The Monaro township of Nimmitabel wanted a ‘siren’ to pull in the tourist traffic but didn’t expect a big brass bell it plans to erect in the main street to create a ding-dong battle.
Residents on the Snowy Mountains Highway call their town ‘Nimmity’ - so the Nimmitabel Lions club thought of the concept of giving ‘Nimmity’ a bell. A community fundraising campaign was launched which produced a $60,000 fund - some of which was supported by local state member John Barilaro, the NSW Deputy Premier. The NSW Government also donated $10,000 towards the purchase of the bell.
Nimmitabel Murray Greys breeder Howard Charles, “Kydrabah”, president of the bell committee, sounded out Australian churches for a bell, but to no avail. He eventually sourced a bell in the United States, a 1.8 tonne clanger, made in New York in 1920. It was solid stuff and took $30,000 to get to the town from consignor Brosamer’s Bells base in Michigan to Nimmitabel. Mr Charles and the Lions club set about finding it a permanent home. Nimmitabel held its first ‘Nimmity Bell Festival’ in October 2015. Mr Barilaro was a guest and rang the bell to much applause from the 700 people in attendance. It seemed the sweet sounds of the bell and its concept had soothed the townsfolk but it was not to be when it came to the crescendo - where the bell should be erected.
It’s been a long battle. The bell has floated about town for two years, at one stage in the show pavilion, and now at the side of the Federal Hotel, forlornly sitting in a trailer, with a makeshift sign. Quite often, grey nomads, and tourists, from as far away as Canada, stop to have their photo taken by it - just the kind of thing that warms Mr Charles’s heart.
But a bid by the Lions Club to erect the bell in the main street on a plinth met with 20 dissonant voices when the development application was put to Snowy-Monaro council this year. Among the chorus of objectors, was from the women, quietly working on quilts and cakes, in the Country Women’s Association hall right next to where the bell was planned to be erected (on the corner of Clarke St and the Snowy Mountains highway). The CWA women were concerned their quiet work would be over-run by bell ringing.
Some Nimmities (not Nimbies) were also in fear of any “mug or drunk”, as one local said, that might come down the street and ring the bell. (Some wag suggested that was not a problem, as Nimmitabel didn’t have many drunks). They were also concerned it would be rung on the hour, every hour of every day. A petition against the bell was struck up, and the Snowy-Monaro considered the objections and refused the application. The Lions set about quelling the upset, offering to muffle the bell. Mr Charles said misinformation had been put out about when the bell would be rung.
The new proposal is that the bell be rung at 12 midday every day, “just as they do in a lot of European towns”, says Mr Charles, with the bell locked at other times, and muffled by pink batts inside. Mr Charles said this would be on a trial basis - and totally up to Nimmitabel businesses as to when they wanted the bell rung. The names of 100 pioneer families would be put on a plaques at the bottom of the bell plinth, which will stand 4.5m high - that high partly to deter unwanted bellringers.
Mr Charles has no doubt the bell will be a big tourist attraction if the new DA goes through. It’s not that Nimmitabel hasn’t gone ‘out there’ before to attract tourists. A large statue of an elephant was erected by the Nimmitabel bakery in a playground many years ago to some raised eyebrows - but now it’s just part of the furniture. Mr Charles hopes the bell will be accepted in the same way. The only issue now might be - who will be Nimmitabel’s chief bellringer ? Job vacant at the moment, says Mr Charles .