At Concert Cosmopolitana, the Cooma community shared with us their secrets, their histories and their hopes for the future of their town…
Where did you grow up, and what do you know about Cooma?
‘On the South Coast of NSW. Population of 8 to 9 thousand. The heart of Snowy Mountains Scheme completed in 1979. Lots of multiculturalism. Great local community. Lots to do. Great schools, hospital, heart of Snowy Mountains an ski fields. Great central location from the coast, Canberra and Sydney.’
‘I grew up in Sydney. After studying art, marrying and travelling for a year on a budget of $5 per day for food, $5 transport and $5 accommodation, we thought it would be nice to live in Cooma near the snow and bush for a year or so. That was in 1985. I’m the best recorder and horn player in the village.’
‘My parents came over from Germany. My father in 1951 to establish work with the Snowy and then my mum in 1952. I was born in Cooma and still live here. As a young child I remember all the night clubs in town, all the different nationalities in the snow in winter, the delicatessens. Cooma was a bustling, thriving town. The surnames of my classmates were mainly ethnic, long and for many, hard to pronounce. I remember, the nightclubs as taboo places where ‘naughty’ things went on. The festival of the Snowy parade was always grand with incredible floats. As a member of the pony club, we would always ride our horses in the parade. Monaro High had over 1000 pupils (I think 1100 when I started). Life was free then. We played freely and only came home at dusk. There was no fear of bad people and no litigation (which is ruining life today). I now live very happily on 40 acres, 10 minutes from town. I still love it here!’
‘Cooma has been home for over 25 years. We came for work (Phil, my husband’s) at Snowy Hydro. He retired 2 days ago. Our children grew up here, they went to Cooma North school and Monaro High. I wrote feature stories for the Cooma Monaro Express for several years – the last stories were about Cooma in the 50’s – published by the Historical Society as a book – still available. We’ve made friends, worked here, lived with a series of animals, from Chooks, through dogs and cats, to horses – in recent years I’ve ridden through Cooma’s Travelling Stock Reserves and Stock route tracks frequently.’
‘Grew up in Sydney. Cooma is a regional town and gateway to Snowy Mountains. During the period of Construction of the Snowy Scheme, 1949-79, Cooma and other Snowy towns became the centre of multiculturalism in Australian. Cooma serves the Monaro region of agriculture and animal husbandry.’
‘Daughter of a Brisbane girl and her American soldier, I grew up at first in USA then in Brisbane. I met my love at the Conservatoire and together, two young classical guitarists, took off to Sydney to study, and in 1984, came to Cooma to establish a classical guitar school in the mountains. Became a music school and shop, we raised children here, played at weddings, funerals, speech days, conducted choirs, Christmas carols, bush band dances, play group songs, school assembles, art openings etc. etc. etc. Such a charmed life we’ve had here. What do I know about Cooma? The skies are to die for. Almost everyone gets hay fever. There are no cockroaches. When it’s freezing people say, “bit fresh”. You always greet people in the street or at least meet their eyes. Kids call their grandparents Opah and Omah. The tap water is delicious. A swim at the pumping station is still the best summer activity. There are a lt of churches and a lot of liquor outlets. The coffee is very good almost everywhere. No one has a raincoat or umbrella – it’ll go soon.’
What is Cooma to you, and what could it be?
‘I am a snowy kid. Grew up in Cooma East. Learned English at Cooma East Public in 1955. Along with Captain Cook and God Save the Queen, there was no mention of the world all us Snowy Kids came from. So it is wonderful to now have all the many various cultures that built the Snowy Scheme explored, encouraged and enjoyed. In behind the staid and stolid Lutheran upbringing was the underlying theme of Cossack dancers, tunnels, thrills, dams, sheep, graziers, Ned Kelly, fiddles, accordions, dances next door. Many years later, it has all blended into a cool, sharp, blood red wine like the Monaro sunsets. A final memory – being 9 years old and being on the land where the Italian Embassy was to be built – with my father. He had just left the Snowy and had won the contract to build the framework of the Italian Embassy buildings in Consena.’
‘Cooma has the potential to be an amazing buss of culture, activity and fun. You need people on the shire council who actually want the town to progress one move into the future and to embrace change. Welcome ideas from the new people in town.’
‘It’s a special small town that is nice to live in, has pleasant people and is busy enough but still relaxed enough too. Hopefully Cooma never becomes too much like Canberra. I like the way Cooma is, a small nice, not too busy Country town.’
‘I started at Blowerine Dam. Deliverine 12 CAT 769 dump truck, from Caterpillar (I worked for Waugh & Josephson Wagga). In 1969 I was asked to join Thiess Bros at Talbingo as a leading hand on the spillway w/shop permanent nightshift. During that time I was in charge of 27 men dedicated to keeping dozers, dollars, dump trucks, loaders, tire chain repair greasers, welders, laborers. Our repair shift started at 11pm till 8am every day. During that time working in the snow and mud, nearly up to top of gumboots, in the freezing conditions to the comfortable nights of summer. Several men were killed during that time. Going for breakfast there would be a call for volunteers to help find someone missing, only to find he had been crushed under rocks on the dam wall or run over by a dump truck. One instant was one night at 6am drivers, operators came to the spillway workshop to start work. I had a welder putting caps on a sheep’s foot roller connected to a D.8 CAT. The operator got on the dozer and started it up and started driving it away, while the welder was still on the roller working. That welder was very lucky to get off it alive. The same operator a couple of months later was killed driving the dozer vibrator roller. When he went past a high light one pole came loose and fell across him on the dozer. Early in my employment by Thiess at Talbingo there was a confrontation between Thiess and a tire company, which came to a head with the tire company ordered off the site with armed guards used to stop entry. At the end of Talbingo jobs were offered at Bouganville P.N.G and Mataranka N.T. I took the latter. What an experience I shall never forget.’
Tell us a lie, or a secret.
‘I was born in 1920’s, Russia. After 18 years I went to Australia in the 1940’s. I stayed in Canberra for 8 years, the days went so fast, and in no time it was 1960. I came to Cooma to work at the Scheme in the tunnels. I worked for 18 years there, then retired. Oh, what I had seen. My friends crushed by large rocks. Then ten years later my wife died. R.I.P, R.I.P my dear wife, now I have sadness in my heart. I cannot go on with this sadness.’
‘I once found a duffle bag with over $3000 in it. It was under the seat in an old wreaked car near the park closest to my high school. They were all bundles of 50’s. I did not hand it into the police or even tell my mum and dad. I would only take a few 50’s at a time until one day the bag was gone and in its place was a yellow rubber duck.’
‘My great grandfather was a pioneer in old Adaminaby – Mr. L W. Mackay – and he built the first General store. I was very fortunate to grow up on my parents’ property south of Adaminaby. I want to High School with so many nationalities and we all just for along with each other. I hadn’t seen kalach bread or salami until I was in high school, where we swapped sandwiches. I would have vegemite, cold lamb or peanut butter. Now I feel very blessed to live in Cooma with its wonderful community.’
‘My name is Rob Simmons. I came to work on the Snowy in Feb 1953. First as a Rural Valuer and later as Property Officer responsible for the purchase of the source required for the Scheme. This included the land now under lakes Eucumbene and Jindabyne and the removal of the town to its present site. This caused the winching down of the new Scheme, the sale of houses and surplus rural lands. A very busy time.’
What makes you happy? What makes you sad?
‘Meeting my friends at our different activities. An exercise class for “oldies” every Monday morning and then “chit chat” over tea and coffee afterwards. Meeting only wonderful Baptist Church Christians (Jesus Christians) on Sunday over coffee and tea. Doing shopping and meeting friends everywhere. That is Cooma – where else would you live?’
‘What make me sad? People complaining about their aches and pains, and what they haven’t got, instead of thanking God for what they have got – everything in Cooma. We are truly blessed, and I thank God daily – I am 87 years old! P.S. I am sad that the Visitors Centre is to close at 3pm – not good for tourists passing through, but stopping first for information about the area.’
If you were in charge of Cooma, what would you do?
‘We should get a PA system at the Cenopath so that when ANZAC Day comes everyone can hear. This year was awful.Try to get the footpaths swept by the shop owners regularly.’
‘Invite a form of industry to the Area so that Cooma has a form of income outside of Winter. Add a half-court basketball court to the useless scrap of land near nijong oval. Encourage students to participate in the decisions made about town. Have public polls before council does projects. Listen to what people have to say. Really listen. Street lights.’
‘One weekend per month run buses, or better a heritage train from Canberra to Cooma to keep the shops open. Have a Fiesta weekend each month to bring tourists and money. Even make the bus or train fare free to attract tourists.’
‘Put a limit on the number of cafes and pubs allowed in Cooma. Ban smoking. Have a parkour indoor centre. Have a flip out indoor trampoline park.’
Cooma’s main street in the 60’s!