Apr 08 2012

Life in a small country town

Main street, CobarLike many rural towns across Australia Cobar has changed – and is continuing to change. Heavily reliant on mining (gold and copper) it’s subject to the ups and downs of the mining industry. If things are good the town booms, if commodity prices are down, so is the town.

Things are good right now.

Doc & I have wandered around the town a bit, checking the place against long ago memories. Although the locals say how much the place has changed, to me it seems only slightly different. Perhaps because my memories are more feelings than actual memories.

The railway station is still there, but now it only gets mine trains, and it seems abandoned. The station masters office is locked up with huge padlocks and weeds are growing around the platform and station approach. Buildings always seemed old, but now some are also abandoned and dilapidated. The new development that’s taken its place just doesn’t have the same atmosphere.

The most obvious changes are the population growth making the town bigger than I remember, and the greenery. From my first visit here I remember a lot of dust – in the streets, on the oval, my aunt’s backyard. The town isn’t dusty any more, and nor is the backyard – that’s become an oasis of palm trees and quiet shady spaces, with enough natives to attract galahs, parrots and myriad other birds! I’m not sure how much of the greening of the town is due to the amount of recent rain, and how much due to more permanent changes like planting of trees and gardens to hold the grass and soil in place, because there’s been a lot of that as well.

My aunt used to know everybody in town. And despite all the changes, she still knows most of them. But then she was born here, as were her parents (my grandmother’s family), and her grandparents.  Or if not here, in a town nearby. A lot of the family has scattered now, but still visit regularly. Travelling great distances is not a deterrent for country people, she has two grandchildren staying with her for the school holidays – one from Kangaroo Island (South Australia) and one from Tamworth. Both were driven here by their parents. Her daughter has come up for the weekend from Dubbo, and another cousin from Sydney.

But the changes are not just a growth in population, but a change in the population, which is bringing about a lot of other changes in culture and lifestyle.  It seemed like every shop we walked into the owners had only just moved to the town. Mind you, for country people “we haven’t been here very long” can mean anything from a couple of months up to two generations!

Great Western Hotel - longest pub verandah in AustraliaThe traditional CWA presence and culture is still strong here, with arts and crafts, the Cobar heritage museum and walk and, yes, great scones at the local tea shop. But in addition to that there’s now a lot more diversity – the local Thai restaurant  would be good anywhere, and the tea shop has food products you used to only see in capital cities or “hippy” towns. Even the Great Western Hotel, with its strong mining patronage and 5am – 2am opening hours now has a café/restaurant serving excellent coffee and breakfasts you can eat while sitting on the longest pub verandah in Australia.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the space. There’s still lots of it. The great Australian dream of a house on a quarter acre block is still the reality here, although some of the blocks are even larger. And that’s the ones in town. When you get outside town your talking at least 5 acres as the norm. And some have large, old houses with wrap around verandahs, with big seats, tables, kids toys and other things to show they are really used the way they were meant to be.

Coffee on Australia's longest pub verandahSo with wide leafy streets, friendly people, interesting shops, mining heritage and sightseeing, great coffee and food, a reservoir for swimming and watersports, and proximity to the open spaces of the outback, I can think of much worse places for a weekend (or more) away.

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