Dame Joan Sutherland visited the Manning for the Taree City Festival in 2002 and 2004 | Manning River Time

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Twenty years ago, Manning Valley was abuzz with the impending visit of a woman who is still considered one of the greatest sopranos of all time – Dame Joan Sutherland. The world-renowned opera singer had sung in opera houses around the world and lived in an opulent house in Switzerland, named Chalet Monet, with her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge. That La Stupenda, as she was dubbed by the public early in her career, would come to Taree for a few days to visit and attend local functions was not really something anyone would think of in any way. However, it happened. And Mave Richardson AM was the woman who made it happen. In 1978, Mave, then president of the Taree City Festival, wrote to Dame Joan inviting her to be patron of the biennial festival. “She very graciously agreed, but she said, ‘I’m sorry, but it would have to be in absentia, sweetie,’ Mave said. “She always called me ‘Sweetheart’.” that year, Mave religiously invited Dame Joan to continue as patron every two years, and Dame Joan always accepted, ‘in absentia’, as she was busy traveling the world on the world’s opera stages Then, in early 2002, Mave took a phone call in her office at Greater Taree Town Council. “I answered the phone and (a woman) said ‘Mave, it’s Joan Sutherland here'”, Mave said “I knew a lot of people from the Arts Council, and the first thought I had was ‘they’re loaning me out and am I going to turn their heads or accept them?’ I guess discretion was the best part of bravery and I didn’t make a funny comment in return or anything. I was always grateful that I didn’t come back with a stupid remark! It was high time I came to Taree and wondered if we could arrange a visit?” celebration concert at the entertainment centre, after which the star was interviewed by well-known TV presenter Ian Ross, featured as Conversations with Dame Joan Sutherland.Dame Joan did not sing – she was 75 and retired at the time.Mave said that one of Dame Joan’s many attributes was a sense of humour.During the 2002 visit, one of the functions opened by Dame Joan was a centenary celebration of 100 years since Australian women first had the right to vote for mayor of Wingham.” Now that I have played on Wingham Town Hall stage, I can honestly say I’ve played on all the biggest stages in the world,” she joked. The remark rocked the house. “It was beautiful . Everyone was delighted,” said Mave. Dame Joan clearly enjoyed her visit in 2002 as she chose to return in 2004. that I come back? I had a great time last time I was here. . It’s a beautiful place. The Manning Valley is beautiful,” said Mave. For her 2004 visit for the Taree City Festival, Dame Joan chose to stay with Mave and her husband, Eric Richardson OAM, at their home in Dingo Creek. Mave keeps a treasured memory of that time which she loves to share. In 2004, Mave was a councilor on the town council at the time of Grand Taree and had to attend a meeting the evening Dame Joan arrived. “I had left everything nicely laid on the dinner table and polished the silverware and the fire was on, it looked really nice. I instructed Eric to just press the button (to cook dinner). “When I came back around 11pm that night, no one had sat at the table that I had left nice and shiny and proper. And I looked around and it looked like they had eaten something Turns out they had sat in front of the fire and had a tray (in their lap) and had champagne, in their pajamas and dressing gowns and ate their dinner sitting in front of the fire! that they had a lovely evening and it was just a chat with a good old friend. I was kinda sorry I missed it, actually!” That’s a mark of the lady – he doesn’t was not necessary that there be trimmings and all. “She was a truly lovely woman, without any arrogance or pretension, interested in you, she expressed her interest in the Manning Valley and its people. She didn’t just come to dominate everyone. She was very natural and unaffected , which is quite remarkable when you think about how easily people have adoration. She was quite remarkable, not only because she was famous, but because of her whole personality. She was very kind but warm , friendly and sincere and interested.” I consider it a blessing that she and I have connected so well. For both of us, actually. She and she were a small team while she was here. I felt a bit like a watchdog at times,” laughs Mave. “It was a wonderful experience and I think a lot of people benefited from it.”

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