George and Judith Ellem have deep roots in the Bellingen Shire and spending time in the company of this gentle disarming couple provides for a fascinating history lesson. But along with their obvious interest in and knowledge of the Valley’s transformation over the decades, their great pleasures have been in engaging with the community – particularly the SES – as well as exploring the Valley’s bushland and escarpment behind their slice of this heaven (acreage in Thora which they purchased together back in their 20s in 1978 with a view to their retirement). Despite a stint living and both teaching in our nation’s capital, there’s no debating the fact they’re true locals.
George’s parents purchased the Thora Store when he was three years old. His mother was a ‘Rose’, a name many will be familiar with given they’ve been in the Valley since the mid 1800s. His education was undertaken entirely in Bellingen until he went to Teachers College in Sydney in 1963.
Judith is an ‘uptown girl’ born and raised up in Dorrigo. Her family arrived in 1909 and the original property remains in the family to this day. Her mother’s family notably donated land for the Deervale Church, built circa 1930, which is still used for services. Judith explained that “Dorrigo was always ‘the big town’ and Bellingen & Urunga were smaller and not so developed. Now all towns have gone ahead which is wonderful to see. Many industries have changed & developed into others. We watched Bellingen especially go through major changes with alternate life-stylers (hippies) who came and went in all areas of the Shire of course. Some good things happened and some not so good…”
But overall she sees the Shire now as having stabilised into a vibrant community with each town village going from strength to strength.
Volunteering is in their blood. Their parents were always working for the community. Since returning to live in the Valley full time, George has been heavily involved in the Thora Hall Committee Rotary and SES Bellingen. He’s always ready to help anyone who needs assistance and as a retired Principal of High Schools and Colleges (in Canberra) his skills are often sought.
George & Judith have both volunteered for Rotary projects in both Bellingen and Dorrigo, and during their time in Canberra Judith was heavily involved in obtaining a medical rescue helicopter (South Care) to fill a substantial gap in services to regional Canberra; George was involved in installing dialysis machines in remote communities of Kintore (NT) for Rotary Projects; both partook in volunteer work repairing a cyclone damaged hospital building on Tanna Island Vanuatu ; and George was on hand during the Cyclone Yasi devastation.
Both George & Judith are well-deserving recipients of Paul Harris Fellows (Rotary) for Community work in Canberra, amongst many other awards and accolades which they’re both far too modest to mention.
We asked Judith how they became involved with Bellingen Shire’s SES
On their return to Bellingen Judith joined the SES as the Local Controller – covering the Bellingen Shire for around 5 years. Reflecting on this time she says, “In 2009 we had nine floods here. I was sitting at home as local flood conditions were worsening, and I was crocheting in a blackout (in between digging trenches around the house) when I got a call from people I know at the local SES. They said, ‘If we come and get you in a boat, can you please come in and help with the phones.’ It was frantic. People were running out of food and there were medical and other emergencies. Well that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”
George’s passion for giving back to his community is palpable. “An organisation like SES is very important and relies on the community it serves. The benefit of being a volunteer with the SES is that it trains people in life skills, most particularly how to handle situations that arise in storms and floods. Training takes you through chainsaw operation, repairs to damaged roofs, removal of trees, and flood rescue technical officer skills – which takes them to Penrith Sydney onto the Olympic Slalem course, which is a ‘pretty robust’ course for survival in water. Without question, the training is excellent. A great camaraderie persists. Some past members have joined the services after their time with us, because this is a great reference.”
Video – George explains the benefits of being an SES volunteer:
Their love of the land is also infectious, with many hikes undertaken up in the mountain behind their property with family, friends and neighbours, and, following PNF sustainable logging, they’ve spent considerable time replanting suitable trees for future generations.
George has many detailed accounts of hikes between Ebor down through the Valley, saying that there are a lot of walking tracks through the National Park. But describing a couple he has found particularly enjoyable (challenging!) he says, “one runs down from Point Lookout, down through the Dardanelles, with another starting at Mountain Top Lookout, coming along the escarpment and down through Ferny Face which comes out on Waterfall Way as you start your ascent to Dorrigo.” From their property George & Judith have also created various tracks to get up to McGrath’s Hump which have been enjoyed on foot and on horseback by family and friends.
For lovers of bushwalking, hiking and nature exploring, details these and more walking tracks may well form the foundations of another story. Watch this space!