Reflection of 43 years in Toolangi-Castella
Hi, it’s Jack and Ngaire Walhout here, with just a few memories of our forty-three years in the Toolangi/Castella community.
In 1978 Jack was employed by Scripture Union to be Camp Ranger at their Tallawalla Campsite on Spraggs Road. With our two small children, two-year-old Bonnie and four-month-old Benjamin, we took up residence in what was previously the Bouancy Drug Foundation House. This had been purchased by the Scripture Union in 1977 and became Tallawalla Lodge.
Jack’s employment meant having an onsite manager at the facility for the first time. With Jack’s pioneering spirit and energy, the campsite moved into a new phase of running school, family and young people’s camps, as well as holiday camps and availability to community groups. We also held a Community Barbeque every year for the Toolangi/Castella community. At the same time we cared for homeless and disadvantaged young people in our home. Under Jack’s management, the campsite’s water hole on Campbell’s Creek was redesigned and transformed into a swimming pool, with a flying fox above it. It became a real focus of fun and activity.
Toolangi Primary School
Two weeks after arriving in Toolangi in 1978, I was invited to teach Christian Religious Education (CRE) at Toolangi Primary School, which I continued until change in government policy in 2016 stopped CRE in government schools. In the later years of this CRE teaching, I was joined in the teaching by my daughters Bonnie and Heidi. After 2016 Kay Rowe, the principal at the school, invited me to stay involved as a ‘Friend of the School’ and I continued with this role until 2020.
The annual Christmas carols in Toolangi were always a great time. Jack made many amazing manger scenes and sets for plays. I met a past student recently, now an adult, who told me he felt like he was in a time warp when he heard “Christmas Isn’t Christmas Till It Happens in Your Heart”, as it brought back vivid memories of being on stage at the Toolangi Christmas carols, singing the same song!
I had a theme with the Toolangi school children in CRE, which was to build people up, help people grow, because people matter. I taught the children that we matter to God and he wants us to treat each other as the special people we are. Wearing butterflies on my clothing, along with drawing a little bird on the children’s work to encourage them, became a tradition, as the school children enjoyed them and associated them with me, and even today I am not game to go out without a butterfly on my clothing.
Our three children, Bonnie, Ben and Heidi, all attended Toolangi Primary School. Heidi was in Grade 6 during the school’s centenary celebration year, 1995, and the children re-enacted school days as they were 100 years ago, with a rather daunting school master who played the part perfectly.
I began a girls club called the ‘Toolangi Troopers’ and at different times asked local people to be part of the program. Many fun times were enjoyed, with members of the local community contributing to activities, for example Julie Demby, Heather McClements and Jenny Coleman teaching the girls in the club to make easter eggs and Ann Dean, a long-time member of the community, sharing the history of Toolangi. The club also enjoyed progressive dinners, ending up at locals’ homes for different parts of the meal. This morphed into Jack and I starting a Youth Group in later years, with many exciting events, bonfires, bush chariot regattas, games nights and travel to the city, quite an event. Parents were again supportive and helped with transport and other things where needed.
In 1988 Jack and I were invited to reopen the Toolangi Church as a Community Church and 22 local people joined together for an Easter worship celebration. Campers from Tallawalla met together with the Toolangi Church on occasions. The church community met once a month in the church building and once a month in each other’s homes. The church enjoyed the support of Alan Honeycombe and Anne Honey, as well as Jack Walhout in leading the services. Tim Angus and Claire from the Uniting Church later became part of the team. During the School Centenary in 1995, children from the school joined in a special celebratory service in the church as part of the centenary, bringing a musical item and enjoying a special celebration cake.
Jack joined the CFA not long after he arrived and is still a member 40 years later. Amidst a number of events, the 2009 bushfire was a significant and unforgettable disaster. However, it was also a time where the Toolangi-Castella community pulled together and differences were set aside, as the community members worked together to support and care for each other. Jack became involved with our local bushfire recovery program, organising on a large scale the donation and gifting of plants to rebuild gardens in the community.
I remember Kay Rowe, principal at the Toolangi School, working during the fires, doing beautiful and thoughtful activities with the parents and children, to help them to feel supported and to have a sense of stability amidst the chaos of that time. For example, taking the children to the Melbourne Zoo at that time allowed them to reconnect with normal life and brought a lot of joy back into their lives. In Kay’s time at the school, I remember her as a significant influence in keeping the school open and providing many wonderful opportunities for the school children and community.
Preparing this brief reflection has been quite an emotional journey, reminding me that in every season there are blessings and challenges in our community. So as we move into the future, let’s meet the challenges together and move on with the blessing, as there is always plenty of both, isn’t there?