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Menindee reunion pulls good crowd

Wednesday, 8th April, 2015

The two eldest former students at the Menindee Central School reunion on Saturday night. From left, Harry Waterton, 87, and Ron Morgan, 85. The two eldest former students at the Menindee Central School reunion on Saturday night. From left, Harry Waterton, 87, and Ron Morgan, 85.

By Annette Northey

Water was not an issue at Menindee on Saturday night, with the Albemarle Hotel hosting the long-anticipated Menindee Central School (MCS) reunion.

Over twelve months in the making, the main organisers, Mandy Files and Sue Pearce, pulled together a wonderfully successful event. 

With over 140 seated guests for a melt-in-the-mouth roast dinner and at least 250 patrons in the hotel socialising and reminiscing to the rhythm of a live band, the Albemarle was “rockin’”, said proprietors Danielle Nimmo and David Weston. 

Former students were treated to a tour of the school earlier in the day, ahead of the reunion at the hotel in the evening.

Two of the eldest “reunionees” were Ron Morgan, 85, now of Murray Bridge, and Harry Waterton, 87, now of Lithgow.

They had not seen each other for 70 years - and boy, did they have some stories to tell.

So, how did these two former students get to be in the same place at the same time after so long?

As it turns out, Harry’s daughter had recently become Facebook friends with Ron, and alerted her father to the reunion just two weeks before the event.

Soon after, following Harry’s lengthy journey from Lithgow aboard the Indian Pacific, and Ron’s nine-hour drive from Murray Bridge, the two former school buddies embraced on the platform of the Broken Hill Train Station. The rest is history. 

Ron, born in Bourke in 1929, moved with his parents to Menindee when he was nine years old.

Having had no schooling in Bourke, he was enrolled directly in Year 3 at MCS. Four years later, at the age of 13, he left school to go droving.

Since then, Ron has had an interesting and varied working life, from running a successful earth moving business in Menindee to becoming a prize-winning horse trainer in Adelaide.

Claims to fame include taking out the Adelaide Cup in 1982 with horse “Dealer’s Choice”, and then the Goodwood Handicap later the same year. Earlier wins include the National Herder Race in 1973 with “Mohawk”.

Ron remembers a “good life as a child” in Menindee. 

Asked why, he said: “You were free to do what you liked. You could go bird-nesting, rabbiting, fishing, swimming in the river.” 

And do what he liked, he did.

Ron reminisced about “raiding the old paddle steamers” on the Darling. He recalls hopping onto the very last paddle steamer in Menindee, sneaking into the hull, piercing the cans of tinned fruit, sucking out all of the juice, then putting the cans back. 

On another occasion, Ron opened bags of almonds, filled his pockets and singlet with as many as he could manage, but this time got “sprung” by the boat’s Chinese cook. 

Ron promptly jumped overboard to swim to shore, of course losing his merchandise to the Darling.

When asked whether he did those things out of sheer desperation, he replied emphatically, “No, it was just for the devilment”.

Harry was born in Menindee (Broken Hill Hospital) in 1927 and attended MCS until the age of fourteen.

His family then moved to Victoria so that Harry did not have to attend school any longer. Back then in NSW, you had to attend school until the age of 14 and nine months, but in Victoria you could leave at fourteen. 

Harry spent a short time working on the railway in Victoria and ended up back in Menindee working, coincidentally, at the Albemarle as a “groom”.  Although there were no horses there at the time, Harry did general rouse-about jobs such as chopping wood for the fire and cleaning the lines. 

There was no shortage of stories over the weekend, as Harry and Ron vividly and happily recalled their childhood memories.

Not least, that Harry’s sister was Ron’s childhood sweetheart, and Ron remembers Harry as his “role model”.

And, as uncanny coincidences go, at the ripe old ages of 85 and 87, Ron and Harry currently each have a child as young as 17 and 14, respectively. 

Asked how that might have come to be, Ron’s simple explanation: “I blame it on the river water.”

Interested parties can visit the Albemarle Hotel’s Facebook site for pictures from the reunion, and those interested can send a Facebook “friend request” to Ron Morgan (Murray Bridge), who is chronicling, in photographs, some of Menindee’s history. 

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