Bernie Miller – An Appreciation

The local history project arose from a series of community planning dinners and meetings in 2019. Bernie Miller took an early lead in driving the project and successful applications for two grants were among her initial achievements.

With cash behind her, she set about engaging a team and, with her irresistible energy and enthusiasm, it didn’t take long to assemble the Toolangi and Castella Local History Group. She led from the front, demanding as much from herself as from anyone else. She had an eye for detail, kept abreast of developments (diplomatically chasing up those of us who were, at times, a bit slack!) and worked like a Trojan herself organizing meetings and workshops, sensitively filming interviews with long-time locals, visiting and advocating for the school, editing articles submitted for the History Project website and unearthing lost histories to write articles of her own on topics that caught her interest, like guest houses. The excellent website featuring these research articles, archival photos and those wonderful interviews remains online as testament to Bernie’s dedication and focus.

Her passion for the project always shone through and every contribution, however modest, was greeted with delight. She brought joy to all who worked with her. When there was a need to alter a contributed article her comments were always made with tact and sensitivity – she never offended her authors.

It is extraordinary that any one person could have achieved what Bernie succeeded in doing on this project, even more so given it was occurring in the context of Covid-19, and had to be conducted primarily through online meetings, phone calls and emails. Through her long, detailed emails, Bernie documented the history of the history project.

She always gave a cheery greeting and her enthusiam was infectious. Who will ever forget her excitement at the discovery of the Toolangi Football Club photo which sparked a new side-project to identify all the team members?

The results speak for themselves. In February 2022 the Toolangi and Castella History Project Exhibition was mounted in the C J Dennis Hall. It was professionally curated and illuminated every aspect of Toolangi and Castella’s progress and development over the years, as demonstrated by this short extract from one of Bernie’s emails to the group –

The history articles/stories include the Taungurung statement; Art and Culture: Artists of Toolangi, Bob Pockett Historian; C. J. Dennis & the Singing Gardens, the Toolangi Sculpture Trail; Bushfires: 2009 stories, Memories of Bushfires by Alex Demby, the Toolangi Fire Brigade; Education: a tale of Three Schools -Toolangi, Granton & Castella, Toolangi Primary School, (and coming soon), a history of the Toolangi kindergarten; Environment: Toolangi Forest pre and post settlement, Toolangi- the Shadows of a Great Forest, the Toolangi Forest Discovery Centre; Horticulture and Farming: Rimington’s Nursery, the Spud Farm (Potato Research Farm), the Strawberry Certification Scheme and Co-op, Mr Lindley Wood’s Wirilda Rhododendron Garden; Natural Resources: Gold, Logging, the Timber Tramways; The Origin of Place Names of Toolangi and Castella; Reflections and stories of living in Toolangi: stories by Alec Sewell, Jenny Chambers, Jack & Ngaire Walhout, the story of the Priestley family; Scientific History: History of the Toolangi Seismic Station & Toolangi Magnetic Research Station, by Geoff Biggs; Social History: the Chumlangi Co-op, the C. J. Dennis Hall, the Maternal & Child Health Centre, the Toolangi Church, the Toolangi-Castella Community House and the Yea River Railway League and coming soon, a history of Hotels & Guest Houses of Toolangi & Castella; Sport & Recreation: Finding the Toolangi Football Club, History of the Cricket Club, History of the Tennis Club.

Images of the exhibition are included on the project website. They record that it was a triumph. Bernie’s triumph!

Our only regret was that Bernie herself was unable to participate in the week-end, due to an urgent hospital admission. But in true indefatigable Bernie style she was soon back at work, acquitting the grant expenditures and planning for the future development and enhancement of the project. A future she knew she would never see. That was typical of Bernie. In her many communications she was always caring and solicitous for anyone who was unwell but she made no fuss about her own illness. If it was mentioned, it was usually an apology for being a little later to make contact or organize a meeting than she would have liked. She very rarely complained. She just got on with it.

The achievement of the project is best summed up in Bernie’s own words –

This is a great start to the Toolangi-Castella history web site and it can be added to as years go by. We have many authors and many stories and we have researched and explored and rescued some amazing history. Thanks to everyone who has contributed and worked so hard at the project, guiding, documenting, researching, writing, editing, filming, being filmed and interviewed, sharing stories, searching out historic photos to be used by the project, promoting the project to others to involve them, constantly passing on information and sharing ideas to make this project outstanding. We now expect the web site to be up and open late October. It will certainly whet appetites enormously for the exhibition in February. Well done all,

Well done Bernie, and thank you! Your commitment made this community history project outstanding. You have gathered a trove of information that would otherwise have been lost. Without you, it wouldn’t have happened. You have enlivened and enriched our community and left a valuable legacy. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have had you in our lives. You will forever be a valued character in Toolangi and Castella’s rich history – and in our hearts.

Toolangi and Castella Local History Group
28th March 2023