Small towns

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.

The fountain in Hopetoun (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

The fountain in Hopetoun (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

That’s why I love small towns.

What small town would you like to celebrate?

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About anne54

Botanic artist
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7 Responses to Small towns

  1. I grew up in a small town, and regularly visited a small town where my grandparents lived. Of course, small towns in California are probably bigger than most of yours, and my small town is small no mare — Laguna Beach (yes the one that sadly they made a tele program about.)but when you are an hour from Los Angeles or San Diego you feel small. One thing I love is that everyone knew everyone — which can be good unless you are a kid trying to ditch school. Then everyone who sees you claims you. Doors were left unlocked at that time, and though a beach town, it was a trusting place. We had to drive 25 minutes for bowling or a miniature golf or a big screen movie, but our beaches were empty when school was on, and that was heavenly, like owning them all by yourself. My grandparents small town was so small that the post office was the teeny market and everything else. THAT is small, Oregon House.

    Nice article. Gives me a taste of your part of the world.

    Like

    • anne54 says:

      What a wonderful place to grow up! You are right — knowing everyone is so important, even for keeping kids at school 🙂 So many people in big cities have lost those small town connections. Or maybe our connections are spread wider, across a greater physical distance. Do you think that Laguna Beach is still the same trusting place? Thanks for giving me a taste of your part of the world.

      Like

  2. araneus1 says:

    For many years we made several trips a year from Melbourne to Adelaide. We live on the opposite side of Melbourne so by the time we got to Beaufort [one of the few towns ‘on’ the highway] we were ready for a break. For a number of years [he is no longer there] there was a French pastry shop run by a genuine Frenchman…….. awesome food, but I must say that I don’t think that the locals knew how lucky they were. The town also had excellent toilet facilities……. always tried hard to make it to Beaufort. Excellent little town.
    Terry

    Like

    • anne54 says:

      Drats — just when you find out about something delicious you find out that it has gone! 🙂 The locals might not have know how lucky they were, but I bet they appreciated the pastries. Good facilities and a good place to stop for coffee, just what a traveller needs. Thanks for sharing your small town, Terry.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. EllaDee says:

    Wonderful post. You are something of a laureate when it comes to expressing your passions. Reading, once again I feel sure your talents are worthy of ambassadorship.
    I love our village of Taylors Arm. So small it doesn’t qualify as a small town. I enjoy the people and the place. Our nearest small town, Macksville has been quite in the news, for the saddest of reasons. It’s a nice town with a great community but will soon be facing the challenge of reinventing itself after a highway bypass. I hope they take heart from the ideas and inspirations of small towns and business who go that extra mile to flourish.

    Like

    • anne54 says:

      Thank you for your words, EllaDee, but I must admit that your praise made me blush a little!
      You are so right about Macksville. I have watched the news and seen the whole town mourn Phil Hughes. As for the by-pass — there are towns that have benefitted from not having the constant noise and truck traffic that streams through. Like you I hope that they can take heart and flourish. How lucky you are to have found a little piece of the world in Taylors Arm. It sounds like somewhere that the rest of the world has forgotten.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Wonderful art in wonderful places | Anne Lawson

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