It's a few minutes before midday.
A small, but expectant crowd gathers on the stone square outside the Geldmacher Museum on Nimmitabel's main drag.
Almost everyone is here for the same reason - to hear Nimmitabel's infamous bell ring-out 12 times with its mechanical clapper.
But not me. I'm here to catch up with local luminary Howard Charles who, five years ago, led the charge for the town to acquire the bell, convincing townsfolk to raise $50,000 for the cause.
The windswept town perched atop the Great Dividing Range between Cooma and Bega had just endured a long drought and a severe economic downturn following the closure of a sawmill and the local Lions Club believed a Nimmity-Bell (get it?) ringing at midday might just the thing to breathe new life into the main street.
The fundraising drive went off without a hitch with the required funds donated in just a few months, so too the sourcing of an appropriately sized second-hand bell in the United States.
However, following its arrival in mid-2015, the 1.8-tonne bell's planned installation went so badly pear-shaped it prompted several readers of this column to ask if the bell is jinxed in some way.
First there was considerable argy-bargy from some locals who didn't want the bell to be located in certain places as it may advantage some businesses and not others. Small town politics. It happens everywhere. Then some nearby residents cried foul, worried the bell, which was only ever intended to ring at midday, would ring all night, keeping them awake.
Eventually, last year - five years after the bell first arrived in town - approval was given by council for it to erected at its current location.
However, all the debate over where to hang the bell pales into insignificance when compared to the events of July 23 last year, when 77-year-old Howard helped to install the bell.
"Something went wrong and it went 'clunk' and fell on top of me," he recalls.
What an understatement. While there was a small gap at the base that enabled Howard, trapped inside the bell, to breathe, the lip of the bell had pinned one of Howard's legs firmly to the plinth below.
"My whole body was inside the bell," recalls Howard, adding "My wife was over in the corner saying you silly old fool."
Although he makes light of it now, the bell could have killed him.
Thankfully, just minutes after the accident, a crane drove through Nimmitabel. It was hailed down and within half an hour the bell was lifted off Howard.
"Luckily an ambulance also went past so it was also waved down, and in no time at all I was getting a free helicopter ride to Canberra," recalls Howard.
Only when he was lying in Canberra Hospital did Howard realise just how seriously injured he was.
"The lip of the bell broke one leg and crushed the other one to bits, it also cracked my pelvis, three ribs and four vertebrae, I was a bit of a mess." Howard's right leg was so badly crushed that it was amputated.
So, is the bell jinxed?
Well, not according to Howard. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"Lucky the clapper wasn't in it otherwise I don't think I'd be here today," says Howard, who is still "thanking his lucky stars" that it didn't kill him. Talk about a glass-half-full type bloke.
While Howard could be easily excused for never wanting to set eyes on the bell again, the accident has done little to deter his passion for the project.
"I came back a few months [later] when they were attempting to put the bell up again and asked 'do you want a hand?' The chap in the fluro vest dismissed me immediately," he laughs.
Last month when the first mechanised midday ring was timed to coincide with Nimmitabel's annual Steampunk Festival, Howard was of course in the crowd.
"It was amazing to see around 500 people here all for the bell ringing," says Howard, who admits he was "quite overcome by the moment".
Suddenly we're interrupted. It's midday and the bell rings loudly 12 times. After a moment's silence during which Howard is deep in thought, he turns to me.
"I hope for many years to come tourists will be drawn here to hear the bell ring," he says. "And while they are in town they might pop into one of the shops and buy lunch or a souvenir, it's all part of the rebirth of the town."
Howard is already planning to erect a plaque on the stone plinth to thank all the local families who donated to make his dream a reality.
I don't know about you, but I just hope there's also room on that plaque for an inscription to honour Howard for his unwavering dedication to the rebirth of his beloved Nimmitabel.
Don't Miss: Six years after being delivered to Nimmitabel, the Nimmity-Bell will be officially opened (rung!) on Saturday, October 2, 2021, at midday. Put it in your diary.
What are the chances? When this column contactedMarc Brosamer of Doumer Bells in the United States who shipped the bell to Nimmitabel in 2016, he was shocked to find out about Howard's accident. "In 35 years in the bell business I've never heard of a bell having fallen on anyone or trapping them, how awful," he replied.
Look out for: A large scratch on the side of the bell facing the museum. It's the result of a vandal who tried to smash the bell with a wood splitter a couple of years ago. Really!
A ringing endorsement
The 'Nimmity-Bell' isn't the only bell in our region with a colourful history. Here are my favourite 5.
St Bede's Catholic Church, Braidwood: According to local lore, the church's over-sized 1862 bell was mistakenly sent to Braidwood, instead of to the more grandiose St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. No matter the veracity of this story, when the wind is blowing in the right direction, some parishioners say it can be heard up to 15km away.
Yarrangobilly Caves: During the cave's hey-day early last century, a small bell, placed high on a cliff-face, was rung five minutes prior to the start of each tour by the guide pulling a rope hidden in the old ticket box on the lower side of Caves House. Kids still ring it!
St John's Anglican Church, Reid: St John's has a peal of eight bells which were gifted by governor-general Viscount De L'lsle as a memorial to his wife, Jacqueline, who died in 1962. The bells were cast at the bell foundry of John Taylor & Co in Loughborough, England, and were installed in 1964. They are rung by two people, each ringing four bells. The church's original bell was donated to the Church of St Michael and All Angels at Hall, where it was re-erected in the churchyard.
Parade Ground, Duntroon: The bell and tower were used by the Campbell family in the 1800s for rousing servants in the morning, calling parishioners to church and children to school. It was originally cast for a peal of bells at St Phillip's Church in Sydney and despite careful restoration 11 years ago, sadly can no longer be rung.
Old Ginninderra Schoolhouse, Gold Creek: Hidden among foliage near the historic stone building which operated as the public school from 1884 to 1910 is a bell which can still be rung. If you dare! Sure beats the modern 'sirens' to indicate lunchtime.
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Clue: Built 1926-27
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Last week: Congratulations to Jen Streatfeild of Murrumbucca (did you have to reach for your map like I did?) who was first to correctly identify last week's photo as Jesse Graham's Love in the Deep, a striking seahorse sculpture at the Raglan Gallery at 9-11 Lambie Street in Cooma - the town's former main street. The historic stone building has served several purposes since it was built in the 1850s as the Lord Raglan Inn. Raglan commanded the British Army in the Crimean war in 1854. In 1860, the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney opened Cooma's first bank in the building and today you can still make out markings on the floor where the tellers served their customers, many of whom were gold miners flocking to seek their fortunes at the nearby Kiandra Goldfields. Since then the building has been used variously as a maternity hospital, private home and more recently an art gallery. In 1976 when repainted, the owners decided not to use a commercial preparation, but instead to retain the original texture by using a curious concoction consisting of lime, milk and fresh cow manure. Apart from some eye-catching sculptures, the garden also features a Bay Tree and an Irish Strawberry Tree both of which are more than 100 years old. The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10.30am to 3.30pm. A little-known Monaro treasure.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday 12 June, 2021, wins a double pass to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema.
While this column's longest gum leaf competition has been run and won, it seems giant gum leaves have many other purposes, including as a blank canvas.
This delightful painting of a rainbow lorikeet was sent to in by local artist Sarah Boot-Guiver who found the 28cm leaf under a tree near the Florey Drive bridge over Ginninderra Creek in MacGregor. Love it.
Still on gum leaves, many years ago I heard south coast Aboriginal elder Ossie Cruse play the gum leaf. It was amazing performance. Check out his clip on YouTube. I suspect it's fast becoming a lost art.
CONTACT TIM: Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick