The very fact that Ivan Preston’s 2017 prize-winning pumpkin adorns the 2018 Bellingen Show Program is testament to the steadfast commitment that Ivan and Violet embody for our regional show. And this commitment is generational, as the next generation (Christie and Cooper pictured above) are busily bottling pickles and conserves in the original Preston homestead in the Promised Land for this year’s show. Violet’s prize-winning show entries are legendary, but Violet assures me that it isn’t about winning; her ethos is “enter whatever you can to make the show.” It is this community attitude that has sustained our Bellingen Show for more than a century and will hopefully continue to do so.
Ivan can’t really remember a time when the show didn’t loom largest on the year’s calendar. These days everyone knows Ivan as the linchpin of the Bellingen Show wood-chop. However, Ivan’s earliest memories are being part of the Gleniffer Junior Farmers Association. “Each region had their own Junior Farmers Association. It was a big deal. All the farmers produced the fresh produce. We would spend hours arranging our display in the exhibitors pavilion.” Mind you, by the age of 27 Ivan was entering the show in the wood-chop and competing in shows across this region.
Ivan is vague about his success at the wood-chop, but reminisces about the heady days of the wood-chop circuit with glee. He does admit that the Donnelly family from Donnellyville near Macksville “dominated the Bellingen Show for years. The key to success was the perfect combination of technique and brute strength”. Now 74 years old, Ivan only hung up his axe 5 years ago.
Ivan’s real success in the wood-chop lies in his 40-year plus commitment to preparing the logs for the big day, a tradition set by his father before him. “Back in the day we trimmed every block by axe,” says Ivan. “I even had blisters each year helping Ivan trim,” says Violet. These days trimming is done by machine. Nevertheless, Ivan is already preparing for the big day. Ivan acknowledges the long term help of the other volunteers. “I couldn’t have done the job without Michael McPhail- he is still helping me today.” I ask if there is a younger protege waiting in the wings to take over the job. “Afraid not. I’ll be doing the job until I die,” says Ivan.
Violet’s addition into the Preston family more than 50 years ago necessitated an extensive education in the ‘Preston way’. Ivan’s mother Edith had won a suitcase full of awards for her floral art, crocheting, pickles and preserves at the Bellingen Show.
Violet attributes all of her current skills to the tutelage of Edith and local Lois Sky all those years ago. “They taught me everything I know about jams,” says Violet.
Since her early union with Ivan, Violet has been volunteering and contributing to the Show. “I helped Percy Locke make some of the stands for the Pavilion- and they are still in use today,” says Violet. She ran the Show BBQ before working in the Luncheon Pavilion for years and for a long period was Pavilion Steward.
Violet see hers role now as passing the baton to the next generation of show volunteers. “I retired seven years ago. I think change is a good thing.” Her biggest task will be to ensure Christie and Cooper will continue the family tradition. I was lucky enough to sample their corn flake cookies and can vouch that they have had a good teacher.
Bellingen Shire is a secret Australian hamlet along the Waterfall Way on the NSW mid-north coast. This region is popular for its unique landscape where the Great Dividing Range almost touches the sea. It boasts a diverse history and proud indigenous culture, and is home to an eclectic and supportive community of farmers, alternative lifestylers, tree-changers, and families who have called this region home for generations. Interesting in so many ways and with so much to offer, it’s no wonder visitors return time & time again, while other never leave…