Volunteers answering bell call

November 24, 2022 BY

Ringing St Paul's bells. Calvin Chai (from left), Inga Griffiths-Hunt, David Heyes and Emily Nation with baby Lucy. Photo: SUPPLIED

TWO of St Paul’s longstanding bell ringers are confident they will find the next generation of people who will keep the centuries’ old tradition going when they hang up the ropes.

David and Mary Heyes say they were pleased with the more than 30 people who turned up for an open day earlier this month at the Latrobe Terrace church and made the climb into the belfry to learn how to ring the eight bells that were first installed in 1866.

With 60 years of bellringing experience, the husband and wife took the apprentice ringers through the intricacies, skill and team work required to create the unique changes, or “tunes”, that have rung out over the city every Sunday for almost 156 years.

“I met my wife through bell ringing, way, way back in 1965 at St Paul’s cathedral in Melbourne,” Mr Heyes said of Mary.

Since then the pair estimate they’ve trained over one hundred people since the bells at St Paul’s in Geelong were restored in 1982, but they worry the unique tradition may be in danger if they don’t find someone to take over.

“People have moved away, had health issues or gone to university,” Mr Heyes said.

“One who we trained now rings bells in Canberra where he lives, and our daughter in Perth has married a bell ringer.

“Normally it takes someone about three months just to learn how to ring and control the bells, and to be safe.”

Originally cast in 1864 at the Whitechapel bell foundry in Great Britain, the bells weighing between 192 and 670 kilograms are the only true English bells in Geelong

“There’s a few in Melbourne, two in Ballarat and one in Bendigo, but they’re not ringing at the moment due to renovations,” Mr Heyes said.

Following on from the open day at the start of the month, three people had an introductory session at the church last weekend and the Heyes are hopeful they’ll continue on.

“The reason it’s so important to preserve for me, is it’s not music, it’s not maths, it’s not physical or social wellbeing, it’s all those things combined,” Ms Heyes said.

“We don’t use music, we memorise sequences of numbers and it really exercises the brain and physically you’ve got to be reasonably fit, it certainly keeps your upper body muscles in order, and you meet people.

“It’s a combination of things, there’s always something more you can learn. We’ve been ringing for over 60 years and we’re still learning things and I don’t think I’ll ever not learn something in the bell tower.

“It’s a skill, an art and a great hobby.”