My mother was a most unusual woman, particularly when it came to tracing her background. Born as Emma Morris in Paddington Sydney 5.1.1909 but known as Noreen Baker on her marriage certificate 25.1.1926 to my father Frederick Schweitzer.
However that was also to change quite dramatically. My father was an officer in the army reserves in the 1930s and Schweitzer was not accepted as suitable for his role in the army being of German origin, although Dad was a second generation Australian. The powers that be requested his name be changed to his mother’s maiden name Anderson, so once again Noreen’s name was changed the fourth time in 26 years.
Noreen was a good student at Sydney Girls High School and Dad attended Forth Street. Both were good students.
Mother of two daughters, Noreen was an excellent tennis player, ambitious angler and passionate gardener.
Whilst my sister and I were small children we listened to 10 minute midday plays on 2BL or 2FC I forget which, and were thrilled to hear Noreen acknowledged as the playwright a couple of times. I’m sure the reward in those days was trifling but most acceptable.
On my father’s return home from WWII, they decided to sell up and leave Sydney and move to Sawtell (Coffs Harbour district) circa 1947. We had spent many happy annual holidays in this little fishing/beach village before the war and both parents were determined to relive those special times.
They were then aged 38 and 40 years and very community oriented. They were soon to become the backbone of many organisations including the Sawtell Progress Association, Golf Club, Tennis and Bowls Clubs.
Their organising activities were soon acknowledged and to this day their names are associated with the town.
During this time Noreen had begun a project to develop a huge garden plot in the centre of the main street (First Avenue) – a garden that now proudly bears her name.
Characteristically she refused to have it named in her honour when she was alive. She was determined to have no social acclaim and refused to be nominated for the Order of Australia, Shire Councillor, or align with any political party. Noreen was also involved in the petitions presented to the State member (by myself) for a Town Water Supply. It was successful.
One of the highlight’s of Noreen’s life was the dedication of the Sawtell Memorial Park at which a plaque with a poem she had written, and read by herself, was unveiled. A touching ceremony with the sounds of the bugle and the Last Post was indeed memorable.
SAWTELL MEMORIAL PARK
WE MOURN THEM HERE
OUR DREAMING DEAD
IN THIS QUIET, HALLOWED PLACE
TO HEROES DEDICATE.
AS ONCE THEY LOVED ALL THIS –
WARM SANDS – SEA BREEZE.
TALL TREES AND DISTANT HILLS
THE MAGPIES GLORY IN THE EARLY MORN
WE CHOSE THIS SPOT.
WE TOOK OUR MEMORIES AND PLACED THEM HERE.
AND PLANTED TREES, LIKE MEMORIES, EVERGREEN
TO THRIVE AND GROW MORE CHERISHED WITH THE YEARS
SPEAK QUIETLY HERE – TREAD SOFT.
THE MEN WHO LOVED THESE SANDS DREAM ON.
THE BLESSED PEACE FOR WHICH THEY FOUGHT IS THEIRS
IN THIS TREE-RINGED, GREEN, LOVELY SPOT.
Noreen continued her interest in all social and community affairs, reporting all in her weekly page ‘Sawtell News’ in the Friday’s Coffs Harbour Advocate in the early ‘50s.
In those days many processions were held in little country towns, particularly on the Queen’s Birthday weekend, subsequently transferred to New Years’ Day Procession and Sports Day. Many floats and their motifs were designed by Noreen and built by members of the various clubs represented. A huge organising feat over some weeks with traffic closures, council permissions, etc all to be arranged through local authorities.
Much fun was had by all when the top heavy floats struggled to negotiate the bends around the said First Avenue garden on their way to Bonville Reserve. However as usual, Noreen was always in control, now addressed as Mrs Anderson or ‘Ando’ by those impudent enough.
The prize giving ceremony by local dignitaries attracted hundreds of visitors and locals to the joyful annual event.
On one memorable occasion the floats were invited to join a special Coffs Harbour procession, eight miles away. This was quite a debacle as the roads were rough and overhung with foliage so the floats and their characters thereon were really battling to stay ‘afloat’.
Hundreds of crepe paper flowers and streamers were swept away as the drivers endeavoured to join mainstream traffic on the old Pacific Highway. However Noreen arranged a police escort once we were on the highway and all arrived triumphant but dishevelled. No prizes that day!
Noreen as ever an environmentally conscious woman, was responsible in presenting to council, with the support of the Progress Association, petitions preventing the building of high rise developments on the beach side of First Avenue. This is today still a splendid example of how the people won a significant right to maintain their choice of development in a vulnerable area.
To her credit, Boronia Park, Wonga Park and the Sawtell Memorial Park were all ‘created’ with the persistence and determination for which she was renowned.
A rock pool fed by the tides on the Sawtell Headland was one of her pet loves, and with her insistence it was saved, much to the delight of all those who use this facility. Many a time we were called in to pry off oysters and remove sand under her instructions till thankfully, council accepted responsibility.
Noreen was content with her full and active life in ‘Sunny Sawtell’ a slogan she laid claim to, and still used today by the Tourist Bureau.
The loss of her beloved Fred from war wounds in 1966 decimated her for a time, but she moved on as one can see, knowing he would have also been a extra force in her dynamic life.