One of the delights in wandering with a caravan is the chance to explore. So often on journeys we rush to our destination and plonk there. Or move from city to town to city on an organised schedule. Excellent ways to holiday if you need to relax, or visit family or find out as much as you can about a place in a short time. I know I will have holidays of either sort in the future, and I know that I will love it, because I am a great tourist. 🙂
But I do love to wander and a caravan is the perfect way to do that.
It struck me on this last trip [to semi-arid NSW, the Flinders Ranges and the Great Ocean Road] how interesting small towns are. How varied. How loved. And it also struck me how so many of them are struggling.
Driving distances gives you time to reflect, and I was thinking about how fortunate I am because I live in the big city of Melbourne. At the end of my street I have my local library, a choice of a number of good cafes, the tram stop, the post office, decent butchers, green grocers, bakeries, newsagents, a couple of chemists and a bank. Extend the radius a couple of kilometres and there are 5 supermarkets, a number of gyms, more coffee shops, medical centres, a train station and an even bigger library. Hospitals are close by, and I have easy access to art galleries and cinemas. The only things I really have to travel to are my dentist and hair dresser — and I travel because I want to go to those particular people.
Small country towns are lucky if they have a couple of those services, much less the choice I have in a big city. There is usually a cafe and a pub, often a couple, it is Australia after all 🙂 a little supermarket, a post office that doubles as a bank, sometimes a hardware or place that supplies farming parts and service, and, if they are lucky, the mobile library will visit once a week. There may well be a primary school but older children have to travel to bigger towns to get to high school. Rarely is there a chemist or a doctor or a little nursing hospital. Internet and mobile phone coverage is probably doggy, and with the cuts to the public broadcaster, the ABC, less connection to the big cities.
Why do country towns make me think very fondly of them?
Well, I know that life there can be difficult. A trip to a supermarket to buy anything beyond the basics can be a round trip of hundreds of kilometres. A medical visit for anything out of the ordinary may mean a trip to Melbourne or Adelaide or Sydney, and an expensive stay. But for all the problems, most of those towns are loved.
There are people living there who want their town to flourish.
They try to make existing businesses work. The owners of the supermarket in Menindee have made a conscious effort to stock a wider range, like seaweed squares for sushi rolls and organic muesli. The caravan park in Orroroo (yep, that’s its name!) has real soap and hand towels in the toilet block. The servo at Yunta has petrol that is cheaper than Broken Hill. Or they set up different businesses like book shops and gift shops. Or the cafe in Hopetoun that served homemade country cakes — cream sponges to die for!
These are the easy things to see as you travel through. But there can be glimpse of other parts to the town’s life. Like the Quilt Show this weekend, or the paintings hanging in the cafe that tell you of an art group that meets regularly. The cafe may also sell locally made jam and chutney. You see people striding out on their morning walk and others chatting to neighbours on street corners. The Information Centre is staffed by volunteers. So is the CFA (Country Fire Authority).
For some towns surviving is easier (but probably still a struggle). They are a a natural stopping off point for travellers. Yalta not only has cheap fuel but an excellent wayside stop, with a decent toilet block. Or, like Halls Gap in the Grampians and Meningee on Lake Albert, they are nestled near a well known natural feature. Or their biggest employer may still be able to operate.
Other towns have to find that reason to be. And that is one of the things I love about them. Melrose, at the foot of Mount Remarkable, is a popular place for mountain bikers, and supports a bike hire cafe. Peterborough has an old steam train. Wycheproof (yep, another real name!) has the smallest mountain in the world and a train that goes up the middle of the street.
But my favourite is the fountain in the round-about at Hopetoun. We were there last year and I was delighted to see this little fountain. While we were in the cafe, enjoying the sponge cake, I read an article in the local paper that the fountain had recently been turned on again, after many years of drought. I was so moved by this simple thing, this simple expression of pride in the appropriately named Hopetoun.
That’s why I love small towns.
What small town would you like to celebrate?