By Jen Gourley
Last year I started the “My Christmas” series where I interviewed local people about their Christmas memories. This year I’ve got one more story to add to that series and it’s a special one.
Christmas is a time for family and for giving and if there is one woman in Biloela who embodies those ideals it is Fay Boal.
Fay is a woman who has given so much and lost so much. Her generosity of spirit and her kindness over the years have helped people in so many ways.
I recently had the privilege to sit down with this life-long Biloela resident (with her dog Mack hovering close by for pats), hear about her Christmas memories and learn what this time of year means to her.
“I was born here, and my dad came here when he was a child,” said Fay. “His parents were among the early settlers in Bilo and they selected a farm across the road from where the meatworks is now. That was in 1926 I think that they came.”
Fay and her sister Jean grew up on a farm at Valentine Plains, just out of Biloela. It was a dairy farm at first and then moved into growing crops like wheat, potatoes and pumpkins.
They didn’t have to go far to school – Valentine Plains State School was right next door to their farm.
“It was a small school,” remembered Fay. “There was one teacher until about halfway through. I think Year 4 we got a second teacher. This poor teacher had about 35 children from Year One to Year Eight.
“Small schools today have cleaners and they have office staff and they have teacher aides. Back then there was nothing like that. It was just the teacher.”
Fay attended that little country school from Year One to Year Seven, and then she was among the very first cohort to attend Year Eight at Biloela State High School. Previously the school had been a “high top” school with the grades going to Year 10. But in 1964, Fay’s first year there, the high school was finally from Year Eight to Year 12.
She would travel to the high school in Biloela on a bus. That bus coming into town was probably one of the reasons why the little Valentine Plains school closed, Fay thought.
“We also had a couple of big families who were share farmers,” she said. “Then they left and we went to high school and so the school had just 13 or 14 children and it closed.”
Fay attended all of high school until she became sick in Year 12 so she left. And that is where Fay’s wonderful career at Biloela Kindy began!
Fay became “Miss Fay” to a whole generation of Biloela Kindy kids, working as a beloved teacher’s assistant for 12 years, from 1968 until 1980.
“It was lovely,” recalled Fay. “I just loved being with the children.”
There was someone else that Fay loved spending time with, and that was a man named John Boal.
“We got married at the end of 1977 when school finished. And John’s joke was, because we got married on the 10th of December, that he had to wait for me to finish Kindy to get married,” laughed Fay. “I still laugh at it.”
John and Fay were married in the Lutheran Church in Biloela, and Fay continued working at the kindergarten until she was well into her pregnancy with their first child, Rebecca. Then came Daniel, and then James, making the Boal family complete.
While they had their challenges, it was a mostly happy time for the young family.
But then, tragically, John was killed in a terrible work accident near Banana on the 19th of November, 1994. A beloved husband, a beloved father, was suddenly gone.
With the loss of John happening not long before Christmas, the lead up to the festive season is not always easy for Fay. In fact, it was very hard for Fay in those early years, and while it has grown somewhat easier with time, she still grieves for her John, the man with whom she wanted to grow old together. Tears are there when she talks about this kind man but there is also still so much love.
John was a giver, like Fay, and the town of Biloela would have felt his loss as well.
“He was a fellow that liked to be out helping in the community,” said Fay. “He was in the fire brigade and SES, and he was very caring. He was also in the Show Society right until the end.”
So, Christmas for Fay is loaded with mixed feelings and a lot of memories, but some of those memories are very precious.
Christmas was a simple but still special occasion for Fay as a little girl.
“My family has got a German background and they would open gifts on Christmas Eve,” said Fay. “So, we always did that as children – we got together with family and we’d open gifts on Christmas Eve. Church-wise we used to have a nativity play every year at the old Trinity Lutheran Church.
“You used to get dressed up – you either were Mary or angels or something and you had words to say. After that we could go to a family member’s place and we’d open gifts.
“On Christmas Day, we would get together with Dad’s side of the family. He was a Timm so all the Timm family would get together for Christmas Day, and then we’d have tea with my Aunty Joyce (on the Goos side).”
Fay’s parents were Arnie and Ivy Timm and Arnie had lots of siblings so there was always lots of family around at Christmastime.
“It was interesting because Dad and his siblings grew up beside the Espositos and the Zangaris (local Italian families) and they learned to eat olives and you know, things like that (a fairly uncommon food at that time for the people of Biloela). So, we always had to have olives and the things that they’d grown up with,” said Fay with a chuckle.
So, there would be olives on the table along with the ham and the chicken, as well as potatoes, salad, Christmas pudding, custard, ice cream, and a big trifle.
As for Christmas presents, well, with gifts being opened on Christmas Eve, the big man in the red suit would have to pass by the house early. “It was like, ‘Santa has been and he’s dropped all these gifts off,” said Fay. ‘I just saw him leave,’ a grownup would tell her.
“We had very little. We were given very little as children,” said Fay. “I’ve something outside that I was given one year. It’s a little dustpan and a brush. And Daniel (Fay’s son) went to throw it out (it was rusty). And I said, ‘Don’t you dare! That’s all I got for Christmas one year! And he went, ‘Oh, no’.
“Yes, whatever you were given you treasured. I still have two dolls that I was given.”
There’s a small Christmas tree in Fay’s house, with just a few ornaments, including one lovely wooden one made by her fellow Shedder Roger Van Itallie (Shedders are members of the local Men’s Shed, a group that Fay belongs to). There may not be many decorations on her tree, but Fay has quite a few precious ornaments and figurines on display including a beautiful European Christmas scene, a nativity scene and a gorgeous clock – all obviously treasured.
But the most precious treasures are clearly the many family photos adorning the wall in her dining room, including the last family photo taken of Fay and John with their three children. There are photos galore of six very loved grandchildren who all live in Biloela, which is very handy when you are an adoring grandmother.
There are also cherished gifts from kindy kids. Not from the 1970s cohort, but from 2022! Yes, Miss Fay (now known as ‘Mrs Fay’) has been back helping out at a kindergarten all year, this time at the community kindergarten in Moura where Fay’s daughter Rebecca is the director. There had been a shortage of qualified people to help so Fay stepped in, endearing herself to a whole new generation of little ones.
Fay was also a disability support worker in Biloela for many years helping locals live their best lives, before she retired in 2020.
She helps out at Vinnies in Biloela too, so between kindy work, and Vinnies, and family, and Fay’s beautiful garden, and her sewing, she’s one busy lady! And always with a smile at the ready.
Fay said to me, “I thought about Christmas and, in a nutshell, it is love, family, and the joy of giving.”
Thank you, Fay, for all you have given the people of Biloela over the years. For you, giving really is a joy.