Some of them have been dying a slow death for decades. Mines boom and bust. Farms become unviable, along with the businesses that supply them. Families move out. Kids chase a future elsewhere. To scrape together enough players for a football or cricket or whatever team, the side has to amalgamate with one an hour or more’s drive away. Sometimes the amalgamated side ends up having to amalgamate with another one in turn. Namewise at least, what could ever top Mangoplah-Cookardinia-Eastlakes United? Let ‘sophisticates’ sneer – sport is the social lifeblood of many small communities. If the footy team dies, it rips the guts out of the place.
Lots of good things happen in small towns, but sometimes nostalgia buries the negatives. Among all the Utopias there are always a few Hackstons.
So where do folk go when they leave? Mostly they don’t head for the distant cities. At least not in the first place. Mostly they’re drawn to the nearest large regional town like iron filings to a magnet. And the bigger it grows, and the more it attracts all the industries and shops and schools and sports and social clubs, the less it feels like a traditional country community and the more it feels like a city beginning to sprout suburbs.
You drive through on a Saturday, maybe stopping at some new cafe, and half-cheer how the old joint has come on, and half-cry that it’s no longer the same old small-minded, generous, rigid, quirkily tolerant, strangely character-building neck of the woods it used to be.
But then again, maybe it still is.