Margaret Rogers OAM is an inspiration – Secretary of the Taree and District Eisteddfod for 30 years and Dance Coordinator for almost the same length of time. Over the years, Margaret has seen the local Eisteddfod change and grow, but what hasn’t changed is her love of dance and her determination to support local youth. In 2008, Margaret was awarded an OAM for her service to the Eisteddfod movement …
What’s your family background, Margaret?
We’ve been in Taree since 1973 – we arrived the week before my daughter’s first birthday. We used to own bakeries in Taree, Port Macquarie, Kempsey and Wauchope, and then my husband and I, with our partners, started Bayview Seafoods.
We originally lived in Sydney, but the suburb we lived in was the seventh dirtiest in Sydney – out near Fairfield/Smithfield − and our son was an Asthmatic, so when my husband got the offer of a job up in Ballina, we took it. Ultimately, the job didn’t work out, so we moved to Grafton for over a year, and after that he had the offer of either working in Glen Innes or Taree, so we moved here. It was closer to Sydney and our families.
We have two sons and a daughter, and both sons provided us with two grandkids each.
You’ve been here a long time now … what do you really love about the area?
The beautiful scenery and the lovely people. It can be hard to get to know people in a new town, and I was always told being an outsider in a new place was hard, but the people here are great.
You mentioned your children and grandchildren … did they help you become interested in dance and the local Eisteddfod?
(Laughs). No – none of them dance! In 1983, my good friend Lorna had to step down from the position of Secretary on the Eisteddfod committee, as she became unwell. I told her I would help out – but I had no idea what an Eisteddfod was!
I figured I’d be involved with the Eisteddfod for around 5 years … but I keep getting voted back in!
The following year, Wendy Bourke stepped down as Dance Coordinator, and my friend Bev Kyne volunteered to take on the position if I helped her. When Bev retired, I worked with Kay Bird and Shirley Molloy, and then I held the position on my own. So this year, it’s 30 years I’ve been Secretary, and 29 years as Dance Coordinator. I’m training a new lady now to help me with the dance coordination.
What’s involved with both your roles, and have they changed much since you first became involved with the Eisteddfod?
The Secretary role involves taking the minutes from each meeting. Each Coordinator from the Eisteddfod picks their own adjudicator, and I write to them and supply them with their contracts – it’s a reasonably easy job.
The Dance Coordinator role is a very big job. When Bev and I started, we only held the Eisteddfod over 4 days and the first time we held groups on a Saturday night, we only had 33 groups. Last year, we had 345 groups! We’ve grown so much since we’ve been in the MEC (Manning Entertainment Centre).
So, when was the Eisteddfod’s beginning locally?
The modern Eisteddfod started in 1967, when three people came together and organised it. There was an Eisteddfod back before the first World War, but that folded. The modern Eisteddfod started in ’67 with music, dance, and speech/drama, and it was held in a variety of halls throughout Taree and Wingham.
I remember when the Eisteddfod was held in the Wingham Town Hall … that was a bit of fun, as the girls had to get dressed in the dining hall, and if there’d been a heat wave, all the doors had to be left open!
We really fought to get the MEC open, and in 1988 we moved in.
You mentioned the sections that were open to performers in the early days of the Eisteddfod. What categories are available for competitors these days?
This year we have vocal, piano, instrumental/electronic, speech and drama, dance, and school choirs. So, there are 6 sections at the moment.
What is the upper and lower age limit of people who generally compete?
In the dance section, we’ve had little ones as young as two. The little two and three year olds are so gorgeous on stage! In dance, we have an age cut off for 23 years and under for solos, but groups can have members of any age. We’ve had adult groups with members up in their 80s.
What are some of your fondest memories from all the years you’ve been involved with the Eisteddofd?
I love to see the kids perform and grow in confidence – I just love it. Many of them have gone on to the world stage now, and four of our former competitors have come back as adjudicators. It’s wonderful that they’re able to come back and utilise their skills. Some of them are so nervous when they start out, and to see their talent, confidence and skill grow is wonderful.
At one stage, we had three of our former dancers accepted by the Queensland Ballet, the Australian Ballet and the Western Australian Ballet – and they were all boys!
Every year we have great kids coming through. Our President, Tim Stack, and I work really well together too.
I enjoy meeting the parents and the teachers, and I find the majority of the people are great to work with.
Actually – you brought up a good point. I was going to ask you whether you saw many boys progress through the dancing ranks locally …
The numbers come and go. A couple of years ago, we had 8 or 9 male dancers. This year, I think we have 4. We’ve had some amazing boy dancers over the years!
What are the various categories within the dance section of the Eisteddfod?
The categories are classical ballet, demi-character, modern expressive, contemporary, jazz, tap, variety – there’s a Hollywood Musical within the group section … there is a great range.
As far as I know, we were the first Eisteddfod in Australia to have a modern expressive championship and a contemporary championship.
Our competitors come from as far away as Sydney and Wollongong and Queensland.
Why do you believe Eisteddfods are so important for regional areas?
I’m a great believer in school, and also in children having cultural experiences, such as Eisteddfods. It expands their knowledge and teaches them confidence.
How did you feel when you received your OAM for your services to the Eisteddfod movement in 2008?
The night before the award, I don’t think I slept … I was so proud!
When will the Eisteddfod be held in Taree this year?
We start on April 23, and go right though until June 1. You can visit www.tareeeisteddfod.com.au for details.
In early April, people can go to Bass n Blues and Taree Ballet Gear to buy a program.
Thanks Margaret. You’re a true local legend.
This article can be found in issue 74 of Manning-Great Lakes