The army has brought new hope to Toomelah.
What that means to the community was passed on by Land Council Chairman, Carl McGrady to Australia’s 53rd Defence Minister Marise Payne, on Thursday. An emotional Mr McGrady spoke of the “new hope” for the tiny village, which has been invaded, in the best possible sense, by a swarm of Army personnel.
Toomelah is a ant-nest of activity. A few hundred metres down the road, past the one-lane bridge into the village, which was opened with much fanfare and touted as a new era for Toomelah almost 30 years ago, a grader is the first sign of the industry taking place inside. Once over you are met by a myriad of signposts and directions and more graders. And if you take the right road, to the left, you come across a steel skeleton rising heavenwards. It’s an impressive structure, a shiny steel man-made monolith, the new multi-purpose centre, which will be the centrepiece of the Army’s achievement when it finally packs up and leaves in three months time. At least on the surface. But what the Army has done for Toomelah goes beyond skin-deep.
Somewhat ironically, the multi-purpose centre looms over a less ambitious project, but one which has deep meaning to Toomelah residents.The old church is also being renovated and returned to former glory. That’s also the hope of Carl McGrady for his community. “When the Army leaves I want to say, ‘thank you’. We don’t want to have to ask them back,” he said. He speaks emotionally about the change which has already occurred within Toomelah: new enthusiasm, that “new hope” for the future, a belief that there IS a future, and the behavior of children and younger residents which has improved.
“There’s still some work to be done but we’re working on it,” he said. That “new hope” was epitomised by two young Toomelah girls, the daughters of two of, not just Toomelah legends, but bush legends. Mal “Sunboy” Peckham and Ewan McGrady have been inspirations for local footballers for years. Ewan is a former NSW rugby league Rothman’s medal winner, while Mal is the coach of the all-conquering Macintyre Warriors made up predominantly of players from Toomelah and Boggabilla. Their daughters Aleah Peckham and Makiily McGrady met the Minister, Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell. Both were excited about their futures. Perhaps that says it all.