OLYMPIC Games fever was starting to grip the nation and Taree was the focal point on Saturday August 26, 2000 when the Olympic Torch Relay passed through the area en-route to Sydney for the start of the games on Friday, September 15.
The Taree section started just south of Laurieton and wound its way to Fotheringham Park, where the Olympic Cauldron was lit, before heading to Forster.
Russell Saunders of Tinonee was one of the runners.
He had been contacted by Greater Taree City Council a few months beforehand to say he had been chosen as one of the runners. He doesn't know what the selection process was or why he was picked.
"I didn't nominate. I just got this call out of the blue,'' he said.
However, the relay had been a source of fascination and inspiration for Russell since he was a young boy.
"In 1956 Herb Maher ran across the Martin Bridge towards Purfleet when the relay came through here going to Melbourne,'' Russell explained.
Herb, from Purfleet, is believed to be the only Indigenous runner in Australia selected to be part of that relay.
"I used to go to Herb's mum and dad's place when I was a young bloke and they had a black and white photo of him running with the torch. Herb was very dark and he stood out in the white gear he had on,'' Russell recalled.
"I'd ask his mum and dad about the day he ran with the Olympic Torch just about every time I went to their place, even though I knew the story off by heart.''
Preparations for the 1956 run were military-like, Fred Atkins, who ran in 1956 and again in 2000, told the Times leading into the 2000 relay. The runners - all young and fit men - had to meet at Taree Park for compulsory training sessions and they had to complete their section in a predetermined time.
Things were more relaxed in 2000 with the runners representing the wider cross section of the community. There was no requirement for them to even run. Many didn't. However, Russell, then 46, did some training.
"I'd go down to the oval here at Tinonee and do a few laps,'' he said.
Saturday August 26 was a near-perfect winter's day. Russell went to council chambers where the runners gathered to be bused to their starting points. As the bus left Russell was concerned it was all going to be a bit anti-climatic.
"It was a typical Saturday afternoon in Taree,'' he said.
"There wasn't even a dog in the street. I remember wondering if anyone knew this was on and that I'd look a bit silly running down the road in all the Olympic gear they gave us with no-one watching. It was weird.''
I jogged all the way and even tried to stride out in the Olympic style. It was fantastic. I thought about Herb (Maher) thenRussell Saunders recalls running his leg of the Olympic Torch Relay in Taree on August 26, 2000
Russell was dropped off at his spot at Chatham near the Lyndhurst Street turn. He had to run to just past Brown's Creek Bridge. And there was no reason to worry about spectators. By the time it came for him to run, the crowds were there, cheering him all the way.
"I was a bit nervous when my torch was lit,'' Russell admitted.
"I jogged all the way and even tried to stride out in the Olympic style. It was fantastic. I thought about Herb (Maher) then.''
The crowd at Fotheringham Park to watch the lighting of the cauldron was huge. So was the reception for the runners.
"They'd organised for a young Aboriginal girl to light the cauldron - I didn't know her, she wasn't from around here,'' Russell said.
"But I didn't get anywhere near it. There were people everywhere shaking my hand, asking me to get a photo taken with their kids, patting me on the back, it was awesome.
"I think I was there for about two hours before I could get to my car. That's the only time I've known what it was like to be a celebrity.''
He also had photos taken with his wife, son and daughter. And he still has his Olympic Torch.
"People offered to buy it, but I said no. It's a family heirloom now and it will be passed through the generations,'' Russell explained.
However, he found out how fleeting fame can be - sic transit gloria mundi.
"I went down the street the next day and nobody knew me,'' Russell laughed.
"No-one wanted to shake my hand or take my photo.
"I was famous. For a day.''