AS its name would suggest, Tenterfield’s Where Old Friends Meet is a group of “old friends” who, for the past 50 years, have come together at the Presbyterian Hall for an hour of singing, musical performances and “luscious” afternoon tea.
This year marks the group’s 50th anniversary, and while the current members are very proud of this milestone there is concern among some of the “friends” that the group needs to attract younger performers and audience members if it is to see through the next 50 years.
The group was initiated in 1957 by Quota president Nell Sommerlad, who brought the idea back to Tenterfield after attending a Quota conference in Bowral on the south coast of NSW.
Current president of Quota, Val Gardiner, said Mrs Sommerlad put the idea forward at a Quota meeting, gained the support of other local community groups and by 1962, Old Friends Meet was born.
No minutes were kept during the earlier meetings, although the gatherings today are run to a program.
“Everybody arrives at two o’clock, we welcome everybody and sing our welcome song and then we will start with our musical program,” entertainment officer Fay Daly said.
Locals who are known to have some musical talent are invited to perform for the audience which is made up of local guests and clients from Millrace Hostel for the Aged.
Over the years, various local artists have been invited to show off their talents either as singers, musicians or poetry readers.
There have been hundreds of performers in the 50 years, most of them “just ordinary people” showing off their own set of unique talents.
“I think it would be really hard to single out one or two people because I think everybody who comes to perform here gives it their best,” piano player Pat Haddock said.
“Most of them are just ordinary people, they aren’t professionals or anything.”
Mrs Haddock said she was approached to perform at the group shortly after moving to Tenterfield from Sydney.
“I do it because I love it,” she said.
“Music is a language that everybody can understand. An old person might not be able to talk a lot but when you start singing or playing some music you’ll see them tapping their feet, or their hands following along with you.”
Both Pat and Fay admit that they like to play and sing the “old time songs” like The Court of King Caractacus by Rolf Harris and Danny Boy because they are songs they and their older audience remember.
The group still like to hear from the younger voices
In the early days, Quotarian and local music teach Alma Crook often invited her students along to perform.
“Alma would bring along her students, the ones who might not have performed in the Eisteddfod, and they would perform for us, singing and playing. Everybody loved it,” member Daphne Struck said.
Christmas is also a special time for Where Old Friends Meet, with the choirs from both Sir Henry Parkes Memorial Public School and St Joseph’s Primary School invited to sing carols.
While singing and music performance make up the bulk of the afternoon’s program, Pat Haddock said the group offered much more than just a chance to sing and play.
“It is also about conversations we get out amongst them, sit down and talk to each other, ask how their day has been and what news they’ve got. It is a great chance to catch up with everyone,” she said.
“We’re called old friends but really anybody can be an old friend, can’t they? For new people who come to town it is a chance for them to become part of the group and get to know more people in Tenterfield.”
In 2000, the group was presented with a Premier’s Award for community service.
Fay Daly said they were very proud of the award because it recognised the efforts of the group’s many volunteers.
Val Dearden has been one such individual, organising the lucky door prizes, organising plates of fresh fruit for the winners and birthdays for the month.
The hall can also get very cold in the winter, and it is Mrs Dearden who organises the wood for the fire.
Mrs Daly said an important part of the birthday celebrations would be the chance to pay tribute to these volunteers, past and present.
“We want to pay tribute to all the people who over the 50 years, have performed and contributed their time and efforts because if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t still be going,” she said.
In the past 50 years Where Old Friends Meet has received help from some 17 local community organisations and non-for-profit groups including: the Show Auxillary ladies, civilian widows, 2NZ club, Tenterfield Quota, the Red Cross ladies, the ambulance ladies, Catholic ladies, the Presbyterian ladies, Lions ladies, Seventh Day Adventist ladies, Legacy and the Church of England ladies.
Fay said each month, one of these groups had supplied the group with afternoon tea, free of charge.
Seven of the 17 groups have since disappeared as a result of having too few members.
“It has been sad to see some of these groups disappear and that many of the members are no longer here to celebrate but that is the way things are,” Fay said.
“We are still a friendly group of people, we’re just one big family and would love for everybody to come along and become part of it.”