Story by Alistair Gray
Pictures kindly provided by Noelene Gorman
Long-time Bribie resident Noelene Gorman (stage name: Noelene Rich), has had a life filled with music and showbiz. Starting back in Nambour some 70 years ago, when she persuaded her mother to buy her a Ukulele, which she had spotted in the local shop window. She purchased the Ukulele for less than five pounds, along with a how-to-play book for another five shillings. Considered a lot of money at the time, however, a minor investment, when compared to how this purchase has enriched her life and the lives of others.
Noelene started playing the Ukulele with her sister, Joy, at local Ambulance Variety Concerts, and were then known as the ‘Richardson Sisters’. Noelene’s sister Joy, went on to marry Slim Dusty.
Noelene won a 4KQ Talent Quest singing ‘Rock Island Line’ broadcast live. She quickly learnt the guitar and commenced entertaining in beer gardens. She had two agents, Gwen Iliffe and Bill South. Bill changed her name from ‘Richardson’ to ‘Rich’ which he considered to be more appropriate for showbiz. Agent Gwen, also managed the Bee Gees. Noelene recalls how she had arranged for Mr Gibb to pick her up and take her to a gig at the Runcorn Factory Christmas Party. She remembers going with them to the Carnival of Flowers in Toowoomba and performing off the back of a truck. They would often play at the same venues. She said, “The Bee Gees harmonies were great even then”.
Next came the black and white TV appearances, where she scored a 6-month contract with Channel 7 for weekly appearances on Teen Beat and was paid five pounds five shillings to play at the Theatre Royal. In 1961 she was asked to sing with the Reg Lindsay Show, playing six nights a week all over Queensland, for four months. Conditions were very tough, with no fancy hotel suites. Travelling instead and living in an old 12-foot plywood caravan, set up with a kerosene fridge, metho stove and a two-bar heater, making her very grateful for her Girl Guide camp training. It was often cold and dusty, and at times challenging. Noelene tells of how the van wheel fell off six times in eight days on the rough roads. Despite these hardships, they had lots of fun meeting some great local people. During one journey, Noelene ended up singing duets with Heather McKean.
Noelene moved to Bribie in 1970 with her three children, Sharon, Russell, and Jason living at the Bay-Vue Flats, South Esplanade, which her mum owned. She loved living here and made many friends. She worked at the TAB for 25 years, teaching the Guitar and Ukulele to those who were interested. She teamed up with sisters, Pamela Long and Elaine Siddall who performed at local Island events, dinners, and fundraisers, including organising a big night of singing, dancing, and fancy costumes at the Bribie Island Golf Club. Noelene and Pamela still sing today.
Her two eldest children went to Caboolture High School in the 1980s, attending music class with Keith Urban, who used to come home on the bus to play and sing at Noelene’s until late into the evening. She said, “Keith was an excellent guest and a great guitar player”.
In 2013, Noelene moved to Trinity Beach for a period, teaching music at a local neighbourhood centre. Today that group has more than thirty members playing an extensive repertoire of songs to local Aged Care Homes. Known as the FN Ukes (Far North), they have even played on Radio and at other local events.
Today, Noelene is a very young 84 and is still actively playing and entertaining in old people’s homes. I had the pleasure of seeing her recently singing to the Bribie Island Historical Society as part of a fascinating presentation. Her family love to get together and sing as the ‘Rich Family’. Rich indeed!
Sharon teaches the Ukulele and Guitar and works in the music section of Victoria University. Jason is a franchisee of six McDonald's stores in Cairns, and Russell has been entertaining on cruise ships, travelled the world as one of the ‘Scared Weird Little Guys’, and also seen on the ABC show ‘Spicks and Specks’.