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Byron Shire
March 1, 2021

Local lad turns 99

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Story & photo Eve Jeffery

WP-Wally-Holm-Eve-Jeffery-wpRecently turning 99, Wally Holm says he has a lot to be grateful for, mostly for the wonderful life he has lived in the north-eastern end of Byron Shire.

Having travelled all the way from Finland when he was just six, apart from a move from Mullumbimby to Main Arm and then to Billinudgel, Wally has pretty much stayed put.

He never considered living in any other part of the world.

Though a little hard of hearing, Wally is as sharp as a tack and still leads a fairly active life – he spends about two hours a day ‘supervising’ the chores son Lance and his wife Wendy attend to on their cattle property.

Wally’s advice for the young people of today is fairly simple. ‘I don’t have any advice for young people – they should keep going to church every week and the good lord will tell them what to do.’

Wally’s neighbour Evelina told Echonetdaily some stories about his trip to and life on the north coast.

‘Walter Holm left Finland in 1920 with his parents and five siblings. In their country, when young boys turned 16 it was compulsory to go to the USSR for military training which was quite brutal and many did not survive.  So their father decided to leave their homeland before his eldest son reached that age.  Wally’s maternal grandfather, Mr Back, prayed for their safety.

‘A mine sweeper went before the ship, the ‘Ariadne’ to protect them. Any mines bobbing in the water were shot. In London they waited while their next ship, the ‘Benalla’ was fumigated and then set sail for Adelaide where the family celebrated Christmas Day. Three days after leaving Adelaide, there was a fire on the ‘Benalla’. The family transferred to another vessel – the Wollongbah, which took them through to Sydney and then north to Byron Bay in cyclonic conditions. Everyone was sick. Soon after leaving Byron Bay, the Wollongbah was washed up on the beach and its shell is still there today. Grandfather Back’s prayers were answered and they arrived safely at Mullumbimby on January 3rd, 1921.

‘Wally’s uncle, William Andrew (W. A.) Back had arrived in Australia in 1902. He built many houses in the area, one is the magnificent  ‘Cedar Holm’ house, which still stands in Mullumbimby today. Wally and his family celebrated their arrival with a meal at Cedar House.

‘In the 1920’s the main street of the town was gravel. The rest of Mullumbimby was a grass paddock. Everyone had a house cow. Some cows would roam down the street day and night, so if you left the door open, you could find a cow inside! The Holms family bought a farm at Main Arm in 1921 and lived there till 1927 when they bought 275 acres in Billinudgel. The farm now forms part of Ocean Shores.

‘In 1928, the family were milking cows at 6am when Kingsford Smith and Charlie Ulm flew over their milking bales, and circled Billinudgel.

‘Wally remembers playing football for Billinudgel. Middle Pocket had a rival team with Lloyd Slowgrove, the Lings, Iveys, Noters and Corowa boys. These games often ended in a brawl! The Mullumbimby team used to travel on the nine am train to Billinudgel, play their game and return home on the four o’clock train. Billinudgel team used to walk to Mullumbimby once a month to play, then have a light meal and go to the pictures. The movies would finish at 11 pm and the boys would walk home to Billinudgel, to arrive just in time to milk the cows on Sunday morning! Things improved somewhat when Ernie Pearson bought a model T Ford truck. There were no bitumen roads though and plenty of potholes. Often the team had to jump out and push the truck over the hills. Their footy anthem was, “Any plum, any pud are the nudgel lads any good?”’

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  1. Great story…we should have more of these recollections and historical accounts of our early years. My Mum and Dad came from Byron Bay, one having been born there and the other in Lismore. Both their parents were employed by NORCO.
    The Wollongbar’s boilers and rudder are still embedded near Main Beach as they have been since the decade my parents were born. S J Dening in his “History of Byron Bay (1850 – 1966) records the foundering of the Wollongbar on 14th May, 1921. The ship grounded on a sand ridge that had formed, and before the vessel “could get weigh on(into a gale)she bumped round into a broadside position, and the big waves pushed her ashore.”


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