My last few articles have dealt with the Cottonpicker’s band. This led me to trace the beginnings of the band, how they found a home at Bell’s Beach, and how they built a ‘star’ of a place – The Big Dipper on their beach.
Sadly, the Big Dipper today only exists as a star constellation found in the northern sky over Bell’s Beach. The beach’s Big Dipper did not survive exorbitant 1980’s interest rates on loans – the end result was that the marvellous structure, perhaps an idea ahead of its time, came to an end. It fell to the wrecker’s ball.
One of the original owners and supervisors of the Beach, and the true father of the Cottonpickers, Llew Bell, loved to see the beach full of people. He loved to see them have fun, even if that fun and entertainment was at times at their own expense.
One day when the beach was full with families, many of them frolicking in the water, Llew boomed out over the beach’s loud speaker, “Your attention! Your attention! Would all parents quickly take their children out of the bay, as we are about to drain the bay and clean it.”
Many did so! Only to shake a fist at the loud speaker when they realized they ‘had been taken in!’
There were many other activities that also left warm memories.
One of these was ‘Family Night at The Dipper.’ This was a special night when Llew and the Cottonpickers performed with music meant for all – the youngest to the oldest. They were fabulous nights. The Dipper was packed and Llew, who knew how to be not just a kidder, but a kid as well, got everyone going, dancing, singing, and just plain having fun.
My own family attended one such night. Our kids, our visiting relatives, and we had a night of rich memories. Thank you Llew, the Cottonpickers, and the Big Dipper itself, for such a night.
Bell’s Beach did not just serve its own patrons. It also served the community around it, and not just by attracting tourists, but by being a great place for events that created a strong sense of community.
One of these events arose when a local service club, the Lakeland Lions would sponsor an annual Amateur Talent Night at the Dipper
Performers, from the very young to those of a more senior vintage, would come and display their talents with the professional Cottonpickers’ band volunteering as a back-up.
How many memories and possibly even career starts came out of those nights?
The Big Dipper was also a gathering place for other big events: the Bell’s Beach Ball( with a queen and all) , the Christopher Lake Winter Festival (full of competitions), Community B.B.Q’s, and Sunday smorgasbord
The Cottonpickers also took their community building talent beyond the beach
The Band itself participated in every parade, fair, and exhibition they were invited to. They were always willing and trying to bring people together – and they did!
To facilitate these excursions the band constructed a circular stage that was mounted on a semi truck’s flat trailer. To make the stage more attractive a system was designed to rotate the stage as the band performed. This circular stage folded in half upward when the truck was on its way to another parade.
Bev Stewart, Llew’s sister, and a member of the band, remembers having to let nearly all the air out of the truck’s tires to go under a bridge. “We made it with only inches to spare.”
Yes, the Cottonpickers were great musicians. They had their home and their concert hall – The Big Dipper – at Bell’s Beach. They used the site to entertain and bring people together. There was always great food that made for happy gatherings. One of the original Cottonpickers doubled as a talented musician and a chef par excellent. This was Dolores, Llew’s wife. Her hours in the kitchen and on the stage paid off – everyone went home full and happy.
The Cottonpickers had many talents, and the result was they made both Bell’s Beach and wherever the band went places of fun, music, dance, and togetherness.
Thank you for all the memories – You Cottonpickers!
For the next few weeks, I will be taking a break from writing this column. In the meantime, take care, and be safe.