River constant through changing face of Bega

STAN and Joan West have lived in the Bega Valley for many years, seeing many changes over their time, and both agree there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.

Stan was born on July 20, 1934, in Hay, one of 12 children - of whom only two were girls.

In 1931, his two eldest brothers drowned in the river in front of his pregnant mother, dragged away by the current as they couldn’t swim.

In 1946, his whole family moved to Bega, where they lived in a small house where the bamboo forest by the Bega River is.

“We must have gone to sleep standing up there, it was so small,” Stan says.

He recalls back then Bega was “very hot”, dusty and dry.

He attended the Bega school for three months before his family moved again and “wandered the North West” for a while, rabbiting and fencing.

Aged 17 in 1951, he left and, with one of his brothers, moved to Wolumla, which was just a “tiny village”.

In 1952, he moved to Bega and began to work for the County Council electricity undertaking, before moving to Eden in 1966 to start a line crew, returning to Bega in 1975 as a line foreman.

Joan was born on December 19, 1935, and has lived in the Bega Valley all her life, growing up in a farm in Brogo beside the river.

During her schooling years the biggest part of the current Bega Primary School was then the high school.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to leave the Valley,” she said.

In 1952, she married Stan after meeting him through football and dances, and while they had two boys, sadly one passed away aged just 31.

Bega has “changed dramatically” since Stan first came here, with only a population of 3000.

Stan has “always had a fascination” with rivers, and used to play football down on the sand of the Bega River.

The junction of the Bega and Brogo Rivers was known as the swimming pool of Bega, and Stan recalls it was nice and clean in those days and “everybody used to use it”.

As the water was so deep at the junction, the Surf Club would use it for training.

One of Stan’s worst memories was in 1952 when there were bushfires all over the Bega Valley, and it was so hot “the air seemed to be on fire”.

Stan was working in Wolumla when the fires started, and came into Bega to help protect the town and restore the power.

There were also devastating floods in 1971, during which the Tathra Bridge washed away, and he spent a couple of weeks trying to get power back on in Eden, and days doing the same in Tathra.

These days Stan is a hobby farmer running a small herd of beef cattle, doing so for the last 23 years, and both he and his wife share a strong love of golf.

What changes in the Bega district stick in your memory the most? Would you like to share your story? Email ben.smyth@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

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