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Helen Hughes

Helen Dankel was born in 1923,married in 1942 to Lloyd Hughes, and has six sons.

Helen Hughes, aged 87, has experienced many firsts in her life:

She was in Australia's first children's grades examination. It was conducted by The Royal Academy of Dancing in England, whose patron was Queen Mary. The examination was conducted on 1st September 1937 by Felix Demery, who travelled to Australia for this purpose. Helen performed in the operatic section and gained marks of 77/100 with honours. The examinations of musicians and dancers were held in the city of Adelaide.


At aged 11, Helen won a Brownie Pianoforte Scholarship to continue learning the piano for a year. Later, she studied piano, violin and singing at the Adelaide University conservatorium, dancing, and dressmaking at the School of Mines, now part of the University of South Australia. The winding trip to Adelaide was a challenge for the motion sickness prone student, who always ensured she sat next to a bus window for when the need arose.


Before she was married in 1942, Helen was the last person on the dance program to perform at the final concert in the Chain of Ponds Hall.


Helen was an active performer in dancing concerts and revues in the district. It was at a Gumeracha concert on 29 0ctober 1938 when she was performing in the song and dance and violin solos that she met her husband to be, Lloyd Hughes. Lloyd was an X-ray technician with Watson Victors. After Lloyd returned from the Second World War, they married on 6 February 1942.


Helen has been playing the church organ for services for 70 years and while her hands can still manage the task, she will continue to do so.


Mr O. G. J. Dankel (Otto), Helen's father, was instrumental in Lobethal's Centennial Hall being the first premises in South Australia to have a terrazzo floor. In 1937, Helen danced in the first concert at the newly opened Centennial Hall. She, along with others, used the dressing room to prepare. Two weeks later the room filled with water and the room was never used again.

Helen's childhood home is believed to be the first house in Lobethal to have a terrazzo bathroom floor.

Later, Helen was the first female president of the Centennial Hall committee.


At the time of the Second World War, American and Canadian service personnel were stationed at Woodside and Birdwood. When the American services big band played, the people of Lobethal danced. And as Helen remembers, "The men could dance and boy, could they swing the girls around!" The music of the American band was so popular that the dancing public demanded three dances a week. The local orchid growers were in demand as the service men would present an orchid bloom to a lady to claim her dance company for the night. These dances were for the "war effort".


The Canadian and American servicemen obtained, Helen still wonders how, salmon in cans and boxes as hospitality gifts for local residents who invited them into their homes. The salmon products were highly prized in a time of war time food rations. 


Helen remembers as part of the war effort, the "Mile of pennies". A row of pennies would be started at one end of Main Street. As people went past, they would place a few pennies to the growing line. When the line was one mile long, the pennies would be donated to an organisation such as Red Cross or the Comforts Fund. The Comforts Fund provided amenities such as a Cheer Up Hut at the Adelaide Railway Station for soldiers seeking meals, recreation or items such as razors.


Another fund raiser for the war effort was toy teddy bears started in the 1940s made from blanket ends from the Onkaparinga Woollen Mill. The teddy bears cost 10 shillings. Eventually, over 7,000 teddy bears were made by Mrs Linda Börth and others.

Helen travelled in the first school bus in Australia, which took school children from Lobethal to Birdwood High School. At this time the school-leaving age was 14 years and many school-leavers went to work at either  the Onkaparinga Woollen Mill or on the land. Helen's father was one of the those who lobbied the Premier, Mr. Thomas Playford, to provide a bus to transport children from the district to a central High School to continue their education beyond the years of compulsory education. The High School at Birdwood was resurrected, at first in the three-roomed Institute, and the bus, Old Bertha, collected students from Lobethal, Woodside, Charleston, Mount Torrens and from along roadsides in between. This enabled the district's children to remain at school until Leaving Certificate (Year 11). Leaving Honours (Year 12), was offered in Adelaide. At the time, Oakbank High School specialised in agriculture and Birdwood High School prepared students for further study.


Old Bertha also transported the football and cricket teams to their matches in the region.


Helen recalls Mrs Stella Kleemann, the driver, placing a cot containing her newborn son, Kevin, at the front of the bus on school runs. Later, as Kevin grew into a toddler, Helen would look out for him, especially going round corners. Kevin Kleemann followed his father into the profession as the local funeral director. He is still active in that role.


A teacher with commercial qualifications was appointed to Birdwood High School and Helen enrolled as the first student in commercial studies at the school. Other female students studied domestic arts.


Helen Hughes has always had a keen interest in fashion and presented vintage fashion parades with a group of volunteer models from Lobethal throughout the South Australian countryside for 14 years. All money raised has gone to charity. Eventually, the collection of costumes resulted in the National Costume Museum, opened by Lady Downer on 14 May 1996.


Helen was a fashion judge in the first Bay to Birdwood Run for vintage and classic cars in 1980 and has kept on judging for 30 years, except for one year's break.


Helen's keen community involvement included so much more: presidencies of clubs; organiser of balls (debutante and others); judge of the annual Lobethal Christmas Pageant; and teacher of music and dance.


The aftermath of the war resulted in a change of how people in Lobethal saw their life's potential. Before the war, young people went into work on the land or at the Onkaparinga Woollen Mill. After the war, when travel and experience had influenced their lives, young people tended to move away from their home town.


Helen's family has spread across the world, but with today's technology the members can all keep in regular contact.