Ovens & Murray Advertiser - North East Regional Extra
Back on the road to Wangaratta again
BEECHWORTH’S loss is definitely Wangaratta’s gain with well-known regional identities Wendy and Mark (Lazy Harry) Stephens moving back to the rural city.
In 1974, following the birth of their son Matthew, Mark and Wendy decided to relocate from Melbourne to the North East and bought a home in Graham Avenue, Wangaratta where Wendy had a beautiful art studio - and won the Albury Rotary Art Prize for a piece she created there.
In Melbourne, Mark had been teaching history at Wesley College while Wendy was nursing at the Royal Women’s Hospital and for almost two decades after they arrived, Mark taught year 11 and 12 history and English at the TAFE College and Wendy was nursing.
In 1976, their daughter Jacqui was born at the Wangaratta hospital, completing their family and Mark and Wendy were involved in a number of community groups and organisations.
“Wendy directed and produced ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Twelfth Night’ with large casts and audiences and also ‘The Boyfriend’ with Wangaratta Music Theatre,” Mark said.
“At the same time, we both served for many years as judges for the Zonta Theatre Excellence Awards in the North East.”
“We were very busy and so happy to be engaged with the community,” Wendy added.
“Mark’s love of music and Australian history combined during our years in Wangaratta and the prolific entertainer/singer/songwriter and recording artist ‘Lazy Harry’ was born.”
“The name ‘Lazy Harry’ came from the traditional bush ballad ‘We Camped at Lazy Harry’s on the Road to Gundagai’,” Mark explained.
“I sang the song at every gig and it reflects so nicely the hard working, fun loving ethos of our early pioneers.
“My music career began as a choir boy in Melbourne and I still believe the pipe organ is the “King” of all instruments.”
In 1981, Lazy Harry’s first album was launched at Kate’s Cottage in Glenrowan.
“I researched the Ned Kelly saga and wrote and recorded The Original Ned Kelly Story album on tapes - which have since been upgraded to CDs,” Mark said.
“That album has played all day, every day at Kate’s Cottage for the past 40 years - which surely has to be some sort of world record.”
“Ned has been very good to us,” Wendy agreed. Lazy Harry now has 14 albums to his name and has performed throughout the USA, Canada, UK, Europe and Australia, and his new song ‘The COVID Rock’ is being played by Macca on Australia All Over.
“I have toured everywhere, singing about our country and telling folks about our history, it’s fantastic,” Mark said.
By 1996, Beechworth was becoming a booming mecca for history tourism with up to 20 coachloads of local and international tourists arriving almost every day.
“We were spending so much of our time at Beechworth with Mark performing and sharing his love and knowledge of the local history that it made sense for us to move there,” Wendy said.
Mark and Wendy designed and built ‘Beechworth House’, a premier Bed and Breakfast and signed contracts with AAT Kings, Australian Pacific Tours and Fly Buys to accommodate and entertain their passengers.
They also created a Beechworth B&B Co-operative.
The Stephens’ have always been actively involved with the community - Wendy with theatre and the arts and Mark with music and history and both have been long-serving correspondents for the Ovens & Murray Advertiser newspaper in Beechworth.
Mark’s love of the ‘king of instruments’ and his commitment to his local town was evident when - after noting the sad state of disrepair of the historic William Anderson pipe organ at (Beechworth) Christ Church - he encouraged the locals to come together to help with its restoration.
“We started the Farmer’s Market and with the help of a $30,000 grant from Heritage Victoria, the organ was restored to its former glory,” Mark said.
He also recently found a photograph of the Beechworth Philharmonic Society c.1890 performing in the town hall in front of an English Concert pipe organ and it led to an Australia-wide search with Mark finally locating the pipe organ in North Melbourne.
“With funding from the local community, Indigo Shire Council and the Copland Foundation the original c.1850 English Concert pipe organ is now once again a fixture on the Town Hall stage,” Mark said.
With the next chapter of their lives in motion, Mark and Wendy have decided that Wangaratta is an excellent choice for them to re-plant their roots.
“We decided to return to Wangaratta because it is well placed between Beechworth and Glenrowan, it has so many opportunities for us in music and the arts, and we have so many friends there already,” Wendy said.
“We are really looking forward to being involved again with music, theatre and the arts at Wangaratta,” Mark added.
Mark said that although they retired from the B&B in 2007, they will never retire from music and the arts.
“Wendy and I want to thank all our friends at Beechworth and Wangaratta and assure everyone that we will continue to be actively involved throughout the North East region,” he said.
“It is the best place in the world to live, work and enjoy.”