For over 32 years the pine tree at the Manning Base Hospital was lit up as a Christmas tree for everyone to enjoy. Located in front of the hospital off High Street it was perfectly located to be seen from across town. Everyone knew Christmas was coming when the lights were turned on.
John Ritchie, the Hospital Engineer started the tradition in 1965 climbing up to place coloured lights throughout the tree. With no harnesses it was a great achievement to physically climb the tree that grew to over 40 metres in height.
Peter Calvin joined John Ritchie in this task 6 years later and undertook the climb for 26 years, the last time when he retired at age 65. Peter recalled having to contend with a range of influences in his endeavour to light up the tree. Rain and lightning strikes hampered the process, but he fondly remembered the year a magpie decided to nest in the tree, making the task even more difficult.
The addition of a star was undertaken in the later years and capped off the Christmas tree. Made by the apprentice, Jason Mullens, it lifted the image of the tree. The hospital’s Ladies’ Auxiliary also contributed to the project purchasing low voltage globes after a scare when kids started climbing the tree to pinch the bulbs.
Sadly, the tree was removed to enable extensions to the hospital in the 2000s. Pens were made from the timber as a keepsake of the tree that held so many fond memories for the people of Taree.
A beautiful gesture was when Peter Calvin passed away in September 2001, the family gathered around the tree to see the lights turned on in memory of their father.1
Author: Sue Calvin
1 Manning River Times, 11 February 1997, page 1.