Roma Writer's Group

The Works of David Bowden

The Johnny Toms Federation Story

Johnny Toms leaned over the seat of the Landcruiser and looked at the outline of the Cultural Centre in Roma. The setting sun reflected off the Western side.

"Gee it's pretty big Dad," Johnny said to his father, Allan, Toms sitting behind the steering wheel.

"Yeah son. You'll be right though. Just remember what that Toastmaster bloke, Dudley Thorne, told you about only looking at one person at a time in various sections of the crowd. You will only be speaking to one person at a time that way and not get concerned about all the rest of the crowd," Allan replied.

"Well lets go over and have a look," said the practical Lorna Toms as she stepped out of the passenger seat.

Johhny walked around the front of the car and noticed the last rays of the setting sun play off the contrasting features of his parents. Allan had instinctively reached for his wife's hand as they prepared to cross the street. His dark complexion face and almond shaped eyes off set the sparkling blue eyes of his wife set in a classic rosy cheeked Irish complexion.

A certain pride in his parents welled up in Johnny's chest as they crossed Bungil Street to the entrance to the Roma town Council complex. Standing just inside the front entrance in front of a massive ceramic tiled mural of the Maranoa's industries was a tallish, well dressed man with a Broad smile on his face.

"Gidday Dudley," Johnny said as he shook hands.

"Welcome to Roma and the Federation of Australia Speech Contest, Johnny. Pleased to see you and Lorna too, Allan," Dudley said. " How's he been going since he won the Mitchell Contest?"

"Probably all the better for your advice Dudley," Lorna replied.

"His natural talent would always shine through," Dudley said self depreciatingly. "Let's go in and meet some of the other contestants and look at the stage and setup of the room."

Johnny had entered a Toastmasters International Speaking Contest for youth to research a subject over the past one hundred years or more on the speaker's family, town or district.

Roma Toastmasters had sent members to all the towns of the Maranoa to hold contests for youth up to the age of eighteen. Sixteen year old Johnny had narrowly won the Mitchell town contest by speaking on the history of his father's forebears and reason for living in the Mungalalla District.

The local Western Star newspaper and Radio 4ZR had notified the winners of Roma, St. George, Injune, Taroom, Wandoan and Surat. The seven finalists would compete to-night for the honour of representing the Maranoa District at a regional final in Toowoomba. The winner there would represent the darling Downs Region at a State Final in Brisbane. Them the ultimate goal would be to represent Queensland in a national final in Canberra at the end of the celebrations for the Federation of Australia.

Johnny's teachers had quietly told him that Sharon Franks from Roma and Stanley Mc Kane from St. George were perhaps the strongest contestants. Both were from larger towns and had been well coached by their teachers.

Crossing to the stage, Dudley introduced Johnny to both Sharon and Stanley as they passed their groups. On stage Dudley explained the set up of microphones, speaking area and the like. He showed him where he and his parent would be sitting with Mitchell teachers and supporters.

Susie Betteridge was his favourite teacher and came up to wish him well. He blushed when she gave him a quick peck on the cheek before scurrying to her seat.

The Contest Chairman called the contestants to-gether. Johnny met the speakers from the other towns. A draw was conducted for speaking order. First and last were always considered the best. First because if the speaker was really strong that set the standard for the contest. The last similarly could be an advantage if a strong speaker gave a good presentation. Most of the seven judges would have forgotten why the first was so good and may tend to favour the final speaker in their marking.

Stanley from St. George drew number one, followed by the speakers of Surat and Wandoan. Johnny drew the fourth position followed by Injune and Taroom. Sharon Franks appeared extremely happy with the final speaking position.

Johnny chose not to listen to the speeches before his own. Dudley had advised against hearing the subject matter of previous speakers because this may put him off if the subject matter was similar or contradicted his own material. He heard a vigorous applause for Stanley Mc Kane's speech. The applause was polite and subdued for the next two.

Standing in the wings, Johhny heard the introduction Johnny Toms with his speech entitled, "The Toms family from Cornwall to Mungalalla over 156 Years". Johnny stepped onto the stage and smiled at the audience as he walked to the lectern. Inwardly a nervous tremour slipped through his being. "Where had they all come from?" he thought. During his preperation period and during the speechmaking the audience had grown to about five hundred people. By far the largest audience he had ever seen- let alone spoken to.

His training held well as he smiled and addressed the Chairman. "Mr. Contest Chairman, Ladies and Gentleman. How do you celebrate one hundred years of Federation in Australia? Do you see industries and think that is what has brought us to be one of the most respected countries in the world? Or do you think the people are what has made Australia recognised in it's own right?
To me it is the people…indeed the likes of the Toms family that have brought our nation to prominence in so many fields of endeavour. Let me tell explain myself.

Look at me closely……..can you see that my skin is darker and my eyes are slightly slanted. Yes that's right I have Aboriginal genes and I have a Chinese heritage mixed in with an original strong Cornwall base and various Irish influences since John Toms came to Australia in the "Isabella Watson" in 1845.

To say that I am proud of my heritage is an understatement. Does it upset you? I hope not because I represent all the good things of modern Australia in the year 2001. The mix of cultures has produced this sixth generation product of past Australian history with a sense of purpose for the future.

Are you uncomfortable with my Aboriginality? If so……..then are you ashamed of how your own grandfathers and beyond treated Aboriginals in times gone by? Then rest easy because my own heritage is from a genuine love my Grandfather Thomas Toms had for my Aboriginal Grandmother Lily Nebine. The marriage took place on the day of Federation in 1901. This alone makes me proud to be speaking to you to-day.

Does my Chinese heritage effect you? Do you notice that only a few Chinese remain in our communities? Did you know that the Chinese were coming to Australia in its formative years as readily as Europeans? The Chinese were willing workers in our district. They worked as shepherds and shearers as well as establishing market gardens to provide vegetables to our growing towns.

How do you feel if I tell you my mother is straight line Irish on both her mother's and father's lineage? …..Comfortable? Well I guess that's to be expected. The challenge for all of us ……..and that includes me, is to accept the people of Australia to-day as being the cross fertilisation of so many backgrounds. Our forebears shaped to-day's Australia. More importantly we all contribute to the Australia of to-day.

Deliberately, I have left telling you about the Toms family to now. The original John Toms came to Australia from Cornwall in England as a free settler on the 'Isabella Watson.' He came to Adelaide as a copper miner at Burra Burra South Australia. However not long after arriving he bought a bullock team to carry copper from the mine to Port Adelaide. Then on his return journey carried supplies, furniture and the like for the growing town.

He moved from South Australia to the gold town of Bendigo in Victoria. Here he met his future Chinese wife, May Lui. They were very successful and had five teams hauling gold to Port Phillip Bay. Their son, Thomas, was born. Everything was going so well for them. However when Thomas was nearly a year old, May was burned badly when her dress caught on fire while washing using an old fashioned copper."

The audience had been following Johhny's story with a high degree of interest. The shock of his Presentation brought a ripple of sympathy through many of the ladies listening. Johnny paused before continuing, "My Great grand mother died from those burns. Can you imagine the anguish of the first John Toms?"

The audience could and were clearly moved by this time. Johhny continued with word pictures of the broken hearted man reluctantly selling his business and driving a dray to Queensland. The vision of John Toms caring for a year old child while driving on rough bush tracks to an entirely different part of young Australia came with as a clear picture to everyone.

"That our property at 'Tullgai' Mungalalla was chosen to be selected happened as an opportunity found at the Land Agent in Brisbane," Johnny continued. " Did my family make the most of this opportunity?

My answer can only be a positive 'Yes! Consider that we have been extraordinarily lucky. My Great Grand-father was a miner and a teamster. He definitely was not a cattleman or horseman. The fact that he met a old bushman named Sam Fraser when he first came to Mungalalla. Sam was a true legend of his time. Hopeless on the booze in town and second to none in a stock camp on a property. His knowledge of cattle and horses is still shown on the records and breeding at 'Tullgai' to-day."

There were a few heads from the district graziers nod in agreement. These had seen "Tullgai" cattle top the sales at the Roma Cattle Selling Complex or witnessed the Toms colours pass the winning post many times at Bassett Park, the local racecourse.

Reality now tells me that the past has brought us to the present. How you accept my family heritage and your own will assist determine the way we handle the future as we enter our second century of Federation. In summary can you handle my aboriginality, Chinese, British and Irish Background and accept me as I am?".

After concluding his challenge, Johnny turned and concluded by saying, "Mr. Contest Chairman." As he left the stage there was an appreciative applause from the audience. He moved to a seat by his mother. Lorna Toms squeezed his hand encouragingly. Looking past her Johnny saw both his father and Dudley give him a swift nod of support.

The speakers from Injune and Taroom gave their presentations. Johnny enjoyed both. The applause from the audience confirmed that they enjoyed them too. Slowly Johnny settled down to just enjoying the atmosphere as the hype of the post speech excitement subsided.

When Sharon Franks and her speech entitled, "Nice now……better later" was announced a rousing response came from the Roma Students, teachers and relations. Her dress had been carefully chosen to highlight her soft blond hair that surrounded a vivacious face. Her subject and delivery appeared to appeal. At the conclusion Johnny felt the applause was genuine for a terrific presentation.
While the judges left the room to finalise the place getters, each contestant was brought forward and given a certificate of appreciation.

They were also asked questions about themselves. Johnny felt comfortable with this. He also impressed the audience with his straightforward handling of the answers.

The judges filed back into the room and the Chief Judge handed the results to the Contest Chairman. The Contest Chairman thanked the participants, schools and parents. He then said, " It is now my pleasing duty to let you know that third place in the Toastmasters International Maranoa Federation Speech Competition is Stanley Kane from St. George."

Stanley stepped forward and appeared well pleased with his result as he received his award. The Contest Chairman paused for effect and then said, "In second place ………..Roma's own Sharon Franks." The audience applauded her efforts. However her face showed a quivering lip and crestfallen look as the second place award was presented. It was visible disappointment without too much effort to hide the fact as Sharon came down from the stage.

"Now to represent the Maranoa at the State Finals of the Toastmasters Federation Speech Competition please Acknowledge Johnny Toms Representing Mitchell School. Johnny received a quick hand squeeze from his mother and a brief handshake from his father and Dudley as he rose to go to the stage.

After the evening concluded, Dudley walked to the Land Cruiser with a glowing Lorna and an extremely happy Allan Toms. "Well," he said in parting through the open door window, "It appears Australia is in safe hands if we have the likes of Johnny to provide the foundation for our second century of Federation."

With a swift wave of a hand Allan Toms moved the big four-wheel drive forward to head back to "Tullgai" and the next step for the new Toms generation. (Ends).