As you know, I’ve been doing a lot of touring lately, and, as you do, you pass through and stop at lots of towns along the way. Some you just pass through, some you stop and eat and some you stop and stay. All very pleasant and uplifting and broadening of the mind as well.
However, in my last few forays into the country I have noticed a disturbing trend. No, I’m not talking about the death of country towns in terms of the bleeding of people and talent to the big cities as the vicissitudes of country life take their toll (especially upon the younger generation). No, quite the opposite. Drive through any of the big towns and the immediate conclusion you would reach is that things have never been better. The streets are full, the shops are crowded and signs of prosperity seem to abound.
My dad, who grew up on the land always said that farmers are never as poor as they make themselves out to be. “I’m down to my last fifty thousand.” was the way that he used to put it. But, regardless of that somewhat jaded persepctive, farmers and the rural community have been doing it tough for many years. However, the immediate impression of the country towns is that everything is fine.
No, I’m not talking about that death. What I am talking about is that the NSW country town has died in that it has been recreated as a replica of any big city street you might care to walk on in Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide. Every shop is a chain store or a franchise store. Dick Smith, Katies, Myer, Rivers, and so on and so on. And they all look exactly like every other one of them looks. The streetscape is like that of Miranda or Fitzroy or Wollongong. Walk along them and you’d swear you were in the city.
Now I must say that the arrival of these big chains and franchises has probably done a lot to rescue the economy of struggling rural towns, but, at the same time, it has completely destroyed the individuality and the charm of these once character-filled locations.
Let me give you and example. Take an individual, show them the main streets of Tamworth and Dubbo. Now, blindfold them, put them in the middle of the main street of either of these cities and ask them to identify which one it is. They would struggle, so similar is the layout and streetscape of both of these locations. The two are so similar it is frightening.
You see what I mean? The individuality, the charm, the delight of discovery, is gone. It’s just like being in a suburban shopping mall. The NSW country town has died, and, in its place is a plastic replica of Miranda Fair. A pastiche of commercialism, masquerading as convenience and progress.
On the plus side it is encouraging to see that some towns are going against the trend. Walcha, a little town near Armidale, is still filled with original stores and buildings, a little time capsule showing how things used to be. And the town is thriving. So it can be done.
Some are bucking the trend. If you want to see the NSW country town in all of its charm and as close to original as it’s possible to see it, visit Canowindra, just out of Cowra. This charming little throwback has a main street that is so original and so historic that large portions of it are actually protected under heritage listings. It’s such a delight to walk the streets and see a town the way that it used to be.
Change is inevitable and commercialism will ultimately have its way. It’s just a pity that, along the way, the character and individuality of the NSW country town has been sacrificed. So, get out and explore, and see the country the way that it used to be before it’s buried in the trappings of rampant consumerism.