Sixty years is a long time; indeed almost a lifetime. When we think of these significant anniversaries, they are almost reduced to rings on a tree, marks to be notched up. But this is to deny the very essence of the celebration; the human element that makes up all those years.
In 1958, when eight families and Dr and Mrs Pohl established Inala, a Rudolf Steiner inspired school for children with disabilities in a stately home called Karimi on Castle Hill Road, Australia was a very different place.
The baby boom was in full swing, the suburban sprawl had begun, and we were living the Australian dream. Throwing off the conservatism of the past, rock ‘n’ roll was in and teens were going wild for Johnny O’Keefe. Television was in its infancy and would be black and white for some time yet. Pounds and shillings were the currency and Menzies, Australia’s longest serving prime minister, still had another eight years in office.
It’s hard to believe that this was when many of the women at the Inala Fair this weekend, mothers themselves of children now in their sixties, were facing the challenges of raising a child with disabilities in a time when there was very little support or alternatives to institutionalised care.
Together, parents cleared land and helped in numerous other practical ways to provide facilities and the mothers’ club came to the fore, providing support and community for each other and their families, and most importantly, much-needed funds. There were op shops in Newtown and art shows, fashion parades and, of course, the renowned Inala Fair.
‘With scarce government support, fundraising was crucial to Inala’s survival,’ said Martin Porteous, Joint CEO.
Naturally, the fair started off very small. It used to be very refined, with tea and sandwiches on the verandah and at the very beginning, a local policeman to keep an eye on the takings, but it was soon realised that such reinforcements weren’t necessary.
Heather Ryan has been at Inala since her son David was five; part of the fair for the last fifty-five years. She remembers the parents taking turns as fete convenor, organising the fair, and most importantly, arranging for someone to open the day.
‘One year I asked Margaret Whitlam to open the fair. They were doing their campaigning, just before Gough Whitlam became prime minister. We’ve had film stars, and TV stars when Channel 7 was at Epping. In fact one well-known TV star arrived by helicopter one year right here on the lawn,’ Heather said.
‘The fair’s always been an important day when the public and the neighbours come. Students from Cherrybrook Technology High School and Tangara School for Girls volunteer both in the lead-up and on the day. We’ve always been supported by the local Lions Club, and Beecroft Rotary; we’ve always had such great local support.’
Long-term supporters Damien Tudehope, Member for Epping, and his wife Diane were at the fair as usual this year and Julian Leeser MP, Federal Member for Berowra, also enjoyed the day. Blanche d’Alpuget, who has been patron of Inala for almost twenty years, loves coming to the fair every year. ‘It is a great opportunity to get an early start on Christmas presents,’ said Blanche.
But it wouldn’t be the same without the mother’s club, who are still an integral part of organising stalls for the day.
‘We’re all galvanised to get friends to empty their houses and send things to us,’ says Barbara Gibb whose son James, now fifty, was just seven when the family came to Inala.
‘The most important thing, apart from raising money, is it’s a fantastic bonding time. Every year we all come together as a family and as a community; everyone gets together.
‘We come back, we find the energy and find that it is just so lovely to be welcomed by other people who are in the same boat. It’s very reassuring,’ she says.
Indeed, Inala may mean place of peace, but it may well mean place of belonging too. For all these families – from 1958 right up to today – have chosen Inala as a place where their child, whatever their age, stage of life or ability, can thrive and be cared for, nurtured and accepted, just as they are.
And nowhere was this more apparent than at this year’s fair, where the Inala and local community shared in the beautiful spring day, together enjoyed the entertainment and bands, a range of food, gifts, handmade artworks, clothing books, plants and more throughout the day. Friends caught up; siblings, cousins, friends and staff helped out; children played; and there were even birthday celebrations to be enjoyed among friends.
‘Community has always been at the heart of Inala,’ reflected Porteous on a day that embodied the vibrant, inclusive and generous nature of everyone involved.
‘We would like to thank everyone for coming, for their support and for being part of Inala.’
Congratulations to our fair raffle winners: Nolan (ticket #2626): 1st prize; P Lan (ticket #2312): 2nd prize; L Boltwood (ticket #3006): 3rd prize; Janvi (ticket #2252): 4th prize; M Robson (ticket #3223): 5th prize; M Bushell (ticket #3698): 6th prize.
The lucky winner of our jelly bean competition was J Barton.