Very much a strong presence in the Cardinia community, Pakenham’s Heather Shallard could never understand how people could simply stand back and demand changes from local government.
In her time, the most valued projects were those that people in the community initiated themselves after months – and often years – of fund-raising and lobbying efforts.
Heather’s recent passing at the age of 95 has left a hole in the hearts of many who she has inspired over the years. Among her many projects, she played an instrumental advocacy role in establishing the local swimming community.
Heather’s main efforts were centred on raising the funds needed for projects that brought about the first ambulance, swimming pool and nursing home to Pakenham, each of which took many years to accomplish.
Born in 1920, Heather grew up as the youngest member in a family of six in Brunswick.
Her marriage to a farmer later brought her to settle down in Pakenham.
Heather’s sister May – 12 years her senior – had “spoilt her rotten”, taking her to dance classes from age three and swimming lessons at the Brunswick baths when she was six.
It was from her childhood years that her passion for swimming developed.
As the Great Depression set in, her father was cut back to two days of work a week. So at age 13, Heather left school with just a Merit Certificate and helped her mother with housework.
Keeping up her interests, she taught learn-to-swim classes at the Brunswick baths during her teenage years and studied typing at night school.
Her daughter Ros Hopkins recalled being among the children Heather had taught how to swim at their neighbour Lee Kenworthy’s irrigation dam to create interest in swimming and the need for a local pool.
“She didn’t want her children to miss out on the opportunities she’d had as a child growing up in the city,” Ros explained.
“But it became more than that. In the mid ’70s, her fascination in swimming led to her involvement in teaching aquatic exercises to children from Dame Mary Herring Spastic Centre so they could learn to swim and become independent in the water as well.”
On one occasion – in a crepe sun dress – she had seen a child struggling in the water, and ran to their aid and saved them.
Ros reminisced over her mother’s adoration for all things fashion: especially fabric, shoes and hats.
“She was always looking to buy something for someone,” she said.
“And when she wasn’t buying something, she was making it. Heather would sew all of mine and my brothers – Rodney, Geoff and Bill’s – clothes.”
A memorable family holiday to New Zealand in ’79 had included a flight in to Milford Sound on a light plane.
The pilot had given everyone half an hour to look around, after which Heather was nowhere to be seen.
As the pilot threatened to take off without her, Heather could be seen hurtling onto the airstrip so fast that Ros could see little gravel stones flying from behind her heels. And the reason for her tardiness? She had, of course, found a shop.
During World War II, women were called upon to fill clerical positons in the armed services so more men could be released for active service and Heather joined the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force.
After rookie training, Heather was sent to Southern Area Headquarters for service. It was there she met a flight sergeant, Sam, who had told her off after noticing her on the parade grounds with her sleeves rebelliously rolled up to get a sun tan. Little did she know she had met her future husband and they married the following year.
Sam lost both parents, a sister and a brother in close succession and opted to return to his family’s Pakenham property to begin a new chapter of his life as a dairy farmer.
So the city girl in Heather was quickly forced to adapt to her new country lifestyle.
The house had no running water, no electricity, kerosene lamps, a wood-burning stove and the nearest store for ice was in Dandenong.
She became the devoted grandmother to Ryan, Greg, Lara and Catherine.
It was no secret that Heather preferred the old Pakenham; the country town before it became an outer suburb that was in her opinion ruled by developers.
In ’79 the shire took half of her farm, claiming the land was needed for roads, recreation and drainage.
Heather fought against a number of rezonings and developments to preserve the local environment and her family’s land, one of these being the Deep Creek Reserve.
“It has been a long battle to make the council aware that it has to be kept as recreational land, but I’ll never forget the past,” she had told the Gazette in a previous interview.
“I will be pleased to see something eventuate, and I would like to see it completed in my lifetime.
“I am not jumping over the moon until I see it done.”
Such was her resolve to stand for what she believed to be right for her community.
Without a driver’s licence, Heather could sometimes be spotted driving the Ferguson tractor to various club meetings.
She would often bake for the Saturday street stalls on Main Street to support numerous causes.
Saturday night dances were the centre of the country social scene in Pakenham at the time, and local organisations had taken it in turns to run the dance and raise money.
During her later years, she formed strong friendships with members of Probus group and the ex-WAAAF Association.
Heather’s devotion to her community throughout the years was recognised in 1994 with a Citizen of the Year award.
Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.