Lee says: Bigger is not better
I’ve always been a small-town girl. I grew up in one – Nyngan, in the heart of the Bogan Shire, in that big, flat space just before country NSW morphs into the Outback – and apart from a sprinkling of years at university and early on in my working career, I’ve lived in a succession of small towns ever since.
As far as I’m concerned, bigger is not better, especially when it comes to road trips.
For a start, you never have to worry about traffic in a small town. Or getting lost – all you need to do is keep turning left in your typical country town and sooner rather than later you’ll be back where you started. Parking’s never an issue, either.
Granted, not all small towns are created equal. Some do great coffee but others will ask if you want your “expresso” in a mug. Eating out can be hit and miss, too, beyond a burger or schnitty at the pub, unless you’re in small town Victoria, where the food is almost universally spectacular in even the tiniest of places. And in many small towns – those on the far side of the two-hour-drive-from-a-capital-city-limit – daggy motels are about as fancy as you’ll get when it comes to finding somewhere to stay.
None of that matters when you’ve been on the road for a while. Because once you’ve gotten over that awkward moment when you first walk into a cafe/pub/bowlo/Chinese restaurant and everyone stops what they’re saying so they can concentrate on checking you out, invariably you’ll end up chatting with someone before very long. It’s a cliche, but country folk really are friendly, possibly because they just want to talk to someone they haven’t known since they were six. And as a traveller, that translates into road trip gold.
In Wyndham, north of Kununurra in the Kimberley, it was a local who gave us the goss on who had some extra fresh fish they’d probably sell us from their shed. In Tilpa, in the middle of nowhere in far-western NSW, a local drew us a map on the back of a coaster so we could find the prettiest place to camp on the Darling River.
From the best quandong pies (Blinman in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges) to the latest road conditions, fishing spots and entertaining yarns about family feuds and never-to-be-forgotten scandals, it’s the things you learn chatting with the locals in small towns – the insights you won’t find in a guide book or tourism website – that makes a road trip memorable. All you have to do is shut up and listen. And maybe buy a beer or two.
Bill says: They’re fighting back
Small-town country Australia. It’s an image you have in your mind’s eye, even if you’ve never spent any time in one of those hundreds of tiny dots, with almost too-small-to-read names – many too insignificant to even rate an appearance on Google Maps unless you zoom right in close.
It’s a sad fact that in some parts of Australia, small towns – which we’ll call those whose population is measured in the hundreds rather than the thousands – are dying. They prospered in the 19th and early 20th centuries when farming was a family business and the bush was much more densely populated than it is now. Big, corporate farming, with vast landholdings, has now taken over and it doesn’t buy supplies from the local businesses, so they go broke. No jobs, no future. People leave. The school closes. The paint starts to peel from abandoned shopfronts. The footpaths crumble. Weeds take over the nature strip. Nothing moves under the big, blue sky. The pub may be just hanging on, but you can drive up the main street of some small bush towns now and not see another human being.
Some, though, are fighting back, trying to attract road-trippers. After all, if you’ve got somewhere to camp, and a pub in town, people might stop for a night or two and spend some money. Many bush towns now let you stay, usually for free, in the showground or recreation reserve, where there’s usually a toilet and water. It’s a great alternative to a crowded and often expensive caravan park in a larger centre because, in your mind’s eye, this is probably the Australia you wanted to find when you got bitten by the road trip bug.
It’s dead quiet, completely still, and the sky lights up in reds and yellows as the sun sinks into the flat earth. You sit with a drink on the old timber pub veranda, as the black night envelops the countryside. Dinner is an easy choice, especially if you’re carnivorous.
In the morning, you wake to the magpies’ song. The air smells fresh and sweet. You emerge into the gently warming sunlight. It’s a new day, in an old, old town. Just like yesterday. And every other day.
This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com