A look back at 2023

December 31, 2023 BY

India Munari from Munari Wines was one of many producers and venues that took part in Heathcote on Show over the King’s Birthday long weekend. Photo: PETER WEAVING


All about sport

THE new year started with a roar as power-boat enthusiasts gathered for the Eppalock Gold Cup.

In a day jam-packed with speed and thrills, there was also unexpected drama when a hydroplane burst into flames after its fuel line disconnected at the end of its race.

Luckily only the engine bay was damaged and the driver escaped unharmed.

Former Heathcote local Tayla French was still finding out what it meant to be a harness-racing champion after taking out the Haras des Trotteurs Australasian Young Drivers Championship in late 2022.

While Sally Duncan’s services to basketball and people with a disability were acknowledged with an OAM.

On Australia Day, the Dennis Gleeson MND Superchallenge hit a milestone when it reached a cumulative fundraising total of $100,000 for MND Victoria over eight years.

The charity bowls tournament attracted competitors from far and wide, including World Bowls CEO Neil Dalrymple.


This image of a boat fire at January’s Eppalock Gold Cup came first in the news photography division of November’s Victorian Country Press Association awards, circulation under 2000 class. Photo: STEVE WOMERSLEY



Swings and roundabouts

Prep grade students took their seats in classrooms across the district and began their formal education journey in early February.

For sporty youngsters there was a junior clinic and sign-up day at Barrack Reserve hosted by Heathcote FNC.

Despite a soggy start, the ground was packed with eager new players and seasoned returnees.

Mid-month brought the disappointing news that the planned Heathcote dementia village, Gilbruk Place, would not go ahead.

Advance Heathcote president Peter Maine cited the combined effects of COVID-19 and service-delivery impacts stemming from Royal Commission into Aged Care as insurmountable hurdles.

“We are very disappointed with this result after years of planning and hard work,” he said.

Heathcote winemakers were still playing a waiting game in late February after a chilly start to the growing season.

The region’s vineyards would normally be a hive of activity by then, but this year everything was on hold waiting for the fruit to ripen.


Reserves football coach Alex Williamson with young fan Georgia at the Heathcote FNC junior sign-up day. Photo: BARBARA SUNGAILA




Healthy Heathcote

March was all about recognising the achievements of our local health workers.

Meg Carroll shared the amazing story of how teamwork saved both her and baby son Spencer when she went into premature labour at 33 weeks.

She was full of praise for both the onsite team and everyone who came in to help in the middle of the night.

“It’s country town heart right there,” she said.

The emergency birth team, who dealt with both the emergency birth and the serious medical issues that arose not long after, was Heathcote Health’s employee of the year.

Maintenance supervisor Frank Dailey and district nurse Karen Wilson were made Heathcote Health life governors in recognition of their exceptional commitment to their work.

They both spoke about the joy they got from helping other people.

“It’s a tough gig, district nursing,” Ms Wilson said. “But it’s very rewarding and it’s where my heart is.”


Meg and Daniel Carroll shared the inspirational story of baby Spencer’s challenging emergency birth at Heathcote Health. Photo: STEVE WOMERSLEY



Time to celebrate

The McIvor Times hit a milestone on 2 April when it celebrated its 160th birthday.

This was marked by a series of decade-by-decade articles exploring the highlights and lowlights of the district.

Photos from 1906, taken by then editor George Robinson, also helped provide a glimpse into the Heathcote of yesteryear.

Meanwhile local young gridiron player Gabe Bradshaw shared his love of the game after being selected for the under 20 state team, the Junior Eagles.

A “mini show” with qualifying competitions for art and craft, along with yard dog trials saw the showgrounds come alive towards the end of the month.

After three years of agricultural show cancellations, due to COVID and flooding, this was a chance for locals to make a bid for this year’s statewide contest.

The yard dog competition, originally scheduled for November 2022, attracted about 90 entries and provided country-style entertainment for a small, but enthusiastic, crowd.


Young gridiron player Gabe Bradshaw spoke about his passion for the game in April. Photo: PETER WEAVING



Serving the community

Tooborac Fire Brigade recognised the dedication of several longstanding members in early May.

Among the 58 certificates and medals handed out, were 65-year and 60-year medals presented to Phillip McHarg and Hec Hagan respectively.

Mr McHarg said the camaraderie was one of the best things about being a brigade member.

“It’s mateship and friends, good people who are proud of wearing the yellow overalls,” he said.

For Mr Hagan, firefighting had been part of his life for as long as he could remember.

“My uncle was brigade captain and we even garaged the fire truck on our property,” he said.

In late May Acting Sergeant Holly Lembke was keen to connect with the wider Heathcote community after taking up a posting at the local police station.

“My passion is community policing,” she said. “As corny as it sounds, I love helping people.”

Sergeant Lembke was appointed permanently to Heathcote later in the year.


Tooborac Fire Brigade members were honoured at a medal presentation ceremony in May. Photo: STEVE WOMERSLEY



Putting it all on show

Heathcote on Show was the big news in early June when visitors flocked to the region over the King’s Birthday long weekend.

More than 25 venues offered up a range of activities including wine tasting, gourmet food, music and olive picking.

Heathcote Tourism and Development president Peter Young said the event had been a great success with people coming from both Melbourne and country areas.

Creative locals were celebrated in an interview with Courthouse Crafts president Alison Jeavons.

The Heathcote institution is almost 30 years old, but had been under threat of imminent eviction.

However, it received a reprieve when the planned Heathcote Civic Precinct was put on hold in the 2023/24 COGB budget.

Ms Jeavons spoke about the importance of the group for many of its members.

“Everybody looks after everybody else, so somebody’s a bit under the weather and everyone’s checking up and making sure they’re okay,” she said.



Quiet achievers

Local teenager Ava Harris was celebrated with a cover story in early July.

She had recently won the Malcolm Holding Memorial Trophy for Best Junior Handler in the Merino section at the Victorian Sheep Show in Ballarat.

Her father Alan also collected ribbons for three reserve champions and a champion fine March shorn ewe.

Buddies Op Shop, based at St Johns Anglican Church, also made the front page with an inspiring tale of community support and fellowship.

Co-ordinator Howard Mason spoke about the importance of the shop as a place of hospitality, listening and engagement, as well as being a source of low-cost goods.

Artists Elaine Van Dyk and Judy Hutchins were busy preparing for their upcoming exhibition, Same Country, Different Interpretations.

The pair explained how, despite their diverse backgrounds and different styles, they had come to collaborate, and how this had led to a successful application to exhibit at Dudley House in Bendigo.





Stargazer Norm Matyson graced the cover in mid-August and shared his passion for astronomy with our readers.

Mr Matyson and his wife retired to Heathcote because of its proximity to the Astronomical Society of Victoria’s dark sky site at Ladys Pass, north of Heathcote.

He talked about his role as a section director for the ASV, and how it resulted in him often setting up a telescope in public and inviting locals to come and look through it.

Domaine Asmara winery’s expansion into spirit production, under the In Good Spirits label, was rewarded with two gold medals, plus a silver at the Melbourne International Spirits Competition.

Owner, winemaker and distiller, Andreas Greiving spoke about his love of fresh ingredients and a dedication to quality that includes making his own base spirit from the winery’s grapes.

The district’s prep grade students celebrated 100 days of school with activities to mark the occasion.


Heathcote Primary School prep students celebrated 100 days of schooling in August. Photo: BARBARA SUNGAILA



That one day in September

After a stellar season at the top of the ladder, hopes were high when Heathcote took on Mount Pleasant for the HDFNL senior football premiership.

They were, however, dashed when the Mounts turned a one-point deficit at three-quarter time into a 19-point lead by the final siren.

The Heathcote Dementia Alliance unveiled their prototype transportable care villa specifically designed for people living with dementia.

It was the result of four years of consultation, community fundraising and research.

HDA president Sandra Slatter said the villa, known as Costerfield House, would serve as a showcase and living lab for the next 12 months and would then be gifted to Heathcote Health for respite tourism.

Pub choirs were celebrated with a story about Jessie May’s monthly sessions at Palling Bros Brewery.

The singing teacher and solo artist started the sessions after moving to Heathcote and realising there was limited live entertainment in the area.




School days

Past students came from across Australia to mark Tooborac Primary School’s 150th birthday in early October.

The oldest living former pupil, 97-year-old Alan Hayes, shared the cover with present day youngest learner Matilda Bonnici Psaila.

The day was also an opportunity for the wider community to explore the upgrade works at the school.

In Heathcote, parents and staff at both primary schools were up in arms at a decision to discontinue funding for crossing supervisors.

The town’s three crossings are jointly supported by VicRoads and the City of Greater Bendigo to the tune of $20,000 each per year.

But after claiming the crossings were under used, the state authority pulled the pin in term three.

Holy Rosary principal Paul Dullard said this was a disappointing setback after the school’s promotion of the Safe Routes to School project.

They are now working with a City of Greater Bendigo representative on an attempt to secure ongoing funding.




It’s showtime!

After three successive years of cancellations, the Heathcote Show provided a fun day out for both locals and those from further afield.

Organisers described it as a resounding success after more than 1250 people came through the gates on Melbourne Cup Day.

Show society president Alan Harris cited the fine weather and multiple entertainment options as factors which helped make the show a hit.

Destination restaurant Chauncy was named as Regional Restaurant of the Year by The Age Good Food Guide.

Louis Naepels and Tess Murray opened the venue two years ago and were awarded an impressive two hats in 2022.

Chauncy is housed in Heathcote’s oldest building, the historically significant former survey office.

The McIvor Times came away from the Victorian Country Press Association awards with two photography gongs.

Peter Weaving cover promoting January’s MND Superchallenge and Steve Womersley’s photo of the Eppalock Gold Cup boat fire were both winners in their categories.


Father Peter Ferwenda, principal Paul Dullard, Paul Desmond, Bishop Shane Mackinlay and Bendigo MP Lisa Chesters outside the new Nagle Centre at Holy Rosary Primary School. Photo: SANDRA JAMES



Rallying for a good cause

The Royal Flying Doctor Service Community Transport received a boost of almost $2500 after Heathcote locals Mary Beedle and Michelle Mclachlan took part in the annual Massive Murray Paddle.

They were part of the Chicks with Attitude team and spent five days on the river paddling from Yarrawonga to Gunbower.

Locals rallied to the call when the community carols were threatened with cancellation due to a lack of performers.

The list of those prepared to front the audience grew from four to more than 25 overnight after a social media post announced the annual singalong performance in Barrack Reserve would not go ahead.

Federal Member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters, was the guest of honour at the opening of Holy Rosary Primary School’s Nagle Centre.

The project delivered a combination of new construction and renovation to an existing building to create new classrooms, a reception area, administration offices, staff facilities and storage.