Alan Carlyle OAM is a gentleman in every sense of the word, a philosopher, and a more humble man you would be hard pressed to meet.
The man who was the last mayor of Wingham and who has shaped our town and made positive differences to people’s lives, was honoured by the Rotary Club of Wingham last week on his 93rd birthday, Monday July 31.
Alan, who can often be seen trundling along our main streets on his dark red mobility aid with the jaunty flag, often used to sit for a bit and enjoy the sun on the old concrete seat outside Vinnies in Isabella Street.
Members of Rotary, of which Alan used to be one, thought it was time he was given some recognition. They built a brand new wooden seat and MidCoast Council installed it permanently in the spot the concrete seat used to take.
“We thought that it was good idea to recognise people like this while they can appreciate the community gratitude,” Rotarian Bob Clarke said.
In what was a total surprise to Alan on his birthday, his son John brought him up the street to the seat with it’s plaque dedicating it to Alan, and a little formal ceremony was held by the Rotary members.
Alan, predictably, seemed embarrassed by all of the attention.
“I’m no more special than anyone else,” he said.
Alan tells his story
Alan Alwyn Carlyle was born in Coonabarabran on July 31, 1924 (“I’m the same age as the Wingham Town Hall. It was born in 1924,” he says).
He lived with his parents Lillian and Alan and two brothers Neville and Noel at Binnaway, a tiny town in central western NSW.
His parents ran an outdoor picture show in the 1920s, and in the late 1920s they built a refreshment room at the local railway station.
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“There’s nothing like a tin shed on a hot summer’s day beside a railway track. It is hot,” Alan remembers.
When Alan was 10 years old, his father died of diabetes. In 1937, aged 13 and a half, Alan left school and worked in a cafe and had a job as a paperboy for four years.
How Alan Carlyle came to be in Wingham is the stuff of local legend with the old timers, and makes for a beautiful love story.
Alan, 17, and his brother Neville, 16, went to Sydney. The boys, like so many of their generation, lied about their age so he could enlist in the armed forces.
Neville enlisted in the AIF and served in New Guinea and Borneo.
Alan got a job doing camouflage work at the naval depot at Bankstown Airport before he enlisted in the army in 1942.
In 1943 Alan’s troop was on a train bound for Queensland, before embarking for service in New Guinea.
He spied two girls on the platform. One Wingham lass in particular, Claire Williamson, caught his eye, and he asked her to write to him.
“She did and the rest, as they say, is history,” Alan says
I often wonder what would have happened to Australia if America hadn’t won the war, because in America they were attacked at Pearl Harbour in 1941. The Japanese didn’t know but they woke a sleeping giant. America was pretty strong.
Alan served in New Guinea as a stoker in a laundry attached to a hospital.
“When you’re in the army you do what the boss tells you to do,” Alan says.
“I wanted to transfer to Neville’s unit because he was in the infantry battalion but [the boss] wouldn’t let me go. I had to accept reality and get on with life.”
After he was discharged from the Army early in 1946, not knowing what would eventuate, he boarded a train to Wingham to “see what the place looked like”.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Alan remembers.
“I never forget the night I was coming up here. I was walking across King St Newtown to get out to Central Station and come up here and the song of the day was ‘Sentimental Journey’,” Alan says with tears in his eyes.
“And it really was, I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do.”
Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories.
Claire had waited for Alan during the war, and the two married in 1948. They had two children, John and David.
When he arrived in Wingham Alan started work at Leo Gleeson’s Eclipse Garage where he was employed for 14 years. He ‘blames’ his mother for his love of putting things together, as she bought him a meccano set when he was a child.
In 1960 Alan and Claire started their own business – Carlyle’s Parts Services. After four years in operation, they bought an old house on Isabella Street, demolished it, and built an engineering workshop and spare parts business.
Alan and Claire retired in 1993 and handed over Carlyle’s to son John and his wife Judy. They continued to run the business until their retirement in August 2011. Wingham Wellbeing now sits where Carlyle’s used to be.
A life in community service
Alan was instrumental in forming the Apex Club in Wingham in 1955. Boasting more than 500 members over more than 40 years, Wingham Apex Club was once active and well known in the community. Alan was a member until he was 40 years old, at which age members had to leave.
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He went on to spend 18 years on Wingham Municipal Council, eight of those years as mayor, until the council amalgamated in 1981 – a devastating move for Alan. He is now philosophical about it, however.
“Big is not best - small is more controllable. Anyway, it’s no good living in the past - we’ve got to face the future,” Alan says.
The biggest achievement council made while under Alan’s tenure was a housing scheme that helped out many residents in Wingham.
“It was started by a local, Bob Love, the town clerk,” Alan remembers.
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“The theory was that we would lend people money for the same rate of interest that we borrowed it at, with just a small additional fee each year for administration work. It worked like a charm. All of the electrical power was underground. This was in the 1960s and 1970s.”
Alan believes that one of the best parts of the scheme was that the residents who purchased land and built houses under the scheme were required to source suppliers locally.
“They had to get their timber from Machin’s Sawmill, the bricks from John Baker out there [Lincoln Brickworks] - it would be all local organisations we got these things from,” Alan says.
“This housing scheme - we never, ever had to put anybody out of the home that they built. We never dehoused anybody. [If they had problems paying] we just re-arranged it to suit their financial situation. That’s why small places are better than big places, because you get more personal about it.”
Alan was awarded an OAM in the 1980s for his community service recorded, and in 2005 was awarded the highest possible honour for a member of the Wingham RSL Sub-branch –Honourary vice president of the club.
"You don't do it for the recognition – you do it because you want to,” Alan said at that time, as humble then as he is now.
Alan has served on numerous other committees in his lifetime, including the Wingham Memorial Swimming Pool committee, the gun club, Wingham Hospital and Wingham Court, the Manning Valley Historical Society, as a representative on the Manning River County Council, Wingham Neighbourhood Watch, Wingham Senior Citizens’ Care Association, Wingham Chamber of Commerce, Wingham Anti Amalgamation Action Group, Wingham Probus Club, and the Wingham Anti Green Movement.
Family is everything
Alan cared for Claire at home for 13 years after she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
Claire died in 2013, and Alan moved to Wingham Court (now the Whiddon Group), where he now lives.
“My mother was in the first intake of people into Wingham Court in 1975. She was the first person here, and she was the first person to die here. And her grave is out at Wingham Cemetery,” Alan says.
Alan’s son John, now retired and living at Harrington Waters with his wife Judy, is a regular visitor.
I was born lucky.
Alan’s youngest son, David, is married to Gail and living in New Zealand, and is working as a professor of mental health.
Alan has five grandchildren, three in Australia and two in New Zealand.
While Alan has gone from leaving school at 13 years old, to becoming mayor of a prosperous council, he counts his biggest achievement as his wife and his sons.
“When you have children, you educate them as best you can, and they in their turn do the same thing for their people. It all fits,” Alan says.
“When you think about what your children have achieved you can feel mighty satisfied.
“All in all, I’ve had a hell of a good life. I’ve still got a few years to go yet!”