Our Elders profile series: Wal Tyson

Wal Tyson calculating the Eel Fishing Competition results in 2018
Wal Tyson calculating the Eel Fishing Competition results in 2018

I was five years old at the start of the Second World War.

We were dairy farmers and all the produce had to be sent to England and France. We had our own cream churn to make butter, just an ordinary hand one, but they were highly illegal. We'd only keep a small bit of butter for ourselves, so one of my jobs was to hide that churn out in the bushes. Of course, in those days, there was plenty of bush to hide it in.

Us kids were Kings of the River. We helped keep food on the table, fishing and living off the land as much as possible because rationing was bloody awful.

To get to school in Coffs Harbour, we had to walk from our farm through the river flats and then cross the river in a punt boat over to Trent Road in Fernmount. Then we'd catch Charlie Jackson's bus to Raleigh Station. In those first two years, there was no school train, so we got the North Coast Mail. We'd be 40 minutes late every day.

After that first year, they put on a school train from Macksville to Coffs Harbour. We called it Ol' Misery, as kids would do. So then we got to school on time. When I got my leaving certificate, I was 9th out of 37 in my class, which was quite good and I also got my Intermediate Certificate. It was 1949, I was 14 years of age, and I went to work on the farm with my father, which I'd always wanted to.

Unfortunately, our parents did not live long lives. My father died when he was only 42. He dropped dead from a heart attack on Sunday the 26th of January. We played with the Fernmount Cricket club, and you'd take a lunch order from everyone. We went to a marvellous café by this lovely Greek couple.

Dad gave the order for the team and when he walked out the front his mate said, "You gonna have a beer, Bill?" he said, "Yeah, we'll have a couple of middies, but that's all coz I'm playing cricket". He walked up, picked up his beer, and dropped dead without even drinking it. A massive heart attack. I'll never forget Dr George Hewitt walking out in his white coat at the hospital saying nothing could have helped him. Ten years later, mum died of a stroke in our house. She was only 50.

In retrospect, I'm sure the worry of dealing with the 1950 floods had a big part to play in Dad's death.

I was only 17 and it was a helluva job to me. We had a 250-acre dairy farm. One day, you're walkin' around doing what you're told and not even thinking about it, the next day you've got to manage the place. But we got on with it, like we always have.

One day, you're walkin' around doing what you're told and not even thinking about it, the next day you've got to manage the place.

Wally Tyson

My family has been here since the 1860s and I've lived here all of my life. I know a lot of humorous stories about this town.

The Exchange Hotel used to be directly across the road from The Federal Hotel in Bellingen. If someone caused a ruckus in one pub and got kicked out, they'd just walk across to the other one. If they got kicked out of there again, they'd go back across to the first one and hope the publican had forgot about it.

The Federal had an island bar in it and it was elliptical. Fred O'Sullivan would ride up town and then go round and round the bar on pushbike. Bob Hund had a beautiful white stallion and he'd get all dressed up in Western gear, black cowboy hat, leather chaps and all, and he'd ride this horse up the street, past the Commercial Bank, back down the street, and then straight up the steps and around the bar.

I've been involved in a lot of things I'm quite proud of. We spent 13 straight weekends building Bellingen's public pool when I was president of the Lions Club. I'm a spokesperson for recreational fishing. For years I attended meetings, wrote letters and badgered the state government to stop commercial fishing here. Finally, it was stopped by Eddie Obeid of all people, one thing he did right.

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