I lived in the heart of “town” – two-to-five minutes’ walk from every business and every home. A good brisk ten-minute walk will take you right out into the wilderness. There was one pub (centre of some people’s social life, sells alcohol), two petrol stations which are also the only locations to “eat out”, one caravan park, only one small grocery shop who were acutely aware of the power of their monopoly, one hardware/building supply/general oddments shop, one pharmacy that serves three towns. We had half a doctor – he came in from his home town a couple of times a week. We had no government employees of any kind other than a single person who distributed public service forms when needed and made phone calls on behalf of anyone who needed it to any state or federal government departments and who only worked two hours a day, and two supposed full-time policemen (they opened up shop at around ten or 10.30am depending on how they felt and were generally gone again by lunchtime), and no crime for them to police. Hell, we could even leave our keys in the ignition of our cars, the door wide open, and our wallets on the dashboard in full view of the street, and be comfortable in the knowledge that things will be the same when we returned. We had no counsellors, no mental health professionals, and no need for them either. What we had lots of, were farmers (growing canola in winter and wheat as their summer crop, mostly, and a few running sheep) and fly-in-fly-out miners for the mine some distance out of town.
The earth is red, courtesy of iron oxides, and liberally sprinkled with pure bauxite pebbles. Rainfall is -er- valued. Highly. There is a Nyoongar (local indigenous people) myth that in the dreaming when there was nothing but void, one of the sky-woman (“sky” and “spirit” seem to be almost interchangeable words) menstruated, and where her blood fell, it congealed into earth and created this land. We were just inland enough not to have the buffering effect of ocean currents moderating temperatures, so we were usually too hot or far too cold.
The continent is speckled with towns like this, but this is one of the best of ’em. In small towns like this (population 450), people’s attitudes to newcomers like me can only go two ways. One is acceptance, open hearts and open arms. The other is suspicions about the newcomer and refusing to welcome them or communicate with them. It is a measure of how this town chooses to go, that I was extremely happy there.
I didn’t even need to keep either my religion or sexuiality in the closet, so to speak – “small town mindedness” seems to be a big city misconception. Perhaps it should be renamed “big city bigotry against small towns”! For example, at “Halloween” (actually, Beltaine), I made up lolly-bags for all the kids, but I included a small typed statement as to why they were six months away from the correct date, and what the celebration *actually* means. I’ve had no feedback. The school principal was fairly friendly with me, so I asked if I could make a speech at the school assembly a week or so before the date. It went down well, and one or two school parents mentioned it fairly positively to me later.
Shopping. Shopping was interesting. I can only thanks the gods that I don’t actually like shopping. What I had the most success with in my own garden due to a generous layer of goat and sheep manure over the red soil, was cucumbers and egg-plants, although I did okay with tomatoes, lettuces and so forth. Friends had hens. Other friends had sheep, which automatically meant they had butchered sheep-parts in deep-freezes. There were lemon, fig and orange trees through town, and a great, spreading, gorgeous avocado tree on public land which seemed to have fruit most of the year. Everyone bartered – no one did without fruit of some kind or another.
Staples were another matter. The nearest supermarket was 189 kilometres away, so I’d not shop for about six weeks, then throw a friend of mine into my passenger’s seat, and we’d take the almost-two-hour drive in the morning, fill up the station wagon with non-perishables, and actually have a sit-down proper-coffee in a purpose-made actual cafe in “the city” (population 14,500). If you had any business with anything like car registration or anything like that, these trips were the time to deal with it. The city had the one shop that stocked music CDs and books which also was an agency for the ABC shops chain, so I was able to get my recreational needs there, even if I had to order in the more esoteric titles ahead of time.
It was really, really lovely not having to shop more often than that, and to be able to walk out of town into deep countryside at the drop of a hat.
Family reasons brought me back to the big, saturated coastal metropolis, and I’ve since renewed old friendships and made new ones, making it extremely difficult for me. After all, in a few months I will be free to live where I like. And now I’m torn. Torn between the old and the new, torn between the country and the friendships, between the wet and the dry.
What to do … what to do …