That's the Spirit: Sue Armstrong -
When Sue Armstrong and her husband Brian retired to a farm at Tooraweenah, the busy professional couple thought they were moving to a sleepy little hollow where they could just kick back and enjoy the nothingness for a change. That was ten years ago and Sue has scarcely had time to stop and reflect on how wrong they were. As immediate past president of the town’s show committee, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Sue stopped just long enough to sing the praises of her adopted home town to Jen Cowley.
Sue: My husband Brian and I purchased our farm here at Tooraweenah 20 years ago. We did have another farm in the southern highlands and we ran the two for a little while, but we moved here full time to retire almost ten years ago.
Jen: What was it about the district that brought you here?
Sue: Brian was born in Dubbo and grew up at Mogriguy. A large proportion of his family live in the Gilgandra Shire. He always had a passion for out here and we would visit his sister and brother-in-law at Curban, and look over at the mountains and think how beautiful they were. Originally when we used to come through Tooraweenah, particularly if we came through on Friday night, you could fire a gun and not hit anything. We used to think Tooraweenah was a sleepy little hollow that didn’t have much going on, but after we moved here, we discovered it was a very vibrant and community-minded little town. It was amazing. You had to get past that veneer, and once you got to know people, they were very warm and very welcoming.
Jen: Is that something you and Brian were conscious of with other communities you were involved in?
Sue: Yes. Where we lived previously, we were always involved. But once we moved here, we didn’t know anyone. Superficially you look and think there’s nothing much going on.
Jen: You thought you were going to get a break, didn’t you?
Sue: (Laughing) We thought we would move to this nice quiet area. Although we did want to get involved, Brian was initially intent on working on and upgrading the farm. He’s an engineer by trade, and he was glad to go back to full time farming as well. So, he got involved in that and I became involved with the show. When you move from another area, I always say it takes about two years to get to know people and settle in, but it didn’t take that long at Tooraweenah. People were very encouraging right from the start.
Sue Armstrong, Warrumbungles NSW
Jen: How did you find yourself holding the reins of the show committee?
Sue: When we were first here, one of our neighbours invited us to go along to a show meeting. I went along and I was made very, very welcome. Probably twelve months down the track I took over as publicity person because of my background working in media and I really loved doing that. When our centenary celebrations came along, I was off and running. I organised all sorts of things – Aboriginal dancers, the school choir, musicians and more. That was just on our stage during the day and night but the show itself boomed at that point. We pushed the message out through the media to let people know that Tooraweenah show was really pumping. After that, I was approached to become president, and I became the first woman president the committee had ever had. I like to think I did steer it along to bigger and better things. That’s what every president should do. It’s so important to have new people coming in with new ideas. Some people don’t have the confidence to take on a position but suddenly they find they can, and it’s wonderful to watch them grow.
Jen: Tooraweenah has such a great history and has been a wonderful show for more than 100 years now.
Sue: We are up to 104 now, but unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to go ahead this year (because of COVID-19). Otherwise, we’d be 105.
Sue Armstrong with fellow members of the Tooraweenah Show Committee
Jen: Often a committee of such long standing might be resistant to change, but to be so welcoming to someone new is terrific and an injection of new ideas is healthy.
Sue: Absolutely and the committee was very open to new ideas and new suggestions, and upgrading of the show ground. I applied for a lot of grants. I’ve now stepped back from that and we have a lovely lady doing that job. We’ve put in a new kitchen, upgraded the pavilion, put in new fencing. I am quite proud of what we have been able to achieve under my stewardship. I feel very excited that they are now on a roll. I did three years as president, I just stepped down. I think it is very important to give someone else the opportunity in that position. We have a nice, young fellow who said he didn’t know if he could do it, but he’s stepped up to the role and he is so proud. This was to be his first year, but unfortunately the show has been cancelled due to the pandemic. However, he’s taken over the reins and is doing a wonderful job of guiding the show committee.
Jen: Baptism of fire, but strong steel is forged in fire.
Sue: Yes indeed, and he will be very good.
Jen: What have you seen is the benefit to the local community of having the show, and what makes Toora’s support for the show so strong?
Sue: The show provides the axle in the wheel, it’s in the middle of community. From the show and the people who are part of the committee, the encouragement goes out to all other areas. There’s a golf club on our (show) grounds and that’s supported and encouraged and helped. There’s a pony club that we’ve never had before that has the use of the grounds, and the rodeo and the campdraft. The showground has pulled in a lot of the community to a central hub. We have the facilities there, they can camp and have showers. We have an annual endurance ride that brings people from lots of other areas. We also have quite a few weddings and other celebrations – people love using these facilities.
The show reaches out to the community, often very silently but always there to help. In Tooraweenah, we have the Lions Club and CWA, the tennis and golf clubs, cricket club, the pub. So, we do find that as hub, the show spreads right out into all those different parts of the community.
Jen: You have quite a few young people on your committee, which must give you faith that not only the show but the community is in good hands. Do you think that’s true of regional Australia despite the challenges it faces?
Sue: Young people are coming back to basics. Once upon a time it was, get away, go here, go there. Now I find the young ones are wanting to get involved in things. No matter what the community activity is, they are there and enthusiastic. They just dive in head first and they are real work horses. They also have great ideas, and we need to empower them and let the young ones come in. I see a big difference, probably throughout the drought, with the young ones coming along to help. The drought has brought people closer to home.
Jen: It seems that the drought has almost given people a common fight, it has galvanised people to come together.
Sue: Everybody has been extremely supportive. Everyone is able to support each other, it may be silent but it is there. That is where the show has been great to bring people all together. Tooraweenah seems to pull together particularly well. Every Saturday night – at least before COVID-19 – the pub has a BBQ that raises money for community groups. Each has one month, so you have twelve community groups that go and raise funds but people pitch in whether they’re part of that group or not. In fact, the whole community kicks in and helps as well as buying their dinner. It’s the same with looking out for each other.
People aren’t intrusive in any way and they aren’t on your doorstep, but if you need them, they’re there. Sometimes even when you don’t think you need them, they know you do and they’re there. I have found it a most unique and fantastic part about Tooraweenah. It is a wonderful part of the world and I am so privileged to live here.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
Sue Armstrong with fellow members of the Tooraweenah Show Committee