That's the Spirit: Brian Mockler - Tooraweenah NSW
Being part of a tight-knit, supportive community has made riding the waves of life’s triumphs and tragedies more bearable for Tooraweenah man Brian Mockler. The semi-retired legal consultant, active Lions Club member, Show Committee life member and Gilgandra Shire Councillor – to mention but a few of the “hats” he wears – says getting and staying involved in community builds resilience and is vital for maintaining good mental health during tough times. JEN COWLEY managed to keep Brian still enough to have this chat with him about a community that’s close to both their hearts.
Brian: I was Bathurst born and bred but I married Margaret, a Tooraweenah girl, in 1980 when I was a learner solicitor at Moree where we stayed and raised our family. We bought the farm – adjoining Margaret’s parents’ property – at Tooraweenah in 1988 and moved there in 1993. Been there ever since. I practiced law full time as a partner in Moree, but when I moved down here, I started working as a permanent consultant both in Sydney and (in the New England) for about the next 15 years.
The farm is a working farm of 1800 acres. Margaret and I helped her elderly parents for many years – they had 2500 acres.
Margaret lost her three-and-a-half-year battle with ovarian cancer on April 10, 2014 – six years ago.
Jen: Tooraweenah is clearly very much home to you now and you’ve thrown yourself into the local community – can you tell me about some of the things you’ve been involved with?
Brian: I come from a family in which Mum and Dad were heavily involved in community organisations in Bathurst. I guess it’s almost in my genetics. When the kids were in school in Moree, both Margaret and I were involved in almost everything there, so when we moved to Tooraweenah, we decided to have a rest.
For two years, I did almost nothing in community activities apart from helping out with the Lions Club. But my father-in-law was in the Lions Club so I decided to join and it’s a bit of a family thing around here – it’s not just about men going to meetings, it’s a whole family thing.
Margaret and I became heavily involved in all sorts of activities at Tooraweenah, most of it centred around the Lions Club. It’s only a small club, but very active. Once you’re involved in those sorts of activities, you sort of spread your wings a bit because people say oh maybe you could come and help us do something.
So, having formed close friendships with Lester Thurston OAM, otherwise known as Lord Lester, and others, well, we just get involved.
Jen: So as with a lot of small communities, you think something has to be done so you just get in and do it.
Brian: It’s also a challenge to be able to get involved and achieve outcomes and actually do things. Just sitting at home and not being involved in anything is foreign to our lifestyle and our family. Not just me, it was Margaret and me until she lost her battle.
Jen: When Margaret died, was it a help having that community structure around you?
Brian: Absolutely. Most important. It meant I had something to do. There are still many, many sad times even now after six years. One had to be busy and be active and that was crucial to being able to deal with the loss and the grief.
We’d been married 33 years it would have been 40 years this year… I’m still counting by the way. But the other thing is Margaret and I were heavily involved in the (Tooraweenah) show.
Jen: The committee made you a life member recently.
Brian: They did, last year or the year before.
Jen: What did that mean to you?
Brian: Well, I was very humbled. Look, I don’t strive for recognition. It’s nice, for sure, for someone to recognise that you’ve done something, but actually I look at it the other way. I actually look at what things we have achieved as opposed to some public recognition.
Jen: How important are shows to small communities, particularly when times are tough?
Brian: They are important, but they’re just one of many activities for a community. With Tooraweenah being a small village, we have a fair catchment area in terms of our show. I think that’s important. But it takes a lot of bloody planning. We start our meetings in March and go through to the show in October. A lot of preparation goes on.
It’s a good community outlet for people who come along for the day. It’s a great opportunity for people generally to either get involved – and we probably have 50 people involved in the show over a period of months leading up to it and on show day – and it’s also a good chance for people to come and socialise and have a day off. A chance to meet up with people they may not otherwise meet. It’s a big social occasion but certainly one of many that keep people in the bush resilient.
Brian Mockler, Tooraweenah NSW.
Jen: How do you see that resilience playing out in small communities?
Brian: I think it depends on the nature of the people who have to deal with the issues we have been facing recently. In my view, a lot of people have very low level of resilience, but I regard adversity as a challenge. Whether it was Margaret’s death or drought or something else, I think resilience is having the capacity for a bit of lateral thinking. Instead of being in the situation and thinking there’s nowhere to go, there’s no one to talk to, it’s all shithouse – if you have other avenues to socialise or interact with other people that’s where the resilience comes through and helps you to cope.
I’m lucky in the sense that I have about three jobs, plus the farm. I don’t have to walk out the backdoor as I have for the past couple of years and think how shitty the season is.
Jen: So just extrapolating that, getting involved in things and putting your shoulder to the wheel in a small community can be really good for mental health.
Brian: It’s most important. Vital. And unfortunately, every small community will have people who just won’t do that – get involved – and when things are tough, they’re the ones who really struggle when everything around them is all doom and gloom. But then, I’m a jovial sort of person by nature.
Jen: You are also a Gilgandra Shire councillor – how did you get into that and why?
Brian: Well, I’ve had many battles over the years with Gilgandra Shire Council and I was asked whether I would consider standing. I thought about it for a while and figured with my qualifications and background maybe I could contribute.
I remember the Gil(gandra) Weekly sent out a questionnaire (to all candidates for the local government elections) asking why people should vote for you – I still have the answers from four years ago – and I said, well, there’s no reason people should vote for me in particular, they should vote for anyone they think is appropriate to represent and to advocate for the community. That’s how I see my role.
I was five years as a director of the LHPA (Livestock Health and Pest Authority) so I have some director and corporate experience, and I had some kind of background in relation to that.
As strange as it may seem, because of my legal background, I actually enjoy the challenge of strategic planning and that’s critical to the role council has to play in forward planning and long-term financial planning. I think I have some capacity to contribute there.
If you look at the diverse range of people on Gilgandra Shire Council, they all have different skills that they contribute in their own ways.
Jen: Do you feel any sense of responsibility to “give back”?
Brian: Not really. I have skills to contribute. I’m also not a person who has a specific agenda. With my background, I have a capacity to communicate both verbally and with the written word. I challenge people to consider various options on projects or activities that council does so I’m not a one-person agenda local government representative.
Jen: What do you think are some of the misconceptions about small communities and what would you like people to know about Tooraweenah?
Brian: Misconceptions are difficult. I think probably the biggest misconception is that it’s a dying town, that there’s not much happening in the town, that people are exiting the country and it doesn’t have any great future. That may well apply to some rural villages or towns but Tooraweenah has a lot of attractions and a strong vibrant community. It has a stack of active community organisations, you could rattle off about 12 separate organisations in town, I’m a member of about half of them. I wear a few different hats.
We think of Tooraweenah as the gateway to the Warrumbungles.
A view of the Warrumbungles from the Tooraweenah crossroads.
Jen: Coonabarabran would argue with you (laughs).
Brian: Well they would, wouldn’t they? But take our showground for example.
Jen: The backdrop to the showground is gorgeous!
Brian: It is. See how we market that? We don’t do big marketing, but we market that in the sense that we are nestled in the foothills of the Warrumbungle mountains
Jen: Well, you are.
Brian: Yes, we are. We’re right there. You can see all the (Warrumbungle) mountains – I don’t know all their names, but you can see all the mountains from the showground. It’s a beautiful, picturesque location. Tooraweenah has a lot going for it. I think, most importantly, that’s because of the people who live there. But it’s not just the people in Tooraweenah (village) itself, our catchment area is rather large. I mean, we have people who live in Gilgandra who come out to participate in community organisations.
Jen: That’s something that’s struck me often when I am talking with people about with this project – when I say tell me about life in “XYZ (town)”, I’m not necessarily speaking about living in the town itself, and I don’t have to explain that – people understand that a town’s community is more than just the township.
Brian: True. True
Jen: You don’t have to live in between the speed signs. Or the city limits…
Brian: You took the words out of my mouth.
Jen: City limits is probably a little stretch.
Brian: Yeah or “within the CBD”. Which is rather small, apart from Lester’s shop.
Jen: Three or four steps from one side of the CBD to the other.
Brian: Yeah exactly (laughs). But with Tooraweenah, people tend to hold onto their connection, no matter how long ago they left. They still seem to have their connection with their roots from Tooraweenah. That’s what I see and I’m not a local.
Jen: My family left many years ago, but I still feel like I am from Tooraweenah.
Brian: Do you?
Jen: Yeah absolutely.
Brian: Well, that’s great. I was at the Gold Coast recently and this bloke asked where are you from and I said I’m from near Dubbo. And he said, “Oh, I was born there.” But I only said Dubbo because I didn’t think anyone would know where Tooraweenah is. If I’m closer to home, I’ll say Tooraweenah.
Jen: What is it that you love about Tooraweenah?
Brian: The friendship of the people who live in or around the village either in town or on the farms or around the area. As you well know, we have the community barbeques or dinners at the hotel every Saturday night 52 weeks of the year. And it’s just a great opportunity for everyone to come and have a yarn and catch up with people. It’s the camaraderie and friendship, the ease of being able to speak to people and have a yarn about anything.
It’s just a great community – vibrant is probably not the word, but it’s a very friendly and accepting place.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a shearer or a farm labourer or a cocky or a lawyer or whatever else – you go to the pub or any function that’s on. I mean, I’m even on the P&C of all things – the only grandparent on the P&C! I can go and have those conversations with a mum who has four kids – I can just have that friendship, and have that conversation. If I am walking down the street anywhere, I’ve got to say hello to somebody – I hate it when you walk down the street in Sydney and everyone has their head down. Here, it’s just the human thing to smile and say g’day.
Jen: That’s one of the things that I love about being in the bush.
Brian: That said, when I was up the Gold Coast recently, people who were walking dogs and going for a walk, they were friendly one-on-one, everyone would say hello…
Jen: That’s a dog thing…
Brian: I wasn’t walking a dog!
Jen: But dog owners tend to be very friendly people (laughs).
Brian: For me, it’s just about the friendship – being able to relate to people and speak to people about anything at any time.
Jen: And when you have a tragedy or any kind of loss or a sickness or something like that, there’s a real circling of the wagons. The community throws its arms around you.
Brian: So true. The support is there. With a recent tragedy in our community, I could see the support that family was being given in difficult times, just as was I throughout Margaret’s illness and eventually losing her battle. It’s just so encouraging.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
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Brian Mockler, Tooraweenah NSW.