TIME HAS COME: Peter and Heather Roland reflect upon their time in the Clarence Valley from their South Grafton home. The community-minded couple will be leaving the area after spending the past 45 years here.
TIME HAS COME: Peter and Heather Roland reflect upon their time in the Clarence Valley from their South Grafton home. The community-minded couple will be leaving the area after spending the past 45 years here. Adam Hourigan

New chapter but old ties remain strong

TAMWORTH'S loss was Grafton's gain when Sydney lawyer Peter Roland's attempt to move back to his rural roots in the early 1970s struck a hurdle.

He was in negotiations with a New England legal firm, an area he was familiar with as his parents lived in the Walcha district, but at the eleventh hour the solicitor he was going to be replacing decided not to retire.

"I was brought up in the country and always had it in my mind that I would end up living in a regional area rather than in the city, but the solicitor withdrew the offer to sell the practice so I was slightly up in the air," Mr Roland recalls.

By chance a friend and former work colleague of the young solicitor was thinking along the same lines and had recently been to Grafton to have an interview with the firm Foott, Law & Co.

"David Law was looking for someone to join the practice and although my friend was very impressed with David and Grafton he felt it was too far away from his family, so he spoke to me about it."

Mr Roland said he made "initial inquiries" before flying up one Sunday and was so impressed with Mr and Mrs Law and Grafton that he "pursued the matter" and the rest they say is history.

That was 45 years ago, when the young lawyer and his bride of four years Heather and their two-year-old son James arrived at their relatively newly built riverside home. It's the place they have called home since 1973 and will, until they pack up and return to Sydney in a couple of weeks' time.

The couple's decision to pull up stumps at this stage of their lives is so they can be closer to their only son and grandson five-year-old Henry who has just started school.

While they are both looking forward to spending more time with them, they are also feeling very emotional about leaving after more than four decades of being heavily involved in the Grafton community.

"Almost our whole adult life has been here," Mrs Roland said. "Grafton is a significant part of our lives and will always remain that way."

Of course the Rolands' track record of community involvement speaks for itself.

While Mr Roland said he enjoyed a rewarding professional career, he, and more notably his wife, were involved in a number of organisations and roles across the four and a half decades they called the Jacaranda City home.

"Wives of professionals were not expected to join the workforce in those days," Mr Roland said. "So that's why Heather could be involved in the community."

Mrs Roland's early involvements began with the Jacaranda Art Society, and which years later resulted in one of her most rewarding achievements, the publication of the Gladys O'Grady book Australian Birds and their Young.

That led to her involvement with more committees including the Jacaranda Festival, where she later served as Matron of Honour in 1979, the Grafton Eisteddfod, Council's Cultural Committee and Musica Viva where she served as president.

"Because I did shorthand I found I was grabbed to be secretary of this that and the other and also publicity officer for a lot of organisations."

But Mrs Roland's most high profile role was that of a Grafton City Councillor, elected in 1993 and serving as Deputy Mayor in 1998-1999, her passion for history and the heritage of the city is well recorded in the council annals throughout that period.

"I learned a lot and was rather surprised at what I could say when it came down to it."

She said her fight to preserve the old timber railway span that sits at South Grafton to this day was another rewarding facet to the legacy she leaves behind.

"The beauty of Grafton and the historical nature of the city is something I've always been passionate about. History and heritage is a record and demonstrates how a city has grown."

Mrs Roland said serving on council provided lots of interesting experiences some more challenging than others.

"I didn't mind criticisms as that was part and parcel of putting yourself out there but I always tried to approach matters in a dignified manner. That wasn't always what I encountered in return. But I surprised myself sometimes (when it came to speaking up)."

Mr Roland's downtime was spent on the Clarence cricket fields and tennis courts as well as Rotary and serving in the same community groups as his wife.

"We had a very active music scene in Grafton when we founded Musica Viva here. We brought the Sydney Symphony here three times and the Australian Youth Orchestra. I've been lucky to meet some very interesting people over the years."

The pair were also involved in the running of the Philosophy, Science and Theology Festival, Mr Roland writing a regular column on the topic for The Daily Examiner while Mrs Roland penned a popular weekly food column for seven years.

There are too many groups to mention but those who know the Rolands will be aware of their ongoing contributions to the place they are now psyching up to say goodbye to.

"People used to say to there was nothing to do in Grafton but there are so many opportunities. The place caters for just about any interests you might have. To see what volunteers have done for Grafton and still do over the years is proof of that," Mrs Roland said.

The couple said it will be hard when they drive away from their home for the final time.

"We will miss Grafton and seeing the magnificent Clarence River and its many moods. The hardest part is leaving all our friends, but they will be coming with us in our hearts," Mrs Roland said. "Being a part of the community here has provided the richness in our lives."