Words by: Emily Zeinert
Situated 19 kilometres west of Port Macquarie is a sleepy little town called Wauchope. Contrary to popular belief, it is pronounced War-hope not wa-chop-ee, although the locals will call it that for a laugh. Wauchope is a sort of central location for all the outer rural towns to congregate. Places like Byabarra, where I was raised on a 600 acre property, home to the famous Blue Poles Cafe. Or Comboyne, renowned for its breathtaking views.
It was coming from such a small town that shook my core when I moved to the Central Coast, New South Wales. Even now, after 5 years, I can walk down the street unnoticed. I considered it a luxury at first, however now I miss the friendly faces stopping me in the local IGA. A trip to buy a loaf of bread would take me half an hour by the time I’d stopped to say hello to friendly faces.
There are things that I never realized I took for granted.
Things that I cannot relate back to the people who live where I do now and it deepens my homesickness. For example, I often find people chattering about how they happened to bump into their work mates at the local bar totally by chance. They excitedly chirp about the odds. In a small town, everyone goes to the bar.
If you stop at the pub for a drink after work, you’re having a beer with your best mate’s mum, your local doctor (who you pray will keep his confidentiality promise after a few drinks), your primary school teacher and your grandmother.
Your best friend from high school tends the bar as a close family friend empties the ashtrays in the smokers pokies.
Not to mention there’s no such thing as a bar crawl in small towns. The rivalry between the local drinking holes has the entire town divided and if you dare walk into the opposition’s doors, you’re branded a traitor.
I miss the quirky little spots that you can’t explain to the tourists.
In high school, there were codenames for places to truant. We would plan to rendezvous at “halfway point” or “quarter-way point”, aptly named by their positions along the riverbank between a family picnic spot and the school. As we grow older, we silently swear to keep the best swimming holes to ourselves and keep them untouched by anyone but locals.
The gossip is better in small towns, too.
Partly because you’re bound to know everyone involved and partly due to the fabricated nature of half of what you hear. The entertainment factor of small town gossip is hilariously much more impressive than in suburbia. While you know that there is no way it could be true, the story is too good to ignore.
If you live in a small town, you’re bound to have found out through someone else what you did on the weekend, even though all you recall is sitting at home reading a book.
Of course, there is also the community spirit. When one of us is mourning, we all mourn. When a family is struck by tragedy, the whole town bands together to help out wherever possible. If you fall in the street, someone will be there to help you up.
We are a proud kind, us small town folk.
We are proud of our towns, our people and anything local to us. Sometimes to a fault. I always saw this in the local football crowd (which was a majority of the town) and how they once again divided over who they supported or played for. Or it was evident in the way we would wish to eradicate tourism to diminish the damage it did to our local nature parks, playgrounds, swimming holes and everything else tourism touched, yet we knew a part of us relied on it.
I miss the country. I miss being able to see the star-speckled skies every night, or hearing the rain on the tin roof that would lull me to sleep. I miss the abundance of wildlife or the way we didn’t rely on exterminators or wildlife organizations to catch a snake. It is common knowledge who to call or how to handle the situation and release the little beasties back to their habitat. Heck, I even miss the excitement that a new store has FINALLY opened up, whereas here, it can take months before I even notice.
Small towns aren’t without their problems, but they are admirable for many reasons. A lot of those reasons that you won’t come to realize until you’re gone.