Our Priceless Past: The story of Mrs Sybil Riley
"I'VE always loved Gladstone, all my 83 years,” says Mrs Sybil Riley.
Born in Gladstone 1936 to parents Phyllis (nee Handley) and Harry Dahl, Sybil has lived heroically. Raised on the property of 'Forest Vale', 10 miles from Miriam Vale, where her father herded cattle and grew tobacco, she led an exciting life with her brothers and sisters, Selwyn, Ellis, Iris, Karron, Ross, Jennifer and Ian.
Blind until three years old, she was at a friend's house when her sight returned, and she saw a tomato plant. Mrs Riley recounted seeing her mother for the first time; this miracle brought tears to everyone's eyes.
Attending Miriam Vale State School from age four, Sybil then attended St Faith's School for Girls, Yeppoon, boarding to sub-junior, aged 14.
In 1949, she joined the Youth Country Women's Association (YCWA) and has been vice-president and treasurer in past years. She was also a part of the YCWA where she learnt, and instantly took a liking to, paper quilling.
Tennis matches and other crafts filled up Sybil's spare time and are a clear display of her unmatched talent.
She is also extremely talented at the piano, playing it for the Saturday night dances at Miriam Vale. Sybil played organ for her Miriam Vale Church of England, where she also taught Sunday School.
Sybil was 15, when she moved to her family's Miriam Vale property 'Invercoe'. "There were accidents, and you had to be ready,” she commented, telling us of a man's accident, on their farm when Sybil had wrapped his wound with cloth and saved his arm.
Astounding us further, she told us when Mary Smallcombe had crashed her car into a tree, Sybil heroically rushed down, binding Mary's head and knee, saving her life, to which she was rightly awarded a certificate.
Always helping, Sybil assisted the local ambulance for around four years. "Dudley Williams,” she said, "would ring me up and say, 'Where are ya, Syb?”. I would drive him in the ambulance, even when the water was nearly over the bonnet. We'd find the patient and take them to Bundaberg.”
Saving lives and limbs weren't Mrs Riley's only hobbies. She helped establish the first Miriam Vale Bowls Club in 1956.
Later, she entered the Australian Bowls Championship, becoming the North Queensland Champion of Champions around 1980-1985.
Volunteering for multiple organisations, she has also worked at schools, such as the Endeavour Foundation in Gladstone, where she was always met with joyous cheers.
In Bundaberg in 1975 she married Kevin Riley. When he was a buyer for Swift's meatworks in 1980, Sybil assisted newcomers from different territories with a smile, taking them shopping, driving them around town or just giving a helping hand, ready and willing to help anyone and everyone.
The Riley's had a son, Neal, and three grandchildren Candice, Holly and Kurt. Unfortunately, Neal passed away in 2018.
Sybil is a paragon of the wonderful women we have here in Gladstone. The things she has done proves she is a wonderful, talented hero.