The Cowra Guardian is starting a new series to tell the stories of those who have, and continue, to shape Cowra. To begin the “Faces of Cowra”, we caught up with Lawrance Ryan.
Cowra’s Railway Centenary, the Musical and Dramatic Society (M&D), the Cowra Breakout Association.
Lawrance Ryan’s interests stretch far and wide, but it’s safe to say his name is synonymous with giving back to the Cowra community.
A former Cowra Citizen of the Year, Lawrance has been doing his bit to help out different community organisations in Cowra since he moved back to town in the 1980s.
“I suppose the first major community project I was involved in was the Cowra Railway Centenary when I was the Secretary, Treasurer and Publicity Officer all rolled into one,” he said.
“That came because I always had a love of rail history and local history, sort of a natural fit for my interests.”
Lawrance was born and bred in Cowra, attending Cowra Public School and Cowra High School (CHS) before a 17 year tenure with the Commonwealth Bank and a move back to Cowra to work at Kibblers.
“I got offered a job at the Commonwealth Bank and took it so I had 17 years with the Commonwealth Bank at places all over the Central West and also some time in the Sydney metropolitan area,” he said.
“Grenfell was my last posting and the Commonwealth Bank closed in Grenfell and then I got transferred to Cowra.
“Thanks to the boss he got me a job at Kibblers, that’s where I went and I became interested then in getting back into the community much more.”
From there, the stage came calling.
“I was in plays in school, the first CHS full musical that was ever produced that was Calamity Jane back in 1978, I was the lead in it and played Wild Bill Hickok,” he said.
“Then in 1999 I was Wild Bill Hickok in the M&D production of Calamity Jane. It’s not often you get to play the same part a couple of times.
"I’ve actually been the tin man three times – I was the Tin Man in Grenfell in 1992, the Tin Man in Cowra in 1993 and the Tin Man in Cowra in 2015.
“I was pretty happy I could wear the same suit all three times.”
The M&D not only led Lawrance to a love of performing, but to the love of his life – his wife Robyn.
“We were married on stage before we were married in real life,” he said.
The pair won the inaugural Canberra Area Theatre Awards Silver CAT Award for contribution to community theatre in 2016.
“A lot of the reason I do what I do is because I have a wife who is interested in the same sort of things that I am,” he said.
In 2003, Lawrance and Graham Apthorpe began work with the Cowra Breakout Association after the sudden passing of Marion Starr.
“We sort of inherited the job of looking after Breakout commemorations and over time we’ve continued,” he said.
“Graham had been very involved with the 50th anniversary of the Breakout so it was logical that he be involved.
“I’ve been very lucky, I was the Chair of both the 60th anniversary commemorations in 2004 and the 70th anniversary commemorations in 2014.”
Lawrance said while it can be time demanding, he continues to do community work, both in his personal time and through his current job as Grants and Executive Projects Officer at Cowra Council, because he simply enjoys the work.
“I suppose you don't do these sorts of things to get accolades, you do it because you enjoy doing it and I never thought I achieved much until I was involved with the Railway Centenary back in the mid 80’s,” he said.
“I thought up until then I was just a typical young person, liked going out, liked sport and then I got this interest in the community side of things.
“Once you get used to it, and doing it, it’s something you continue doing.”
Along with his community work, Lawrance is an author, publishing a number of books on rail and local history.
“I’ve just always been interested in history, I take lots and lots of photographs of buildings and events in Cowra,” he said.
“I’ve written a number of books primarily about railways, I also wrote a book about the submarine down in Holbrook so that was in 2008.
“I've just finished a little book for the Lachlan Valley Railway Society that’s actually available but hasn’t been formally launched as yet.”
In fact, Lawrance hopes to write more about the lives of those who used Cowra’s railways in the past.
“I’ve always wanted to write sort of the definitive social history of railways in Cowra, how it affected the town, what it meant to the people,” he said.
“I’ve written two books on the history of railway in Cowra so I can tell you what train ran where and why…. but I always think that there’s a lot of histories that have never been written.”
After more than three decades of community work, Lawrance says the best piece of advice he’s been given was from Frank Smith.
“He said if you want to get onto the committees and you want to be the President, you gotta be the first to arrive, you’ve got to be the last to leave, you’ve got to be the person that stacks the chairs at the end of the day.”
Lawrance’s own advice to those who are thinking about joining a community organsation is to be prepared to be heavily involved.
“Pick an organisation that you are interested in because that’s the only way your going to have a desire to keep going in that particular organisation for a long period of time,” he said.
“Pick something you’ve got an interest in yourself and then be prepared to sort of take a leading role once your find your feet.”
And to community groups:
“From a community point of view, if I had bit of advice for community groups – be grateful of any time that a volunteer can give you.”