Barb Hands with ‘Pie’ the Magpie.
Tuesday, 23rd October, 2018
BARBARA Hands and her husband came to Broken Hill in 1969 from Melbourne lured by friends promising jobs could be found.
It was always their intention to move from the city to a place out in the country, so they decided to give it a go for a year.
It was not long after arriving Barb gained employment with the local hospital as an assistant nurse, however, it was soon after her first son arrived in 1969 followed by a second son in 1972.
Being with the young children she decided to take in dress-making from home - having studied at a school of “Domestic Economy” in Melbourne - also sewing soft furnishings for “Benjamins” store and “Barossa Knitting Mills” in Duff Street.
Barb remembers at the time Broken Hill folk held a strong union allegiance.
“I was aware the worker strongly supported the unions who fought for better pay and safe working conditions, and if employed one had to be a member of the union,” Barb said.
“If a family of four worked and all lived in the same house then four newspapers were delivered over the fence.”
There was always ‘the artist’ in Barbara.
Her father was an avid photographer and had a gifted talent of catching ordinary people (unaware of being photographed) with expressions caught on camera that were captivating.
Barb has inherited that talent in her paintings. Having enrolled at TAFE and tutored by Tom Offord, her art is displayed in various galleries and outlets in Broken Hill. Another form of art Barb has achieved is scrolls of “Zen” calligraphy.
“It involves writing on rice paper with ground black ink and a big brush whilst kneeling on a floor, the movement must be swift with no hesitation otherwise the rice paper draws up the ink and ends in a big blob also it must be in a strict vertical line.
“I have completed a couple of scrolls worthy of hanging however my time is mainly taken up with painting and ongoing Tai chi started at the Robinson College 27 years ago, I still practice weekly.”
It was in 1987 Barbara found employment at the “Silverlea Work Shop” as a supervisor of adults with a disability.
“I loved this work and discovered being with these special people that the label ‘disability’ was not so much to be pitied but in many ways admired. The people I worked with all had a great love of music, sport and best of all, food!
“Whilst on a trip with the Silverlea group to the Wrest Point Casino in Tasmania, an employee offered to wheel out a beautiful grand piano for us to view.
“One of the ladies from the group who was a gifted classical pianist (despite her disability), immediately took it upon herself to sit down on the seat, posed her fingers above the keys for a few seconds then began to play a wonderful classical concerto for myself and the Casino employee (no one else in sight).
“When finished we clapped and cheered and then ever so seriously she stood tall, hesitated, then graciously took a long deep bow for the ‘audience’.
Another highlight was when British royal Sarah Ferguson visited Broken Hill and spent the morning at the Silverlea Work Shop.
The Princess moved through greeting each person individually.
“All of the group were in awe of this ‘Royal’ figure, so they gave a hand to shake and a nervous smile.”
Sarah came to this particular lady and taking the Princess’s hand, she said with a most serious expression.
“Good afternoon Princess ... and how is Eugenie and Beatrice?”
Sarah smiled warmly and replied with an appropriate response.
“Oh they are very well , thank you for asking”.
Barb says her time with Silverlea was “most rewarding and unforgettable.”
“I have been left with a legacy of golden memories.”
After she finished at the Silverlea, Barb found employment at the North School as a teachers’ aid providing “one on one” help. The first year with a blind child learning some braille and the second with a deaf child learning basic singing.
It was in 2005 Barbara became a volunteer for ‘RRANA’ after successfully rearing a baby sparrow until the little bird died in 2014 of ‘natural old age’.
“If we were to go on holidays our little sparrow (‘Ninja’) would naturally go with us,” Barb said.
“I managed to smuggle him into motels, hotels and he was definitely accepted by family and friends in their homes as well.
“Ninja was part of the home, it is quite amazing, as he never looked to be free.
“Fourteen years is a very long friendship for a pet, especially a sparrow.”
Barb shared a story of a Wedge-Tailed eagle that was of particular interest.
Found as a baby, dehydrated and nearly dead, the eagle survived as Barb did her magic.
Naturally, this particular bird couldn’t be housed, so RRANA sought to find somewhere suitable.
Eventually, contact was made and the eagle - after a very involved transportation process was carried out - went to Kangaroo Island to be trained for free flight educational displays.
Barb visited Kangeroo Island in 2014 and had the pleasure of seeing the bird in action.
There have been many strange incidents for RRANA, especially during the “magpie swooping” season.
The little chicks often fall from nests and if reported Barb and helpers will rescue the chicks with care, as the parents are never far away.
“A call came that a fledging magpie chick needed to get back near the parents; it was found in a driveway, the callers were too afraid to venture out of the house,” Barb said.
“We eventually located the chick under a bush out of harm’s way of traffic and left it alone with the parent hovering over us.
“We were anxious to be gone as he definitely knew what we were up to.
“The callers peered out the window in sheer disbelief at the sight of me with - goggles, umbrella, towel wrapped over my head and tightly around the back of my neck clipped with a peg under the chin, carrying net and a carrier.
“I can still see the look on their faces to this day.”
Barb admits she loves living in Broken Hill.
“As I drive around town I am still fascinated by its little wood and iron miner’s cottages, the back lanes, it’s red earth, friendly people and the fact that you can still come across two cars side by side in the street having a conversation through the windows.
“One year has turned into almost fifty and I’m glad of it. So when I meet a newcomer to this city I tell them to ‘be careful’.”