Irregular Writings: Rural Arcadia

Dave Graney looks back on a wild past where there was a net influx of people into rural towns, unlike the slow flow towards the cities we see today.

When I was in my early teens and growing up in a regional town – Mt Gambier – there were many events and swirling currents driving them that would seem most strange to people today. One of them was the phenomenon of young people moving from the cities to the country. Yes, the flow was outward from the city, probably for a very short time and perhaps even in very limited numbers. No, there was the cultural surge in Northern New South Wales that saw the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin in 1973 pull a strong rip of tidal youth toward that portal for many years. I was driving through that area in 1977 and there were many hitch-hikers wanting a lift in that general direction. It might have been over a few summers but perhaps it was just the one. Memory is like that, it fits you up later on. These strangers just blew into town, it seemed. Mostly young men, probably post-National Service. They had the longest hair and looked too cool to be local. One crew drove a purple Dodge De Soto around, another a Plymouth Belvedere. Huge Yank Tanks with plush leather seats and clips down by your feet to hold your bottle of booze. These blow-ins moved into big old farmhouses and lived in an aristocratic country style. Of course, the main thing was that regional towns then were very self-sufficient. They made stuff. We had a soft drink brewing company for god’s sake! Nine cheese factories, an oat mill, a wool mill, a hidetanning factory, several slaughterhouses, four football teams and, of course, half-a-dozen timber mills. There was always work for a young man with all his fingers and a minimum of brains. In one of the hipster’s houses (we’ll call them that, though they would probably have been called ‘heads’ at the time) they hooked up an air horn to a car battery so as to wake for the day shift. It would always be so in share houses, people would improvise among the ruins. What were they doing in our town? There were stories of different drugs like speed and heroin. Either they were getting away from it – or bringing it in. Who knows? It was all sloshing out from the big cities anyway. The Vietnam War had brought most of that in. The soldiers needed the hard stuff to relax in the Cross. Anyway, these freaks had some poise. And a hint of a backstory. The only doublestorey building in the town that had a lift was the hospital. We made do and we were also hungry, ready to believe anything. Not so long after that summer, a friend of mine, we of the younger set, kept driving past that Purple Dodge De Soto that was now lying in a field with grass growing into it. He went with his brother to start it up and they tossed $50 at somebody nearby and drove it away. That’s how I got to know about the seats and also got to slip my 740ml bottle of Carlton into the metal holder by the front passenger seat. We were slipping into someone else’s trick. The car had olde worlde glamour and total vintage cachet. Style was hard to find in our world. A huge V8 engine too. Somehow, we lived. Sounds like a kind of Arcadia; I guess it could be made to appear that way. Regional towns don’t experience that same drift of youth toward them any more. Drive through some country joints in South Australia and the shop windows and cafes are dummied. Yes, they have mannequins sitting and standing where once people actually moved. Eerie! But perhaps it should happen again? Who can afford to live in Melbourne or Sydney? People have to have three jobs to pay for the privilege of just hanging on to a life in London or New York. Why wouldn’t you want to live in a fine, thick-walled, highceilinged, spacious, sandstone country house and drive a purple Dodge De Soto and rig up your hi-fi to a car battery to play music out in the old lanolin stained, deserted shearing shed. You could even have parties out there with kegs of beer and a band playing in the stalls. Yes, you’d think it’s inevitable that that would have to be a strong pull for young people who’d grown tired of being pushed around by the general scam. Only there’d have to be a bit of luck or whatever it takes to get some manufacturing concerns up and running out there in the bush. We’d need someone to pay attention to that sort of thing. Someone to think of the future and even try and influence the general population to cut each other a bit of slack, to stop raging at the other drivers in the traffic to pull their weight and don’t be a damned cheat. Yes, we’d need someone or some set of ideals to inspire us to cool down the pace a little. I wonder where it’ll come from? What great shock will knock us into life? @davegraney

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