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Gary Holland @ The Coalface

Gary Holland has lived in Singleton his entire life. He worked in payroll in the mining industry for 30 years and then left the industry to volunteer in Papua New Guinea. Since he returned home, he has been giving back to his local community in several ways, including through Dolly’s Charity Shop.

Gary was 21 years old when he saw an ad in the newspaper for a clerk at Lemington Mine, now Hunter Valley Operations, and applied for it.

“I thought it was so strange they hired me. I had never seen coal; never seen a mine and I couldn’t understand what on earth they were talking about!

“My job was to do the production figures. I used a slide rule, and I would go up the wash plant every day and climb out onto the conveyor arms to get the readings.”

He was there for about 15 years when they decided to close No.2 Pit.

“I asked for a retrenchment, I was told I could have one if I could find someone to take my job. I had a clerk that worked with me and asked if he’d like my job and he did.

“I was out of the industry for a while, but then Ian Stevenson who had been the General Manager at Lemington went on to United as the GM and offered me a job.

“Everybody who worked at United would tell you it was the best mine to work at.”

During his time at United, Gary said they were the first to get the men on monthly pays and give all the workers flu shots.

“I was at United until about 2000 when I was retrenched without notice of intent.”

Gary went cleaning before he accepted work at Ashton Mine and then spent 18 months at Bengalla Mine doing an auditing job until one day he had a mini sleep on his way home.

“The next day I resigned.”

Gary had some time off before accepting a volunteer role in Port Moresby teaching accounting systems at the AngliCare Stop AIDS Centre.

“I have so many stories. You see the world from the other side because you’re the one coming in from the outside,” Gary said.

Gary was right, he had many stories to share including the time he wore a grass skirt which helped make him one of the locals.

“I was there for ANZAC Day, which was amazing. They just have one dawn service at a magnificent lawn cemetery and on the top of the hill is the biggest flame tree I have ever seen. The Minister for Defence was there and John Williamson.

“Some Aboriginal Elders had come over to take back the spirit of one of the Aboriginal soldiers that was buried there. We were asked to witness the ceremony. They had sought permission from the local mob, John Williamson had written a special song for it – it was incredible to witness.”

Gary spent four months at Port Moresby. He came home and went back cleaning before another volunteer opportunity came up – organising the Golf Club in the capital of New Britain, just above New Guinea.

“I hated it,” he laughed.

“The first thing I did was give everybody a pay rise; it was shocking what everybody was expected to live on!”

After three months he came back to Singleton. Gary spent time at Father Riley’s for a few years but one day he realised nothing had gone to Singleton to help its youth.

“Father Riley did marvelous work in Sydney, but nothing here.

“I thought, this isn’t worth my time and effort, so I started gathering stuff and looking for a shop.”

He found one ten years ago, on the corner of George and Campbell Streets in Singleton.

Gary Holland Dolly's Charity Shop

The shop was named “Dolly’s Charity Shop” after a 1920s mannequin that had belonged to a lady who owned an art studio. Dolly sat outside the shop dressed to the nines each day, and still does.

“The first thing we did was raise enough money to buy a demountable and place it behind the youth centre with a washing machine, a dryer, and a little kitchenette so anybody could go in and wash and dry their clothes and make themselves a cuppa.

“Then we gave money to the youth town band. There was a woman who used to walk around town selling raffle tickets and I asked her one day what she was doing, and she said she sold the raffle tickets and that went to the PCYC.

“I asked her to give me a list and we’d get her the equipment, and that’s what we did.

“I loved Dolly’s, I loved the people, but I lost my mojo during the second wave of the pandemic.”

Gary sought out fellow local Kay Sullivan who has now run the shop for the last two years raising money for the local Cancer Support Group.

“I had a break from volunteering to work through some medical issues but now I am involved in the Red Cross and the Tidy Towns group, and I do some Sunday afternoons at the local museum.”

Gary is a long-standing stalwart of the Singleton community; he was awarded a Hunter Volunteer Award in 2019, Singleton Citizen of the Year in 2020 and inducted into the Wambo Coal Hall of Fame in 2023.

“I am extremely grateful, humbled and proud to have had the opportunity to do various volunteering. I love the town and everyone in it.”

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