Hello, I'm Tom Melville, welcome to Voice of Real Australia. Each episode we bring you people, places and perspectives from beyond the big cities. Before we start, I wanted to thank you for supporting the podcast over the past year. This episode will bring us to the end of season one. One year ago we wanted to make a show that showcased stories from across regional Australia because we weren't seeing these voices represented elsewhere in this format. A year later we've received two awards and multiple nominations, and think we've created something important, interesting, and entertaining. We'll be taking a break to do some reporting and will come back with season 2 in mid-September, kicking off with a very special multi-part story. Stay with us at the end of this episode to hear the trailer. Now, we have a heartwarming story to share before we call time on season one. It's a story about small town camaraderie in a time when we're all feeling a bit isolated... - All towns have their legends, local stories that you're never certain if they're true or not. Mudgee, a town a few hundred kays west of Newcastle, is no exception. It's among the oldest settlements West of the Great Divide. In the 1940s Mudgee's main street was known for its Greek cafes -- American style diners operated by Greek migrants. Their opulent design featured chrome curves, etched glass and luxurious booth seating. They were distinctive and became synonymous with Mudgee. There was the Royal Café, The Hollywood Café and the Mudgee Café. They're no longer around, but stories linger. One legend stands above the rest. It's evolved and exaggerated over the years but the meat of it stays the same -- A boy was rescued in the rain by a brave cafe owner. Nic Zoumboulis writes for the Mudgee Guardian. And he brings us the story.
Nic Zoumboulis 01:48
After I first heard about Mudgee's Greek cafes, there was always one story that kept coming back, a little different every time. And I've always been desperate to find out what really happened. It's about a young boy who nearly drowned in the middle of a bustling Mudgee street, and the Greek cafe owner who saved his life.
Dr Ann Coward 02:07
I was in Mudgee a few years ago and talking to a real estate agent who was my age. And he said to me, "Do you know your father saved a boy? " And I said yes, I know I was there. And then I met a woman at a gallery opening in Sydney. And she said, "Oh, do you know your father saved a boy?" And I said, Yes, I do. And she told me this incredible story, which made my father sound like Iron Man or, you know, jumping off awnings and jumping onto cars. And they used to say this boy's life and I said, Sorry, that isn't how it happened at all. And she said, "Well, this is a story I grew up with and I love it".
Nic Zoumboulis 02:43
That's the story that I heard originally that he was up on the second story of a building or something and he jumped over the balcony onto the roof of the car from the car jumped onto the street and sprinted off down the street.
Dr Ann Coward 02:55
Yeah, I don't know. I don't know where that story came from.
Nic Zoumboulis 02:58
New Year's Day, 1959. Gorgeous blue sky and a shining sun. Kids were out playing at Mudgee's swimming pool, and running free in the streets. Geoff Mavromatis, a 10 year old boy, was standing next to his younger sister Ann, and their dad Con outside their cafe on Church Street -- The Mudgee Cafe. It was the early afternoon, they were waiting for a huge burst of rain over the town. People called them 'cloudbursts', and they are pretty common in Mudgee. On that day people were standing in the streets watching for the clouds to pop like water balloons. Eventually, the rain came, and the town began to flood.
Geoff Mavromatis 03:38
We were all fascinated with standing out on the gutter. On the step of the shop was the water on the footpath over the gutter, up onto the road. It was almost like a complete sheet of water. You could just see the center of the road. And that was all and everything else disappeared.
Nic Zoumboulis 03:53
That's Geoff, he's 72 years old now, and he lives in New Zealand, just outside Christchurch.
Geoff Mavromatis 03:58
And the flooding was amazing. So we're all standing out on the front step of the shop in Church Street. And just looking around just couldn't believe how much rain was coming down.
Nic Zoumboulis 04:08
Geoff and Ann looked across the street, and as they did they saw a boy vanish into the floodwater.
Dr Ann Coward 04:13
He stepped into it and the flow of water was just so strong. He just instantly disappeared, completely disappeared.
Nic Zoumboulis 04:21
The story of how a young boy nearly drowned on Church Street is well-known, but his identity has always been a mystery. Just ask Lynne Robinson from the Mudgee Historical Society.
Lynne Robinson 04:31
Well, in the old days, the gutters would be, like that Not like where they curved off nowadays it had big sort of a drain and he went into it when there was torrential rain and you could easily get swept away and apparently this is what happened.
Nic Zoumboulis 04:49
Geoff has often wondered about the boy his father saved. As he collected family history, it's a piece of the puzzle that's always been missing. I searched through old microfilm editions of the Mudgee Guardian in the library's archives, and on the front page of the 1959 January third edition, there's an article. It refers to a young Ian Marsh, just six years old at the time. I couldn't find an Ian Marsh in Mudgee's phone book. Google "Ian Marsh", and there's a lot of results. A lot. But then I found a short blog published in 2011 on the Goulburn Men's Shed website. It was about an Ian Marsh, from Mudgee. He was the secretary of the Men's Shed. I'd found him.
Ian Marsh 05:34
Hello You can hear me Nic. Pleased to meet you.
Nic Zoumboulis 05:39
Ian had been standing out the front of the Catholic Church with his older sister and her friend. They had just finished a day at the pool. It had been a hot and clammy day, and the humidity finally broke with the downpour. Ian was the tallest of the three kids, he stood impatiently in the rain holding his towel. He quickly got bored waiting in the rain and decided he would head home.
Ian Marsh 06:02
I've moved to go across the road and of course didn't see where the footpath ended and the gutter started. It just went from under me. And of course, I've just gone down.
Nic Zoumboulis 06:11
Ian has wondered for the past 60 years how to find Con's family, and thank them. I organised a video call so they could meet for the first time. Ian in Sydney, Geoff in New Zealand. I feel so privileged that I got to put them in touch.
Geoff Mavromatis 06:27
It was I remember it was the shop was closed so it was a holiday I think it was New Year's Day then I don't know why but we've looked across and then saw you do your your diving act into the gutter. And then I saw my old man just take off like a rocket down the street. That was a hell of a sprint. i didn't know anyone could move that quickly, but it was the the speed he took off. He didn't hesitate.
Nic Zoumboulis 06:52
Ian was sucked into an open drain, underground. A surging torrent carried him along 80 metres underground in a matter of seconds. Con sprinted down the street and stopped for a moment at a gutter outside the old picture theater. Ann remembers her father taking off with lightning speed.
Dr Ann Coward 07:09
So dad just took off and stepped into the gutter where he could see the towel and pulled him out of the water. It's down at the pub Lawson pub because it was a weir the rivers got a weir and he was just worried that once he got into the river he was gone. He couldn't see him. Now the gutters are covered over in Mudgee, but they're very, very deep. Because when we had a downpour.
Nic Zoumboulis 07:33
Con positioned himself over another drain and watched for signs of the boy. He saw a towel floating in the rush of water. He grabbed it, yanking it up along with the young boy clinging to it. Geoff and Ian again.
Geoff Mavromatis 07:46
I've often thought if it wasn't for the towel you wouldn't be here.
Ian Marsh 07:49
When I left him to go to the baths. My mom told me it's a new towel there don't lose it. i held on to it for dear life. And I held on to it going down the drain and he's clearly seen the towell and the young fellow attached to it.
Geoff Mavromatis 08:07
The other person that was on the step with us was my uncle. He was a doctor. So when dad got you out, and he finally turned up the doctor, he was nowhere near as fast off the mark or down the street. You had medical assistance right there and then.
Ian Marsh 08:23
Well Dr. Carter was a family doctor. Mum was Sunday afternoon after the storm sort of thing, had got, she was doing the ironing in the little room off the veranda like breakfast room as they call it back by then. At the end of the verandah that went around the house. And he's seen this ambulance that's come up the driveway and Dr Carter, followed the ambulance. He told me he told mum he's got a couple of scratches get him to bed and when he's ready, through him back in the pool so he wouldn't be scared of water so the things that.
Nic Zoumboulis 09:00
News of the impressive feat reached far and wide. Con was called a hero in papers like the Sydney Morning Herald. It was a huge event for the small town of Mudgee. Six weeks later, Con was bringing a car back from Sydney to sell. He was at the end of a long drive, finally coming into Mudgee, when a truck came around on the wrong side of the road.
Geoff Mavromatis 09:22
Apparently he moved his car to get around and then they corrected so they ended up getting hit head on and he got thrown out. And it was wet. And the driver was very very young. So it was yeah it was just horrific.
Ian Marsh 09:36
Your dad wasn't all that old either, so terrible. I still thank your father every day when I was shave. They always say it's hard to explain or i guess this, the sentence doesn't work well in this case, but a door opens and another one closes. When it's when it's that close to home. Um, you know, i start to get a little bit emotional, now when I think about what your father didn't, the tragic circumstances after it.
Geoff Mavromatis 10:10
You've got me tearing up a bit ian.
Nic Zoumboulis 10:13
Here's Ann again.
Dr Ann Coward 10:15
People in those days were church going ,and so they believed in a loving God. So to have this young man who saved a boy's life and then to be killed so soon after, just didn't make sense to people, didn't make sense to anybody. So it had a big effect on the whole town.
Nic Zoumboulis 10:34
As he grew up, Ian's mother often told him that while he was saved, another life was taken.
Ian Marsh 10:40
It's something that's here with you all the time and you just you just can't forget it you can't you can't take it in you don't want to take them take that away from you. You want to have that memory and just have a silent prayer or something to someone that has done that selfless act.
Nic Zoumboulis 11:10
Like I know, Ian in you mentioned your parents split up. And I guess you had to move away from your father. Is that right? And, and Geoff, you grew up without a father as well. Also, another bit of, I guess, parallel lines.
Ian Marsh 11:23
Yeah. Which is wonderful that that the mothers are the strong part of the family and do everything they can to do the right thing.
Nic Zoumboulis 11:33
After Geoff and Ian's families moved away, they had lost contact with their home, and with that, a chance at learning more about the key events that shaped their childhoods. But they never stopped trying.
Geoff Mavromatis 11:45
Another thing, Nic was that, running a cafe in those days was a huge amount of time. So he would be at six o'clock in the morning and lighting the fire because it was a big, you know, solid fuel stove that all the cooking cafe was done on. And he'd be working through it sort of 11 o'clock at night, six days a week. And then Sunday thought of doing maintenance or going down to see his parents in Sydney. So a lot of time working in so you know, I was trying to piece together, you know, all the various bits and pieces, because memory is not that great. There's a few things to remember. And this one obviously stood out or something, you know, really, you know, beacon in terms of his life. And that's why I was keen. And that's why I put that not just in the magic garden just to sort of say, you know what happened? You know, where Ian had ended up and just sort of, you know, what were the consequences.
Ian Marsh 12:38
I didn't know how this was gonna go. It's been better than I expected and it's been wonderful.
Geoff Mavromatis 12:44
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, yeah, I was a bit nervous too. And I didn't know what what we're gonna say to each other.
Ian Marsh 12:49
You didn't know if I had three years or somehting like that. Stay healthy mate and all the best for your mum and Ann.
Tom Melville 13:01
Geoff Mavromatis and Ian Marsh there, speaking for the first time since the rescue that's fed legends in Mudgee for 60 years. That brings us to the end of season one of Voice of Real Australia. -- A few weeks ago, before this lockdown, I drove out West to outback NSW. I followed the Darling river meeting with the communities along it. Their lives revolve around the health of this river and it seems to be dying. They told me when the river is up, like it is now, the people are up, but when it's down things get really bad. I fell in love with the Darling while on holiday. The Australian outback is so special, so wild and beautiful and dangerous. It feels like a different universe. If you talk to enough people at the local pubs you start to get the sense that something's really wrong here. Season two of Voice of Real Australia will start with the mini-series Forgotten River, where you'll meet the people caught in the middle of outback water politics. Until then, here's the trailer.
Graeme McCrabb 14:02
It's hard to see from photos we didn't have drones back then, but yeah I reckon there was 500,000 dead from here and about a K and a half of fish.
Tom Melville 14:11
The Darling River wends its way through 1500 kilometres of Australian Outback To the Barkindji people of far western New South Wales, the river channel marks the course of the Naatji -- the rainbow serpent. It has sustained cultures and communities for thousands of years.
Rob Clayton 14:27
I grew up fishing and swimming and campiing along this river and for me not to be able to do that with my kids is like a passion that's gone away.
Tom Melville 14:37
But the River is in danger, and the people along its course face an uncertain future. In a three part series Voice of Real Australia takes you up the Darling River, the Forgotten River, and introduces you to the people who are fighting for its life.
Rachel Strachan 14:53
It just gets in your bones and you just want to look after it. It's it's interesting I don't think people along many of the rivers have actually got to the point where they've nearly felt like it's a generation who's annihilated a river system.
Tom Melville 15:24
You can listen to Forgotten River here, or find the dedicated Forgotten River podcast wherever you listen.
Tom Melville 15:43
That's it for this Season of Voice of Real Australia. Thanks for listening. If you haven't taken part in our listener survey yet, please do. The link is in our show notes. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen and we'll be back in a month. If you like the podcast please tell your friends and give us a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts. It really helps. If you'd like to share your story, email voice at aust community media dot com dot a-u... that's voice at aust "a-u-s-t" community media dot com dot a-u. Our Facebook page is Facebook dot com slash voice of real Australia. Follow me on Twitter @-Tom-Melville-1-2-4 Voice of Real Australia is recorded in the studios of the Newcastle Herald. It's produced by Laura Corrigan and me, your host, Tom Melville. Our editors are Gayle Tomlinson and Chad Watson. Ethan Hamilton is our intern. We'll see you in a month. This is an ACM podcast.