Goulburn bids a fond goodbye to Yvonne Neale

Young Claire Neale clung tightly to a family photo capturing the legacy of her grandmother’s long life on Thursday.

There in the centre was Yvonne Neale, surrounded by just some of her 12 children, 24 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.

The woman who devoted 44 years of her life to the the Lilac City Festival and markets, was farewelled at a funeral service at Saint Saviour’s Cathedral, officiated by Dean Phillip Saunders.

Some 400 people watched as her grandchildren escorted her lilac coloured casket, appropriately chosen by her family, into the Cathedral.

Yvonne Patricia Neale (nee Rowe) passed away on April 29, aged 82, after a short illness.

Daughter Leisa Hopper remembered the woman who was entrepreneurial from a young age and started her working life as a dental nurse and then became a nurse at St John of God Hospital.

“My mum would have a go at anything,” she said.

She recalled a mother who would cook for hours, volunteered for tuck-shop duty, prepared poultry for showing and who loved sport. Mrs Hopper said the family never went without.

“She lived life and her determination proved nothing was impossible,” she said.

In his eulogy, family friend and local singer Jamie Agius said he met Mrs Neale 26 years ago through her husband, Fred, as they both recovered in hospital.

“Over those years we had plenty of good conversations...She loved my music and I always appreciated her support. I’ll miss her dearly,” he said.

Born on November 26, 1935 in Goulburn, the young Patricia Rowe was educated at Saint Joseph’s Primary School and Our Lady of Mercy College.

Mr Agius said she was a tireless worker in the community, and with her husband Fred Neale, was involved with the Lilac Time Festival for 44 years. They would set up in Auburn Street to sell raffle tickets, run lamington drives and chook raffles to raise money.

Mr Neale passed away in 1997. Yvonne soldiered on to meet her promise to Fred that she would see it through to its 50th anniversary. She went far beyond that. This year the festival marks its 66th anniversary.

Mrs Neale organised a Disabilities Thursday at Lilac Time, where she arranged free rides and entertainment for people with disabilities. It would make her day to see the smiles on their faces, and this set the tone for the Lilac Festival.

Many times the weather conditions did not favour the festival. That never stopped the show from going on; it only made her more determined.

Yvonne had many helpers over the years, none longer lasting than Heather and Clinton Landow. Heather and Clinton were Yvonne’s right hand for many and they formed a strong bond and friendship.

In the weeks leading up the festival, these three would be in the Lilac Time office up until midnight, bagging lollies for the treasure hunt and organising events. They worked tirelessly to ensure the people, and especially the children, had a great time.

Mrs Neale wouldn’t see much of the festival as she was always in the office. She would come out only for the opening, the presentations and the parade.

The Lilac Festival committee started the Lilac City Markets in the old Payless Building in 1992 to help raise money for the festival. The markets moved to Belmore Park, then to Montague Street, then Saint Saviour’s and Bourke Street School. Mrs Neale and Mrs Landow were always sitting at the markets, collecting fees from the stall holders, regardless of the freezing cold in the middle of winter.

Mrs Neale started the Lilac Debutante Ball with Val Keegan, Jimmy Lang and Daryl Navybox. The ball went for a number of years. On the passing of her good friend Val Keegan, Yvonne decided that she couldn’t do it without Val and called it a day.

That didn’t stop her other projects, such as the Seniors Country Music afternoon at the Goulburn Soldiers Club. It was an afternoon to look forward to every month, not only for the retirees who attended, but also for the patients in nursing homes and group homes brought along by their carers to enjoy an afternoon of music from local artists, and the occasional out of towner.

“In truth, you would be hard pressed to find a person that has done more for the Goulburn community than Yvonne. She loved Goulburn, and was always proud of the fact that the Lilac Time Festival was one of the oldest and longest running festivals in Australia,” Mr Agius said.

Claire Neale had the final word, fondly recalling the times they spent together and reading a poem.

“My grandma is a special person to me,” she said.

Outside the Cathedral, Cr Margaret O’Neill said Mrs Neale had detractors in Goulburn but she committed herself to the festival regardless and never asked for anything in return.

“She fought for what she believed in. She was a battler,” she said.

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