Sammy Ringer is a valuable force for good in the hinterland, and champions those who cannot speak – the native creatures of Australia. But there is much more to Sammy, who lived in America and New Zealand before finding home on the Range.
by Gay Liddington
A call came as we concluded the interview. “Bat in barbed wire,” Sammy Ringer’s voice sounded from the next room. She reappeared. “I have to go. It’s at the end of the street,” and apologised with a sense of urgency. I followed.
It hung helpless, unmoving. Big black eyes gazed from the diminutive face in resignation. Sammy wrapped the little one in a hand towel, speaking words to calm and reassure. It was an operation of precision; delicate, exact.
She carried the bundle to her vehicle outfitted for such emergencies. I trailed behind with the rescue kit. Sammy examined the patient. I stood at the rear in awe and filled with hope. “Euthanasia,” she exclaimed as I looked over her shoulder into those big, black eyes.
I drove away, tears streaming down my cheeks. In my opinion, wildlife rescue volunteers are our unsung heroes.
Sammy Ringer’s involvement with wildlife, refugees, Maleny cooperatives and her career as a writer and documentary maker is locally known. However, it was that familiar American twang that sparked my curiosity.
“I was born in Mansfield, Ohio – a little town that grew corn and maize and corn and maize,” reflects Sammy with her trademark satirical sense of humour. “We left there when I was five after my mother remarried and went to live in Los Angeles.”
In the aftermath of World War II, political and military tension between major world powers, the U.S. and Soviet Union, erupted. It was known as the Cold War. This friction created fear and apprehension among citizens.
Sammy recalls: “In the ‘60s, we built a bomb shelter stocked with water and food because that’s what everyone did in those days. My stepfather said, ‘Where’s the one place they won’t bomb? They’ll never bomb New Zealand.’ So, we moved to New Zealand.
“I was there from the age of 11 until 17 and went to Auckland Girls Grammar School. It was just the best place to grow up.
“We lived near Papakura. Close by was a glider field where mum learnt to fly. I watched gliders and planes that towed them fly over our house. I followed mum to the airfield and did passenger flights. Her instructor took me under his wing.
“I couldn’t afford to pay for lessons so, I stole coffee from home and supplied the guys with hot drinks in exchange for half hour lessons.” A year later, the 15-year-old attained her glider license and later upgraded to a private pilot’s license.
In the early ‘70s, Sammy followed her mother back to L.A. but couldn’t settle. She returned to New Zealand. A couple of lads with a catamaran in Sydney enticed this restless spirit to join them. The adventurers flew to Australia with the intention of sailing to the Middle East in a quest to search for shipwrecks.
“It took us three months to sail from Sydney to Southport! Twice we were pulled to shore by the water rescue police. The journey ended at Southport due to damage to the trimaran.”
Sammy gained employment on the Gold Coast, then met a producer which led her back to Sydney and a career writing for television.
Her love of writing began as a teenager. After a year at Auckland University studying Science and History, she left and became a department store copywriter.
“I wrote about mittens and undies and the like for quite a few years then went to L.A. where I wrote for another department store and an advertising agency but really wanted to break into TV, so moved between Melbourne and Sydney.
“I bombarded every producer saying, I’m the best writer you will find and landed a job scriptwriting for Bellbird. Following, was The Sullivans, Hotel Story and writer/researcher/director for Simon Townsend’s Wonder World.
“My series Twenty Good Years was picked up by the ABC in 1979. I also wrote scripts for E Street. After it folded, a friend of mine said, ‘Sammy you can write for TV from anywhere and you’ll love Maleny’.”
In the wake of her second marriage and news of her mother’s cancer diagnosis, Sammy shuffled between Sydney and L.A. In 1994, the pair moved to Maleny. Betty Ringer became a well-loved personality around town until her passing in 2010.
“When I moved to Maleny, I discovered it’s not quite so easy to get work. During my time here, I’ve done a few docos, short films, lecturing, wildlife and retirement. My favourite short film aired by the ABC was Chant of the Scrub Turkey filmed at Frog’s Hollow.”
There were times Sammy floundered. A suggestion to join community groups lifted her from despondency. The Upfront Club and Maple Street Cooperative embraced her enthusiasm and talent. She was editor of the Maple Street Co-op News and publisher of Australian Bushfoods magazine for several years – the latter now online.
Sammy’s introduction to a new career caring for wildlife came by way of a possum trapped in her garage. She called for help and subsequently joined WILVOS (Wildlife Volunteers Association Inc.).
“Two years later, I was visiting my friend Carmel Givens. She was feeding a baby flying fox. Smitten, I joined Bat Rescue. Many of the calls I get are for bats on barbed wire. Until a couple of months ago, there would be about one bat a week but now, due to a mass starvation event we can get four a day.”
Sammy’s current writing projects encapsulate her passions, highlight her sense of humour and draws attention to political concerns: Granny Snatch alludes to women of that ‘certain age’ setting free a refugee; Two Old Ladies and a Smart Phone is a series of short comedies; and, The Council of Possums makes a statement indicative of this woman’s love of wildlife.
“It’s about a couple of ringtails that decide they’ve had enough. All their trees are cut down. Their nests are on the ground. They get together with Currawongs and other wildlife and start to push back!”
Mansfield to Maleny, glider pilot to bat rescue, copywriter to film maker, no amount of words can adequately note Sammy Ringer’s talent and service to our community. She is indeed our very own ‘Bat Woman’.