Faye was on a mission

By Lachlan Durling

She might have been an old-fashioned stay at home mum — except she hardly had time to stay there. Faye Berryman was simply too busy doing stuff. For anyone and everyone. And she isn't showing any signs of slowing down.

Faye Berryman is best described as a 'right now' person, and it's this attitude that has seen projects in the twin towns get off the ground in record time.

She's just one of a group of people in Echuca busy but quietly working behind the scenes to keep the many groups we have going.

Of course, she'd never take the credit, let alone take it away from anyone else; she stands by the fact community groups around town harbour some of the most supportive people.

An only child, born in Rochester and growing up on a farm in Mathoura, Faye admitted she had it pretty good.

"Col said I was spoilt when he married me — and I still am," she laughed.

But one thing always irked her, she always wanted a brother.

“I wanted someone to look after me and take me out places when I was old enough,” she said.

And while she remained an only child, she got more than she bargained for when she married into Col's family.

Just like that — boom — four brothers and three sisters in law, a ready-made family.

After she was married she finished nursing and kept the home fires burning, with the births of three kids to follow.

“I was quite happy nursing but I wanted to get married. I met Col at a St Mary's dance. I had spent 12 months working on the wards before I got married,” Faye said.

“I didn't go back and I didn't push the issue.”

She was married two weeks after her 21st birthday and three years after that the couple had their first — a baby boy.

Col and Faye had three children, a boy, a girl and then another boy — one every three years. And Faye was happy to roll the dice on a fourth child — and second daughter.

“I thought we should have another baby to get that girl (and have an even number) but Col didn't want to take the risk,” she laughed.

The family lived out at Thyra Rd with the three kids and Faye dove into every local activity and group she could.

“There was a school out there and it was a good community. When you're in a smaller community you tend to get involved in everything,” she said.

And after Sunday school, teaching religion and being part of the parents' committee, the kids had grown up and it was time to find a way to fill time.

Thankfully, there was always a school or community group calling out for more people.

“Teaching religion in Mathoura was my first serious job, and I would come into Moama too — I did that for 40 years," she said.

“I love the kids who come up and say 'I used to be in your school'.

“I thoroughly loved teaching.”

Although she was something of a group groupie, there was one gig she simply could not crack.

“I wasn't proficient enough for CWA,” Faye laughed.

But just this tip of the volunteering iceberg is proof positive when there were hard yards to be done, Faye was who you wanted standing beside you.

Although she maintains it's nothing that people before her haven't done.

And stressed she could not have done much of it by herself.

“Each group of people you go to Echuca are marvellous — they're good with everything," she said.

“We have had chaplaincy for quite a while. Our minister wanted young people to be more involved in church. I saw an article (in the Riverine Herald) and thought we could get one going in Echuca.

“That went on for 35 years and we had people doing everything — it was a real community effort.

“You never feel not wanted. There are always people asking for some sort of help and things.”

Faye and Col then moved to Echuca when Col turned 60, where the pair felt right at home.

But she stops any suggestion that she was the one who instigated Echuca Chaplaincy.

“No, it wasn't just me. There had to be a lot of people supporting people,” she insisted.

It was a group of people, from larger-than-life characters to those happy to beaver away in the shadows of anonymity — all of them capable of doing great things.

“Our old treasurer used to write letters to send off with the money. When he died they said 'we're going to miss Keith's letters',” she said.

“And we had such a good co-operation with the churches in town; everyone had their own schools to look after but still supported us well.”

As for her most recent fulltime job of being a mother (and grandmother), Faye has one piece of sage advice.

“Don't believe it when people tell you you're only a mother for 18 years. You have to look after them for at least 40,” she laughed.

Her daughter Fiona studied aged care and lived at home before moving out and meeting Phillip Stone, the man she would marry.

The pair were the first to give Faye a grandchild — Ashley Stone. He was diagnosed with autism but as soon as he could sleep through the night he was staying with Faye and Col in Echuca.

Faye laughed as she remembered the first few times Ashley stayed over, making sure she and Col had their wits about them.

“He was always up at 4 am,” she reminisced.

And he opened up a whole new community to the family.

Soon enough they were bouncing between activities and events at Echuca Specialist School (ESS) and Community Living and Respite Services (CLRS) Echuca.

“The kids (at ESS) are just gorgeous. To begin with I was Col's wife, then I became Wesley's mum and now everyone knows me as Ash's grandma,” Faye said, laughing about her different titles.

Old volunteers never die, they don't even fade away. They simply keep helping.

From teaching religion and being part of the parents committee for her kids, she's now volunteering at CLRS and ferrying Ashley to and from ESS.

“It's good having things to do, I'm never worrying about getting going in the morning,” she laughed.

“I belong at that school and it's amazing to see what the teachers do. They put in 200 per cent there and it can get very involved.”

And if they need a hand with anything, they've got the right woman, mother, grandmother and volunteer on tap.