Norm Gallagher, who led the militant and much-feared Builders Labourers Federation as federal secretary during the early 1970s-90s, took on the community of Clayton Bay in 1975 and lost.
He approved sending three burly blokes to stop Henry Jones and other locals from building the community hall because none were members of the powerful union.
Henry, who died in April last year, was the instigator of the project on council land, sourced the funding and called upon an unemployed brickie and local labourers under the Commonwealth Employment Scheme.
His wife, Gloria, recalled how they ran the Yabbie City restaurant (now Sails) in those days, and a local came running in shouting the BLF were threatening action if the work didn’t stop.
“Henry went over to the hall site and there were these three big blokes asking where the toilets were (for the workers) and Henry said, ‘over there’, pointing to the bushes,” Gloria said. “Where’s the scaffolding? they asked, and Henry pointed to the milk crates.
“One of them turned to the other, and said, ‘it looks like Mr Jones is trying to do the best for the community and no one is getting any money’ and so they let it be. It was scary at the time, but really, they were only looking after the well being of the locals, and we could understand that.”
It remains as one of the great stories from the heartland of Australia, and when this amazing community holds the 30th Anniversary Ball in the hall on Saturday, November 28 it will be sad that neither Henry or Norm are no longer with us to talk about the ‘good ’ol times”.
But rest assured, there will be plenty of other fabulous memories to rekindle about Clayton Bay and its hall.
Every country town has its hall, but only a few communities have built their character and the town’s soul around one. Here, they’ve held fun shows, pet shows, art and craft shows and cabarets, balls, Halloween nights, ghost buster nights, quiz nights, plus orchestral concerts and country & western gigs, and now monthly film nights by the Fleurieu Film Society.
Incredibly, the hall cost $180,000, which was big money in 1975, and the town needed to raise $30,000. There were only 17 families in the town then. They set up a plant nursery and sold bricks, while the kids organised all sorts of fundraisers on Friday and Saturday nights. And with this came some great unforgettable times.
Gloria, who married her Mount Barker High sweetheart Henry and moved to Clayton Bay 53 years ago, said she loved Clayton Bay particularly because of the serenity of the place, the people and all the work they do.
“It has changed since we first came here,” she said. “The visitors were hunters, shooters, fishers – all looking for food after the War and the immigration from Europe by refugees. Now there are artists, crafts people and those in boats enjoying the water, whether it be skiing or fishing still.
“They are so environmentally tuned in, which is really nice. Everything has been done by volunteers and it is good for those who worked in the early years to see the newer people to town town grasping the mantle and looking after things like the hall, the CFS and the surrounding environment.
“People care about their town, and especially the hall, which was built by the community for the community and opened debt free and fully furbished in 1986.”
Typical of a close-knit community, it has continued to support Gloria since the passing of Henry, who was a remarkable person in so many ways, especially his campaign to protect his beloved River Murray.
“The support helps you get you through these things,” Gloria said. “Everyone’s thoughts have touched me, but one thing that sticks in my mind is one lady, a resident here, who used to bring Henry cakes.
“Her husband had not long died too, and she came in and said, ‘I am going to put solar panels on your roof to pay back what Henry gave to this community and his work on environmental issues’. I did not let her, and she insisted.
“There have been a lots of things like that in this town. For me, it wasn’t so much the offer of the solar panels, but the kindness; it is so lovely. Henry loved the river.”
Of course, community halls remain vibrant because of continued volunteer work, and this committee is exceptional – Leonie Henderson as president, Laurie Hepworth (vice-president), Pat Smytherman (secretary), Anne Feast (treasurer), Brian Lewis, Jeff Feast and Kathryn Stanley-Murray.
When asked why Clayton Bay was unique, Leonie said she kept going back to the environment. “We have the best of both worlds with the Foreshore Management Plan, the amazing bird life and vegetation on one side, and boat recreation on the other,” she said. “I don’t think there are many places where you can separate the two.”
This place is also special because the “old” part is Clayton – named before Adelaide was proclaimed – and the “new” section was developed in the late 1960s and named Clayton Bay about 15 years ago. Most refer to the place as Clayton Bay.
Clayton Bay features a superb walking trail – of course, developed and cared for by volunteers. Apart from his hall commitments, this is Laurie’s passion and it means so much to the town. He talks of others who work so hard developing and maintaining the town’s significant plant nursery, and many other volunteer projects.
There have also been a lot of characters over the years too. Gloria can remember arriving and meeting this chap who lived in a cave with a lot of cats, and another who lived in an old Red Cross ambulance van over a heap of rabbit warrens.
Today there are great people like Ces and June Humphris who polish the Jarrah floors in the morning and conduct dance classes in the afternoon. There you go; no excuse for not going to the 30th Anniversary Ball because you have two left feet. They say it will be a real hoot. It’s why they love Clayton Bay.