Our Town is a Small Thing
Our town is a small thing. Three shops and an empty pub long. The centre of our rural community. Dairy, logging, and a sprinkling of vineyards. It has double the population most people think it has. But nobody sees the tree changers.
Mostly, entirely, they have dinners and parties at each other’s houses, never talking about the land, bemoaning the lack of good coffee, or good city cafes.
They don’t go to the bowls club, or the local boot auction, or the paddock horse races, or the Sunday cricket sesh, few join the fire brigade. They don’t join the local progress association.
The arts and crafts market people held their meeting standing in a huddle, sheltered from the rain under the canopy of the closed bakery, thirty of them, rather than in the pub, not twenty feet away. Even though it only had one old barfly in it. They NEVER go to the pub.
Most send their kids to school in the city. The few that let them go local heard them towards soccer.
And the tree changers, here, never, ever go to the local football.
Which. Is. Fine.
Whatever blows your hair back.
But, to me, there’s more to the bush than scenery and elbow room. People make a land. There is a community, a culture. History. Identity. A footy club is a part of that.
If enough tree changers were brave enough to get out of their comfort zone, it would be a place to meet their neighbours. Know them. Have things in common with the beef breeder and forth generation forestry worker. To break the ice, and, in that, make things like the pub, the bowl club, and so on, far more inviting. To know the joy of knowing the faces on the road.
To know about the next generation. The sons of. That young back pocket. That lanky half-forward. That lad who fixed their sink.
To know that the local footy is somewhere for their kids to safely roam, to learn, outside school, things about the place they live, rather than simply see it through a bus window. A place where, maybe, they can fall in love with the district and its people.
Most of the tree changers I talk to, when I go to one of their gatherings, or pop in on their markets, do like footy. They talk about the AFL, give the shit stir on Richmond, bemoan the Demons. Why not come down two or three times a year, on a Saturday? See the real thing? Let us know they are about? That we are not just begrudged scenery? Time is no issue like they say it is, or they wouldn’t get to watch it on telly.
Every person through that gate is another brilliant, lifesaving, pissy little $8. Is another contribution towards keeping a vital part of the culture of the place they have moved to alive. Is a bit of simple respect given, and in that returned.
“That couple comes to the footy once or twice. They’re alright. They aren’t snobs.”
The local footy gives the youth, and young men of the town somewhere to belong. A reason to stay, or even come back on weekends. To stop the place becoming stale and dry. Lifeless. Just another suburb without anyone between the ages of 16 and 45.
Each $8 is most welcomed gesture.
Times change. Moods change. Every year another country family is forced off the land. Each year, another tree changer buys their farm houses. The place has more people in it than ever, but they commute to the city for food, for petrol, work and social events. You’d swear the town is empty sometimes.
The food in the local supermarket is more expensive than Coles, but when I shop in the city, I always leave one or three items out. Things to buy at home. To support the local, that supports our club, and, more so, to be about. Say ‘g’day to the beaut old school ladies who run the joint. To let them fill me in on the nooks and crannies, the gears of the place.
I pay the one or two cents a litre extra at the local servo, because he gives a shit about local people, helps when he can, and is the footy club’s biggest sponsor, even though he is too busy to get to most games.
He puts in far more than we can give him back in trade, but knows how important such things are to the town.
To the bush. A community.
The place we all live.
The place that houses us. Our history, and varied cultures. That defines us, and the land we built.
I overheard a tree changer taking about going down to the once-yearly auction that raises just enough money to keep the footy club afloat. It’s a long day, that auction. Has its own ebbs and flows, can be work, but, also, has something lazy and timeless about it. It is steeped in the tradition of the place. Defines it.
The lady was speaking in secretive, hushed tones, like David Attenborough knee deep in bat poo, having just tippy-toed out from an African village.
“You should have seen all the characters down there…” she giggled.
“They’re called locals,” I said.
But good on her. At least she was one of the few tree changers who went. Brought something that once belonged to a farmer, and in that, helped keep our team aloft.
Many bush clubs are dying. And, in that, bush towns losing their centre. Our committee is half the size it should be.
Tommy Haffey once told me of speaking a farmer from a town that no longer had a footy team.
“My neighbour and I used to chat every Saturday in winter. I haven’t seen him once in the ten years since the club folded,” he said.
Imagine the stories not shared. The knowledge, the history. It’s everybody’s loss.
Buy a raffle ticket when you’re at the servo. Donate some unwanted stuff to the auction. Put in a three hour stint at the canteen. Simply come to two games next year, just two, and give a cheer if we hit the front. See who we are. Who the bloke parked in the old Bedford next to you is.
No gesture is too small to be a part of the place you live.