Yass “Local Legend” Gwen Warmington’s Biography launch capped off the year 2020. Here’s a sneak peek inside the collaboration between Gwen and talented local editor & writer Tony MacQuillan…
“I was introduced to this planet on 16 July 1932. The recent Wall Street crash of 1929 had quickly led to a worldwide economic depression, and the Australian economy had seriously collapsed; with unemployment reaching a peak of 32 per cent by June 1932, the month before I was born. One may say it was not an auspicious time for Gwenyth Doreen Downe to arrive. Nevertheless, I came to a loving family; my parents were: Beynon Austin Downe, 54 (a New Zealand born immigrant, who was a salesman with the prominent Sydney department store Marcus Clark & Co. for most of his adult life), and his young second wife, Bessie Crew, 26 (she had been born in Yass and spent some of her early years on a famous Hume Family sheep station near Yass NSW named “Euralie”, where her parents were employed). In these modern times of yet another viral pandemic, with unemployment rocketing upwards, again accompanied by a serious economic outlook, it seems ironic that my Dad was afflicted by similar circumstances. Not only was he worried about his job in 1932, but an earlier pandemic; ‘The Spanish Flu’ in June 1919 had taken his first wife, Jessie Isabella, 37, born Jessie McCook in Wagga Wagga NSW. Jessie had become infected, like so many at the time, and had died, mourned by Dad and their four children: Nelsie, Roma, Cleve, and Mavis. It is said that more people lost their lives in that pandemic than were killed in the First World War. So here I am hopefully with 2020 vision, looking back with a Yass friend, Tony MacQuillan, who is helping me to write my story.
KS Inglis in his history of The Australian Broadcasting Commission 1932-1983 (‘The ABC’ where, in my teens, I had my first job) opens with:
“1 July 1932 As the bells in the tower of Sydney’s General Post Office chimed eight o’clock on the evening of Friday 1 July 1932, the peals were picked up by a microphone and carried to every state of the federation. “This is the Australian Broadcasting Commission”, said the announcer, Conrad Charlton. Then he introduced the Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, to pronounce the Commission inaugurated.”
I have a few anecdotes in my narrative about the time I spent with the ABC, where I met many gifted people and developed a can-do attitude early. This helped me enormously with Yass community activities with which I later became involved: Yass Repertory, Yass Music Club, Yass Rotary, Yass Woollenwealth, Yass Community Aid, Andalini School, Yass Schools, Yass Council, Yass Hospital Auxiliary, Quota Club, Yass Probus, Can Assist and Warmington Lodge.
Biographies? I have been a prolific correspondent during my long life and today am active on Facebook, emails, the telephone and elsewhere. I love a chat, oral or written, and I have often thought I should attempt an autobiography, but no – not so far! Then up popped Tony, and said, “I’ve done a few Yass biographies, why not yours?”
Our book isn’t an account of me growing up in Yass, although I was a frequent visitor here as a youngster, visiting my relatives here and at Bowning. The book is more how Yass and I moulded each other. To find out what my editor thought important for Yass people to know, I invite you to read the book”.
1953 Yass ‘Night in Hollywood’ First Rep Ball
How Tony came to write Yass biographies
He first came to Yass in 1959, just prior to marrying Diana Merriman, a Yass girl. For a new Australian he was afforded a warm welcome by Yass people which was fantastic. One aunt even affectionately dubbed him “Tone“, a good Australian tag he thought.
After living in Sydney for forty years, rearing four sons and caring for three retired parents before they died, Diana and Tony retired to Yass in 2000. Many of the people who had endeared themselves to them both were still here, so they quickly submerged themselves in Yass community life.
Having acquired a few desktop publishing skills in Sydney, Tony was able to help Yass people with writing and publishing their family histories, starting with Diana’s Merrimans and Duffs, then Betty Howard’s remarkable story. He then set, and or, published several bios, for example, the Shannons, Woodhills, Legges and other Yass families and then the Yass Masons surprised him by asking him to write their ‘150th Anniversary’ book for 2010. This brought him into contact with Peter Bindon, senior Mason, and polymath, and they soon undertook several other books together: Eric Bell’s, A J Shearsby’s and Rev Charles Lovat’s bios amongst others. Why? Someone had to do them! They frequently said to each other “someone should write Gwen Warmington’s story”. Tony volunteered.
Tony says “I first met Gwen Warmington in May 2018 at a Yass Probus meeting when she was invited to address Probus members and their guests. Gwen, as anyone in Yass knows, is a local community icon, but she and I managed divergent paths up to that time and had never met.
She started her address by saying “It will be 66 years in November since I arrived to live in Yass. John and I were married in Sydney the day before, and as he had opened a radio shop in Yass four weeks earlier, it was straight back to Yass and work! We do tend to forget because when I went through my box of papers and photos of the last 66 years, a lot of facts had been forgotten – “we do tend to forget”!
Speaking with her about me helping her to write it all down, I soon discovered that this was false modesty on her part, and while true of most of us oldies at Probus, it wasn’t true of Gwen at all, as our book proves. Fortunately for her editor, her memory is acute, and her personal archive of Yass related material is extensive.”