Marjo Hallowell is truly a force to be reckoned with, and at 70 years old, she doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.

Currently she’s on a mission to collect 50,000 cans for the Return & Earn Program that she will use to raise money for this year’s Great Cycle Challenge for the Children’s Medical Research Institute. (She’s already ridden more than 2000 kms over the last 5 years with her three young grandsons and raised $25,000 for the annual Challenge.)

So if you are passing through Bargo, there is a good chance you will spot Marjo on her bike, clocking up some kilometres and cleaning up her hometown while she’s at it!

Marjo was born in the Netherlands and was only a 9 month old baby when her mother brought her and her three brothers to Australia in 1954. As her mother tells it, they almost lost Marjo on the boat ride here.

“When my mum asked for baby food on the boat, they gave her a raw carrot. My mum reckons she almost lost me on the boat,” she said.

Marjo spent her childhood in the small country town of Orange and later, the Oaklands Riverina in New South Wales. She always imagined when she left school that she would become a teacher, but swiftly changed her mind after moving to Queensland with her mother, brothers and stepdad and hearing how some of her peers spoke to their teachers.

She said, “The penny dropped. I thought if any of the kids speak to me the way some of these kids speak to our teachers… so I thought it wasn’t the best idea.”

After her first marriage ended, she remarried and had three children. After ending her second marriage with an abusive alcoholic, she wound up in a refuge in Canley Vale in Sydney’s southwest. From here, she embarked on the incredibly difficult, seemingly insurmountable task of raising three young kids as a single mother.

When she had left the refuge and moved back to Bargo, she remembers one conversation she had with a neighbour. Marjo said, “Every now and then, you think, ‘how am I going to manage?’ And I remember one neighbour saying, ‘I don’t know what you’re worried for, because you always figure something out.’”

At the time, she had been juggling a few different gigs trying to make ends meet so she could afford to send her kids to school and pay off her mortgage.

In a strange but welcome twist of fate, she was approached by a woman who had a job at The Picton News.

“She lived just around the corner, and had got herself a full time job. I was walking up to the shops, and she pulled up next to me and said: “Do you want my job?” And that’s how I got into journalism,” Marjo said.

From there, Marjo’s value of community grew stronger, and much of her professional career revolved around community reporting.

After working for the Picton News, The Southern Highland News, Steve Parish Publishing in Queensland and The Macarthur Chronicle, she moved to Scotland and worked for The Press and Journal in the Scottish Highlands for two years, and later became the editor of the Arafura Times in East Arnhem Land.

Marjo has also always had a passion for photography, documenting her adventures and travels through her photos. She held annual solo and group exhibitions from 2000-2016 and in 2004 was the founding president of The Southern Highlands Photographic Society.

Though Marjo has lived in a number of places from Arnhem Land to Scotland, she says Bargo will always be home to her. Her book, Bargo 200 Years in the Making, is a testament to this, with all profits split equally between Bargo-based community groups, fire brigades and sporting clubs.

She spent the best part of a year working on the book. “I would wake up at between 2 and 3 in the morning, and work until the early afternoon, and then relax. That was my routine for a time,” she remembers.

Marjo has shaved her head on three separate occasions, raising a total of $20,000. She has also participated in the Great Cycle Challenge with her grandsons every year since 2017 and has raised over $39,400 and counting.

In 2022, Marjo was awarded Wollondilly Citizen of the Year. In 2023, she was awarded Wollondilly Woman of the Year for International Women’s Day, the New South Wales Centre for Volunteering Senior Award, and the Overall Volunteer of the Year for the South West Sydney/Macarthur region.

As for what lies ahead, Marjo is working closely with the Bargo History Group on another book. It will be about the people of Bargo, focusing on the pioneers of the town in its early years.

She is beginning to sort through her archive of photos that span all the way back to her time in the UK, and would love to put on a retrospective exhibition of her life in photographs for her 75th birthday. It is a dream of hers to go back to Scotland, so Marjo is also currently planning her next overseas trip.

–  Emily Kaine