Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Country Eyre is fine

Day 6

Australia Day, 2015. Lock, Eyre Peninsula.

Alarm clocks went off bright and early and we readied ourselves to meet Kim and his Council colleague, George, to drive behind them from Elliston to the town of Lock which is where the formal Australia Day ceremony was to be held. A smaller event with a citizenship ceremony also was being held in Elliston - a division we later found was very controversial.

We headed inland on smooth country roads through a beauty of shafting morning sunshine. Kangaroos and emus lurked roadside. Kim drove very sedately ahead of us because this early morning, along with dusk, is the most dangerous time to travel on Australian country roads because of kangaroos which have a habit of springing out in front of cars as they move around the dewy morning grazing areas. Seasoned country people know to drive prudently.

Lock was quite a substantial wheat town in the middle of Eyre Peninsula. We found people gathered for the Australia Day ceremonies on a park lawn beside a massive sculptural landmark of a baling machine with hay bales. Pride and joy of the area is this celebration of the town's centenary and the local rural economy - well worth celebrating, if you ask me.

Bacon and eggs were sizzling in vast quantities and people were lining up for the traditional Australia Day free breakfast before the official proceedings.

Thereafter came speeches by local council dignitaries, presentations and admirations of local heroes, the singing of the National Anthem and a speech from me. It was a wonderful, attentive audience to whom it was a pleasure to speak. Country people are listeners. Every time one goes out to the country towns, one is again struck by the differences between country and city people. Country people are more patient than city people. They also are curious, wise, community-minded and generous-spirited. Not to mention hospitable.

My role as an Australia Day Ambassador is to talk about the history and significance of the day. Australians have never been flag-wavers and their patriotism is a thing of gentle adamance, a simple assertion that this is the best bloody place in the whole world and we love it.

Australia is a young country and Australia Day is relatively modern. Complemented by Australia Day Honours and citizenship ceremonies, the people have been responding to it with a power of enthusiasm. Now, all across the land, in big cities and the tiniest outback outposts, people gather to share breakfast, raise the flag, sing the anthem and celebrate this lovely country of ours. Some among the Aboriginal people disdain it and refer to it as "Invasion Day" but it is not a challenge to the Aboriginal traditional ownership of the land in any way. Rather, its spirit embraces it.

Councils invite Ambassadors to their celebrations to give them an extra bit of formal oomph and sense of occasion.

The Ambassadors are people who are fairly high achievers in their professions - from politicians to entertainers, from scientists to media people like me. Every year we are invited somewhere different, spread out across the State. For me, it has been a glorious revelation of much of the country. This is my fifth year in the role. It really is quite an honour.

After the ceremony on the lawns of the Lock town park, we were whisked out for a tour of the area - the fabulous race course and sports facilities all strongly supported by the community and the amazing two-level reservoir.

We toured the Lock and Districts Heritage Museum with its darling preserved schoolhouse, collections of farm machinery, and domestic memorabilia set out in the old police station and residence. It was hard to drag me away; I found it all so precious and engrossing. And this after I had already had a good tour of the place online. Yes. Lock may be far away, but it is no backwater. It is classy cutting edge in the Internet outreach department. One can examine all these treasures closely on its Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/communityhistorysa/sets/72157633486094031/ .
Again, country people are good at preserving all these wonderful relics. They not only have a strong sense of pioneer history and the hardships of breaking the land but also, unlike city-dwellers, they have sheds and places where things can be stored safely forever.

While Elliston has the distinction of being probably the only town in the world to be named after a woman writer, Lock has the unique position of being the only town named in honour of a fallen WWI soldier, a young surveyor, Corporal Albert Lock. He died in Belgium in 1917.

Lock brags a stunning community library complete with banks of computers for students and locals. The librarian, who is of Italian heritage, won our hearts and minds in a nanosecond - and our stomachs, too.

She had laid on a massive luncheon spread featuring a mountain of the most delicious lamingtons ever. Lamingtons, I hasten to add, are the Australian national cake - jam-joined pieces of sponge rolled in cocoa and coconut. Joined by council people and farm people, we tucked in enthusiastically. It was all utterly gorgeous.

They thanked me for my visit with a generous bag of goodies - coffee mugs, a baseball cap, and wonderful history books of the region.

By the time we left Lock, I was feeling a strong connection with the people and the place. I now carry abiding affection for it and sing its praises at every opportunity. It represents the true Australia, a real heartland.

And to underscore this sentiment, as we drove away, there were the local lads playing Australia Day cricket in the middle of the road outside the pub. I stopped to take a photo and say "hi". They promptly told he how much they had loved my speech and the things I had said about Lock. Ah, yes, country people are listeners.

They also are often a bit eccentric. On the wide open road returning to the coast, we were clearly passing through a vast rural property and just to underline how big a place it was way out there, the roadside letterbox took the form of an aeroplane. It even had a dummy pilot.

One of the wildest letterboxes I've seen.

Back in Elliston for the aftenoon, there was still lots of exploring to do. This darling coastal town has miles and miles of cliff roads with vantage points for breathtaking views of the wild and spectacular shoreline. We drove and drove, oohed and ahed, took photos and played proper tourists.

Just as they are eccentric with letterboxes, the people here are a bit eccentric with their tourist pride. They have adorned the cliff-winding dirt roads with quirky art installations - odd Aussie iconography such as an ugly surfer on a bicycle, a pair of giant thongs...

At the pub the night before we had met Cynthia and Mick. She is the local school headmistress and she had been quick to invite us to come down to share some of the glorious fish they catch almost daily from their boat. Fishing is a big part of the local lifestyle and the Elliston people, rightly, are rather proud of their fabulous fish diet. City people could never afford to eat such good fish let alone have it fresh from the sea. It was a bit of a cold and windy walk to their esplanade house from our campground, but there was masses of wine and hospitality at the end of it; a lavish feast, in fact. We felt very spoiled and fortunate.

Back in our snug little cabin, bellies full, we contentedly watched the one and only choice available, the film about Cliffy, the Australian potato farmer who became a marathon legend. And then we hit the pit reading books of local history we had been given by the people of Lock - tales of stoic pioneers, of lonely graves and brave, solitary shepherds way back in the days when there were no roads let alone crazy artworks to adorn the rugged views.

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