A phone call recently from life-time Gayndah resident, Jack “Jacko” McConnell prompted me to talk about some of the amazing, unrecognised people in our town.
Jacko heard that I was “Doing some promotion thing about Gayndah” and wanted to let me know that the access road up to Gayndah’s spectacular “McConnells Lookout had now be repaired by the council (the road had received some serious washout damage during the heavy January rains).
I asked Jacko why the lookout was named after his family. I knew that the McConnell family had once owned the land but I wanted to hear his explanation. His answer: “Well, years ago the SES (State Emergency Service) came to me and asked if they could buy 10 foot square from me right on the top of the mountain for a shed to house their radio tower.” Jacko sighed and said “How much do you charge the SES? When we have an emergency, they are out there doing the hard work. They go out in the storms and put tarps on roofs – How could I charge them anything?”
Jacko then approached the local council and offered to donate one hectare of land right at the top – where we already had an unofficial local lookout spot – as long as the council worked out some arrangement with the SES.
That was 11 years ago and now there are shelter sheds, BBQs, Toilets, concrete paths, viewing platform, bitumen parking area, the SES radio tower and local (Burnett River Radio) community Radio tower – making the spectacular views over the patchwork display of orchards, along the Burnett River right to town, accessible to everyone. This spectacular spot is the place for weddings, weekend BBQs, family picnics and is always on the list of “places to see while in Gayndah”.
Jacko has lived in Gayndah all his life, he comes from a grass roots family and is (when I asked his age) “ummm 75 and a half” years old, he lives alone in a humble abode at the base of the mountain – a drive of 6km to the lookout itself – and 15kms to town. He doesn’t own a mobile phone or computer, wouldn’t have an email address or even heard about Google – not hard to believe if you know this simple-living man. He spends his days pottering around in his garden where he produces the BEST watermelons and pumpkins you have ever eaten. Many have guessed at Jacko’s gardening secrets, but none know for a fact what makes his produce so much more superior than anything else you will find. When his produce is ready, he piles them into his little car and drives around to neighbours and locals to sell and share his wares. He tells me that the watermelon plants now have fruit on them – I can’t wait – I live between Jacko’s place and town and know I can always count on a visit from him. I didn’t ask him what he will be selling them for this year, but last year I was paying the princely sum of $2 per watermelon! When I can pay around $20 for an inferior product at the grocery shop, I am only too happy to pay any price increase he asks this year.
Every second day, Jacko goes up to McConnells Lookout with his broom (kindly supplied by the council) and sweeps the paths, cleans the BBQs and checks that all is ready and looking its best for the next visitors – voluntarily. This man does this out of the goodness of his own heart and pride in his surrounds – he doesn’t do it for accolades nor does he expect remuneration. There’s a local story about a wedding which was held at the Lookout – before the toilets were in place. Jacko heard about the wedding and thought the ladies may need somewhere to relieve themselves and so set up a “ladies loo” – four posts and hessian walls surrounding a drum with toilet seat attached. What Jacko hadn’t factored in was the sillouette effect the sunset created through the hessian – but his heart was in the right place.
Visitors to the lookout can sometimes luck on meeting Jacko, who then gives them the “Jacko tour” with plenty of local history and is happy to point out local places of interest. A former Gayndah business couple would regularly go to the lookout for a Sunday reprieve before the start of their busy working week. The wife told me that they always packed a third glass in their picnic hamper to share their wine with Jacko who quite often turned up when they were there.
Jacko is a member of the “IMPACT Make Your Mark Members and Visitors Scheme” which is a fancy name for volunteers who regularly visit the retirement and aged person’s home in Gayndah. Jacko visits every month (and has been for 20 years) and takes his “tape player” and plays music for his “old darlings”. He plays old time dance music, rock and roll and country music and takes a volley ball which he passes back and forth to the residents while the music plays. His tapes of old time dance music have been compiled by Jacko himself from CDs he has purchased over the years. He tells me, he takes them home and picks out the “best” songs from them and puts them on tapes to take to the ‘home’. As a member of the IMPACT scheme, Jacko receives an allowance to pay for travel to and from the ‘home’ – around $10 each time. Jacko’s words can take the story from here: “They pay you about every three months and I get $100. Well, What am I to do? I can’t take it with me and if I put it in my pocket it only weighs my trousers down.” So Jacko takes that money and buys goodies which he takes with him on his visits. His next visit is on 24 November when the residents put on a Christmas “dinner” (lunch) for the volunteers. Jacko has bought tinsel and Christmas goodies to take along on that day to share with his “old darlings”.
Jacko has a love of music and dancing. In his heyday, he has travelled far and wide to attend old time dances – that’s where he would buy the CDs he uses now at his music days at the ‘home’. I remember the old time dances that were held regularly in Gayndah – Jacko was always there dressed in his best shirt and cleanest trousers. Jacko has ‘had a go’ at many dance trends – square dancing, bush dancing and line dancing, but his first love will always be old time dancing.
It’s crazy how you can live in one town all your life and characters like Jacko are just part of the “furniture” and we overlook what they do for our community. Community spirit is what keeps small towns like Gayndah alive. Let’s not overlook these important people any more – give them thanks, appreciate what they do for us.
Good on ya Jacko!