It really doesn’t get any more Hawkesbury than Les Dollin.
Les is the guy you probably recognise best in a sensible high-vis vest, floppy hat and sunsafe sunglasses, or perhaps you know the little blue car or white 4WD we all recognise as commonplace fixtures on the side of the road.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” says Les, waving a gloved hand at two obvious fans in passing cars. “I’m in trouble with them if I don’t wave back.”
If you live west of the river, chances are you’ve waved to Les too. For no less than twelve years, Les, who just turned 71, has been voluntarily clearing rubbish, mowing grass and controlling weeds.
Today, I’ve caught him at the tough job of clearing and tidying the corner that heralds the eastern gateway to Kurrajong Village, ahead of the weekend’s Kurrajong-A-Buzz activities. As I pull over for a chat, I see he has stuffed rows of chaff bags with the waste he has collected, neatly tying each one closed at the top. He does not yet have assistance to dispose of the general waste and greenwaste, using his own residential bins to dispose of it responsibly.
Les says, “I started in 2007. I was only going to do a little bit, down Comleroy Road, not far from where I live. My niece had said she’d had to ride her horse on the road, because the nature strip was just too overgrown. So I went up there, and I cleaned up that little bit. Everyone was tooting and waving, and I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, well, maybe I’ll do a bit more!’ I kept going and going, and eventually, I finished Comleroy Road. It took me about three years.”
Les says that over the years his territory has extended as far as Chapel Street, in Richmond, and enthusiastic encouragement from Hawkesbury locals keeps him motivated.
“It’s not my fault, you see. It’s all these locals, tooting and waving!”
“I think that if people come up here, and fall in love with the place, they’re locals. You don’t have to live here a hundred years or fifty years. If you love the place, you’re a local.”
Les can be seen on Wednesday mornings enjoying a coffee with his friend Chris Underwood, another local celebrity known for his friendly and attentive service at the Kurmond Public School road crossing. Both men can be regularly seen spending mornings voluntarily clearing the roadside of rubbish.
“Chris is brilliant. He’s fantastic. He has helped me a lot with picking up the rubbish. It takes me just as long to pick the rubbish up as it does to mow. I still do Comleroy Road, and he does the Bells Line. We have found that the message is getting through. People are throwing less rubbish out. We’ve seen that particularly in the last eighteen months. It’s made it easier to keep the road clean, and we can cover more country.”
Les says that the sight of well-tended public greenspaces has the effect of inspiring a little more pride of place in a neighbourhood. He points to the freshly-cut grass and cluster of plants upon the corner we stand upon, and says,
“See? If a road is clean and the grass is mowed like this, no-one’s going to throw rubbish on it. You know what I mean? They can see that someone respects that lawn, and has spent a lot of time looking after it. They won’t throw rubbish on it.”
In earlier years, Les’s career was spent in service to the public transport sector, as an electrician for State Rail.
Les says that the mentorship his generation of men received from older men was a formative part of his own approach to life.
He explains, “I did my thirty years. Thirty years of service. I’ve always done some sort of maintenance. I’m old-school. A lot of the older chaps have always taught the younger ones to always take care. Always work clean and don’t have a mess everywhere. I think, out of the bush, you grow up with men who show you the way. As a child, I learned from the men. And you sort of learn to do a good job and keep everything tidy. It’s like an early sort of apprenticeship.”
Sponsorship for Les’s work has also been forthcoming from the community, with Kurmond BP providing fuel for his work. He says that people provide bags for the waste, and young people from school buses give him sweets. He says that local residents are also beginning to assist him by beginning to look after the nature strips outside their properties where they previously hadn’t.
Despite having spent his entire 71 years in the Hawkesbury and being from “old Hawkesbury” stock, Les says the concept of being a “local” is very simple and not at all dependent upon ancestry.
He says, “The community have been really fabulous. You know? And they’re lovely people. Cars pull up and they’re very friendly and have a bit of a yarn. People come from outside the area, and they say, ‘You’re the first person to actually talk to us in ages. Where we come from, nobody talks to us. We’ve just pulled up, and here you are greeting us and giving us a smile… and we just don’t normally get that at home.’ I think that if people come up here, and fall in love with the place, they’re locals. You don’t have to live here a hundred years or fifty years. If you love the place, you’re a local.”