It is with the most profound regret that we must advise our many friends and supporters of the tragic death of Mrs Valma Plant, OAM, our League's highly esteemed Honourable Secretary and Honorary Life Member. Valma died at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne on August 16th, 2000, as a result of injuries sustained when she was struck by a car while crossing the road in front of her house in Traralgon on the evening of July 28th.
Valma was one of the Walhalla community's best friends, and her work for our group and many others throughout West Gippsland and the LaTrobe Valley area earned her a long-overdue Order of Australia Medal in the Australia Day 2000 Honours list. Born in Walhalla, she was the source of an abundant store of knowledge about the district's history, and that of its identities, as well as the surrounding area.
The last time we met, for example, I stayed after a committee meeting at the Mechanics Institute to share lunch with her as we sometimes did. We fell to talking about our common interest in the Grand Ridge Road that runs along the top of the scenic Strzelecki Ranges, south of the Prince's Highway. I knew that she occasionally worked as a volunteer guide at the Tarra Bulga National Park visitor's centre at Balook, so I asked her what she knew about a place that had aroused my curiosity called Gunyah (Gunyah Gunyah on some maps, and Gunyah Junction on others), where one of the roads up from Foster joins the Grand Ridge Road.
It's a measure of the breadth of her knowledge of the history of the area that she was able to tell me about an "old spinster" she'd known when she herself was a child, who had been the daughter of the Gunyah publican in the days when there had been a thriving community there, including their 14-room hotel -- today there is only bush, with some distinctive, exotic trees standing out from the background, and a sign marking the overgrown site where the school once was.
Over sandwiches, Valma told me the stories that she had been told, about when this "old spinster" had helped her father on "market days" -- because there had been a cattleyard attached to the hotel -- to serve up over a hundred sittings of three-course lunches at a time, at one shilling per serve. Today there's no sign of the hotel, which opened in 1907, and very few other traces of the community that surrounded it.
And that's really the lesson we should draw from Valma's untimely demise. History didn't start on any particular date, and it didn't finish 10 years or even 10 minutes ago. History just sort of happens, and it keeps on happening, while you're busy getting on with other things. We have to treasure our older citizens, and draw on the immensely valuable links that they provide with a past that will otherwise disappear without a trace. Valma recognised this fact from some way back, and worked ceaselessly and selflessly to preserve the heritage of the town that she'd grown up in. I'm sure that I'm not the only member of our committee who was originally drawn in by Valma's vigorous example.
Funeral at Traralgon
Valma's funeral service was held at the Uniting Church in Traralgon on August 21st, and must have ranked as one of the biggest seen there in quite some time, as it was attended by over 500 friends and family. Cars filled the large church car-park, and others were parked for hundreds of meters up the street.
At the end of the service, and before people began to leave, I went up the street to take the above photo of the overflow from the church's quite-sizeable car-park, out of sight in the distance. I was approached by a couple of local kids (on the right in the picture above), who, clearly unaccustomed to seeing such large numbers of people attending the church at one time -- never mind on a Monday -- asked me what all the cars were doing there, at what was surely one of Traralgon's largest funerals in a long time.
Walhalla Memorial Service
An extraordinary meeting of the Committee of the Heritage and Development League subsequently convened a memorial service at St John's Church of England in Valma's beloved Walhalla (above), which was duly held on September 17th, and filled the church to overflowing.
Following this service, her ashes were scattered at a ceremony to inaugurate a memorial garden that was constructed and planted in her honour with local pioneer flora by her many friends and admirers in the town.
You can find the garden under Walhalla's most famous landmark, our band rotunda, where a brass plaque now marks the spot.
The committee extends its most hearltfelt sympathies to Valma's loving and supportive husband, Noel. We know that all who met Valma will join us in mourning her passing, and the loss of a tireless worker for the community, resting at last.