin was instrumental in establishing the Bellingen Bowling green and club. He was President of the Mid-North Coast Bowling Association. Thelma and Eric Doepel were keen bowlers along with Bride McLean, Jack, Dick and Clare Halpin.

"Mum and Dad loved gardening and their Ford St garden was a showpiece especially in the spring when the azaleas were in bloom. Dad was very proud of his lawn and eventually graduated to a ride-on mower. Mum still tended the garden till her death aged 96. On the downside our home in Ford Street was flooded twice before being raised in 1956. Subsequent floods flattened the garden but left behind valuable silt."

It will be a veritable talkfest when the children of Thelma Doepel, Jack Halpin, Doris Regan, Molly Rugendyke and Dick Halpin, most of them over 70 years old, meet for their reunion. Since their childhood, there have been many changes and improved facilities in the town but to all of us the beauty of the Bellinger Valley remains unchanged and unparalleled.

Joanne Widdup nee Halpin.