‘So long and thanks for all the fish’

By Anne Boyd

Photo by Barbara Oehring

Sadly the Village Newsagency has closed and we have, in our various ways, said farewell to owners Des and Lynda Higginbotham. Although by the time you read this the shop will be closed, for me Des stays in the present tense. His interest in the Gully continues especially through his representation on the Board of the Community Bank.

The first thing to say about Des is that he is always there. For over 30 years he opened his shop and stood behind the counter, usually six days a week, until closing time. Ready to take what comes, he gives as good as he gets – usually one-liners and not all of them suitable to appear in this publication, but always spoken as to the individual facing him so that you go away thinking ‘this is my friend – I can say anything to him’.

There’s a genius of communication here and the whole town responded. We went to Des’s shop not so much to buy a Lotto ticket or a newspaper as to talk to Des and Lynda and to each other, to unload burdens, to complain, to pass on the news, or make it up.

Although the shop has closed I am sure Des will find a way to continue to be there for everyone. A few years ago, asked to speak at the AGM for his re-election to the Board of the Community Bank, Des said simply ‘I am standing again because Ferntree Gully is my life’. We all hope it still is.

I have known Des since 2009 when, on an April evening two months after Black Saturday bushfires, the Community Bank called a public meeting to set up a Village Traders Association and a community newspaper – perhaps inspired by the bushfire Royal Commission finding that communities with strong connections do better in emergency than those who do not know each other.

Des accepted the presidency. I put up my hand to start the newspaper and was also persuaded to be secretary of the new association. Thus was my life changed.

I compare that small start with another special moment: the meeting before the 2019 Village Fair, the third time that Des had presided over the fair. Running such an event is no small task and by then the Traders Association had turned into something of a Whole Township Group. Des asked each person to report on allocated tasks. This we did succinctly (even me). He thanked each one; the meeting was over in less than an hour and he closed it saying ‘Now let’s do it all tomorrow.’

In a similar vein over the years Des and the traders group responded to Knox City Council’s Village Structure Plan, achieved good outcomes for a survey of the railway station car parks; started an ANZAC Dawn Watch in the quarry; and organised a successful community appeal for a two-storey height limit of buildings in this commercial activity zone, in respect for the presence of the mountain.

And all these encounters, all the years working together have, we hope, changed us all for the better, made us a stronger community. Thank you to Des and Lynda and family, staff and friends who have kept the newsagency a beacon in our lives. We wish you well in your next endeavours.

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