Our Town is a Small Thing

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.


  1. Robert Allen says

    Beautifully evocative Matt, as always. I’d like to have a beer with you and the blowfly in that empty pub one day.

  2. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

    Luckily for us, there are two clubs for the kids within 15 minutes drive. Went to a couple of games but have to wait til next season to get my money’s worth. The last one was a friday night charity game between the police and fireys. Guns vs Hoses. Some guns and some blokes making up the numbers.

    Nobody cared about the score much, it was knowing you were helping out the Salvos and the club that made it worthwhile. Bloody good burgers though, that helped. Fireys won. Next year the ‘concept’ is being moved on to a bigger better ground where it will be more marketable. It will make more money, but i cant help feeling that something is being lost as well.

  3. Andrew Starkie says

    Spot on, Zurbs.

    Human nature is a funny thing. I moved into Coburg early this year and the people across the road say Gday occasionally. But that’s it. I’d love to get a chat going but they retreat behind the curtains or bury their heads in the garden. The students next door popped over the other day to tell us they were having a party and to apologize in advance for any noise. Great, smiley, full of life types. Would be nice to chat more with them, but weeks can go by and you don’t see them. Across from us there are six old, weatherboard terraces. I know they’re occupied because the cars come and go, but have never met any of them. The curtains are constantly closed in half of them. One young bloke always sits out the front of one smoking. I don’t think he works. He never, ever, ever, gives eye contact. I always try to meet his eye to say gday. He never allows me. I feel like shaking him. The abandoned old house beside us burnt down early one morning a few weeks ago. I had been telling the owners and council all year it was going to happen. There had been squatters. Luckily for us the baby was awake and feeding. Could’ve been tragic. The neighbours came out for a look like mice. A few came over for a chat after I’d dealt with the police. Offered coffee which was nice. Then they disappeared again. Haven’t seen them since. I don’t expect casserole left on the door step or hugs, but bloody hell, walk across the road to see how the baby’s going. THose across the road who usually say Gday have actually kept their distance since. I gave an interview for the local Leader newspaper and someone put a copy of the article in our driveway a metre from our front door. Weird. Why didn’t they want to chat about it. The owners of the house showed up the day after the fire and didn’t come over to ask how we were. Eventually, Linda went for a chat. I was too angry to go over. I feared I’d say something I’d regret. They didn’t ask Linda how the bbay was or apologise for putting our lives at stake. All they cared for was the loss of furniture. Furniture they had ignored for over a year. So, I’ve been hassling the council since and won’t stop until the block is cleared and safe. This wasn’t meant to be a rant but it’s turned into one. As a country boy I don’t think I will ever get used to the way city folk put the blinkers on.

  4. Zurbs,
    Many excellent observations here about how community, society, this country continues to change. And as Starks notes, it is not only the bush.
    There are suburbs (such as mine) in which similar mindsets take hold, but obviously it is not as obvious – or as crucial – as in a small town.

  5. Starkie, the city would be so much more practical for me, but I just can’t do it!!

  6. AS, move back to the Voir. We have met four sets of neighbours so far and will have them over for Christmas drinks and BBQ. Great people, two sets have kids around Harley’s age. In a courtyard too, I realise we could be seen to be in the minority but it’s great to say hello and have a chat.

    MZ, weird how people move to the country and then associate with others who have moved from the city. Why wouldn’t you check out the footy, or head to the pub for a counter meal? First thing I’d do.

  7. Living in London at the moment…

    it provides a great comparison.

    and I am missing the bush more than ever.

  8. Provocative and passionate as always Matt. I hear your frustration, but I always worry about arguments that divide us into black hats and white hats. I am sure that the Israelis have good reason to distrust Palestinians. And the reverse is equally true.
    The issues you talk about go deeper than city and bush. Its something to do with the cult of the individual; and slavish devotion to the lifestyle that caters for MY needs. I am sure that crosses many boundaries, and I plead guilty.
    In recent years I have found that spending a few hours each week with a disparate mob of blokes – sharing and caring (in an appropriately blokey way) – has been amazingly enriching. Like most of life’s paradoxes – you go in thinking you are lending a hand, then find there are the most unexpected people giving me wisdom, insights and help. Who knew???
    The Almanac community does that as best you ever can given limits of distance and the written word.
    There are some things you can best understand looking into a man’s (and woman’s) eyes; hearing them ramble inarticulately; and then gauge something of their heart.
    Footy club or Book club.

  9. I went to that town on Saturday, while on route to the site of my grandmother’s old house at Hollybank, and went to the shop. I could tell by the way people looked at me when I got out of the car and walked about that I was different. I didn’t recognise the people and they didn’t recognise me.

    It used to be my home town, my father’s home town, his father’s home town and his fathers home town. Who let all those city folk into my old town? They have taken over.

    When I got to where I was going the Orr house was gone and the new locals wanted me to pay to go on a flying fox through the trees. I used to run around under the trees for free. Things change.

    I do the 8.00 to 10.00 gate at home games at local footy Turbo and take the $8.00 for adults: $4.00 for pensioners; $2.00 for students, and $2.00 for cars. A great way to start a winter Saturday. Any crowd above 500 is a bonus.

  10. We have lucked in. Our new experience of suburbia near the beach is mostly positive. That being said we have the ‘Clampetts’ on one side of us with most communication conducted with the yelling voice, not to mention the ignored and bored yapping lapdog left outside. The neighbours on the other side don’t seem to exist.

    Two doors up is a salt of the earth ex-Tasmanian, who we usually have a quiet few ales of an afternoon with while the kids ride bikes up and down the street (cul-de-sac). It is heaven for them with 14 kids in the street and another 10 or so from their grades at the local school within 5 minutes ride. They have all sorts of “forts” and “bases” around the place. School is a 10 minute ride and one or the other of us manages the to and from school commitments.

    There’s two ways to become part of a community. One is through your kids. Some of the best friends I have are the parents of my kid’s mates. And sporting clubs.

  11. Phantom, we dream of 500 at a game. Come down for one this year. Be good to meet ya.

    Gus, yapping dogs do my head in!!!!!!!! Good stuff with the kids, but!

  12. I will try and get to the OSCFC game out your way. Perhaps, maybe. I would need a driver for the trip home I suspect.

  13. Andrew Starkie says

    One day maybe Cookie. how’s the bakery

  14. Hot goods at the bakery. And fresh.

  15. Andrew Starkie says

    you’re killing me

  16. Have had a beer with these lovely people and Matt and it was surely worth the trip. These locals now how to play footy and win footy games because of there towns size they know and respect each other for what each of them brings to the table the rest of the world could learn quite a bit from these small town locals all they have to do is listen . Matt good to see your grass roots campaign is still in full swing we have to catch up and solve a few world issues soon the beer will always be on ice mate good luck.

  17. So eloquently put into words of how it is.

    I follow a small club around a country league. Have been on the committee for nearly 20 years and played over 300 games for them.

    I see the same thing. A community that is drifting apart in the adaptation to the modern social structure.

    I exist here but I no longer live here.

  18. Matt Zurbo says

    “I exist here but I no longer live here.” Aussie, that is so spot on I want to frame it.

    Phantom, if you get this, 500 would be like Christmas for us! And blokes like you pure gold!.

  19. Mat a lot of your comments are how I feel at times about our community, it is changing but I hope we never lose that community spirit that makes our town a great place to live

  20. Matt Zurbo says

    For yhose who don’t know, Bazz was a great country footballer. The only one I’d met who could make a handball bend through the air to follow your motion and meet your hands. Was so stunned I fumbled it.

  21. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fascinating thought provoking piece as always Matt with the comments above
    Interesting as well you tell the tale how SPORT is VITAL in the survival of country towns it is also a dersription of how society has changed and NOT for the better
    Ten or so years ago if you lived in the country you automatically got involved in sport that some how has changed and I don’t understand why
    Keep at it Matt

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