Once there was a farming family on every square mile (640 acres) and a rural settlement every 20 miles or so to service these families who arrived on foot, bicycle, horseback or in a horse-drawn gig. These settlements usually included a church, primary school, tennis courts, public hall, general store, grain silo, fire brigade and, if you were lucky, a pub.
Over recent decades, all farms have at least one car and the size of farm machinery has increased from small horse drawn implements to huge ploughs towed by massive four-wheel-drive, 400 horsepower tractors. And three tonne Bedford trucks have been replaced by B-doubles capable of shifting 60 tonne in every load.
So things have changed. Farms have been sold to neighbours who have increased their holdings to 2500 acres (1000 hectares) or four times the original farm sizes. Each time this happens, three farming families have been displaced.
Eventually the small rural settlements are no longer required as farmers drive longer distances to acquire goods and services. Most of them have been reduced to a poorly-maintained hall and a tennis court. All of the primary schools were closed 30 years ago, as baby-boomer children moved onto secondary school and caught the bus to the near-by town. And the railway lines that carted the grain from the silos have also been closed.
Whose fault is it?
It’s no one’s fault, it’s just progress…time marches on. Even the small rural towns that boomed 30 years ago with their new-found patronage are now in trouble themselves. They struggle to maintain banks, petrol stations and franchise-based businesses that watch the bottom-line and relocate their businesses to more productive provincial centres. And professionals such as doctors, lawyers and accountants also find it beneficial to base their businesses in larger centres leaving small towns with depleted services.
So why would anyone choose to live in a small country town? For me it is about relaxed living. I have chosen to spend this stage of my life in a tranquil, peaceful setting free from the noise and stress of peak-hour traffic experienced in metropolitan cities. Nathalia has all necessary services and parking is convenient; there are no parking metres, no traffic lights and only one round-about. Crime is almost non-existent and it is safe to walk anywhere, day or night.
But more importantly it is about belonging to a community – knowing the people where you live and being part of a rich social fabric. It is sharing the elation of a football grand final, the sadness at the funeral of a family friend, delivering ‘meals-on-wheels’ to our aged citizens or going to the school concert. Surely it is these human experiences that make us the type of people we are, and the interconnectedness with the people in the town that determine our happiness.
So why would you want to live in a small country town? Because it feels good to be part of a community where you are known, valued, trusted and respected.