Mar 19, 2013

Navigating and Becoming Country Folk

I thought it might be interesting to think a bit about some of the differences I've noticed between living in the city and a small country town.

First up it is truly amazing just how many people here we have gotten to know in just fifteen months or so. Vicki and I were doing a rough count the other day and figured we know about thirty people in our street (its a long street). Then there would be almost as many again across the town and even the same again across the region via the South Burnett Permaculture Group. Just as a reference point, I think that thirty people might be more than I have known in all the others streets I've lived in before combined.

One key to getting to know people has been Vicki's regular habit of walking our horse Archie up and down the road. He is a 'barefoot' horse, and walking on the bitumen is good for his feet. Often curious people stop for a chat and to find out more about what Vicki is doing, and if we meet people in some other context it is usually only a matter of time before there is a, “Aaaaaah your the lady who walks her horse!” moment. We have even been talking to people in the neighbouring town of Yaraman and had that happen :)

Another way we have met lots of people is when looking into places to buy animals. Neighbours always seem to know someone near by that sells or breeds this kind of animal or that. Just the other day we met some nice folk down the road who bread Dexter cows, a week before that we met up with another nice guy from a few streets over who has a Jersey cow for sale. In the city, not many of your transactions involve people who live near by so there is no point in getting to know them.

Above any hiccups and the inevitable social fumblings (inevitable for me anyway) this has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. We did not expect it at all, we are in (or near) Joh Bjelke-Petersen country, we thought people might be extremely conservative (relative to us). We have discovered some wonderfully alternative people, progressive people, open and generous people. That's not to say we agree with everyone on everything, but as a general rule people are respectful and focus on the positives. We have met a few people a bit over zealous with the horse care advice, but even then its mostly because they are trying to help.

People tend to be older or younger in the country. I suppose middle aged career orientated folk tend to head off to 'greener' (pffft irony) pastures. Out of these two groups we tend to favour the older folk as the young kids out this way can tend towards the bogan side. Fellow Gen X friends are few and far between and I suspect important. Suddenly at the age of 40 I'm being referred to as that young bloke, a stark contrast to the teaching environment I was in before where I was considered prehistoricly old. 

One thing that can be tricky to navigate stems from something very different about country people, the fact that so many of them have some serious history here. I guess people move around a lot more in the city, but many of the people out here have been here for a long time, ten years, twenty years, thirty years or even generations. Its only natural then that when they meet someone new to the area they like to share what they know based on the extra perspective they have. Sounds great, and is great on the whole, I have a lot to learn and the more information I can get my hands on the better. One down side though is that these people don't cross check their information (obviously :P ) and contradict each other all over the place. A recent example might be the extra wet weather experienced in this part of the world in recent summers, I've been told its horrible and there has never been anything like it before and then that it is wonderful and a return to how the weather used to be in the good old days. I couldn't possibly follow all the advice I'm given without being all tangled up in nots. I often wonder how often they return home and think to themselves something like, "these young people, they just don't listen". When it would actually be impossible for me to act on it all and maintain any kind of continuity to my actions. 

Nanango is one of Queensland's oldest towns.

So a few guidelines I've noticed are starting to develop when comes to old timer or local advice...

  • First up and most importantly I need to always remind myself that it is by far a much better thing than bad, there is something to be learned in every exchange. If it is not immediately obvious I just need to find a different way to look at it. We ignore our elders at our peril, I may have new or different ideas about things, but its never so black and white that you can assume someone is irrelevant. As a teacher I've also experience things from the other side, it can be frustrating to see a young naive person fumbling towards strife in spite of your advice.

  • Favour advice from those who do over those who say. I suppose that's a more polite way of saying talk is cheap. If I can find someone who is or has done stuff successfully and roughly in line with my priorities then they are the ones I'm going to listen to the most, nothing beats being able to observe something in action over talking about it in the abstract.

  • A 'CAN DO' wins out over a hundred 'CAN'T DO's. Even back before we moved people would tell us it was no good up on the range, that the soil this and the climate that. Then there were many locals telling me similar things in our early months here. I know its early days, but I feel I can say that in every thing I have tried there has been some if not great progress. There is an abundance of food right outside my front door, the micro climate in my food forest is changing for the better, and while its very early days my pasture is finally being treated as it should be. Its exciting, its fun and I'm learning SO much. Why you wouldn't even try is beyond me :)

  • There is a flip side to all that history. Who's to say that my background might not throw up some new possibilities, there is no harm in trying just to find out. Also I think being in one place for a long time might sometimes leave one with the impression things are better everywhere else. One example that springs to mind is the winter weather here, I've been told plenty about what you can't grow here because of the cold frosty winters, but there is always a flip side. Last winter I grew an amazing amount of broccoli and cauliflower here, I could never have managed that down on the coast, my experience there was that the summer pests don't give you a big enough gap to get a decent crop. One door closes and another opens. Mmmmmm broccoli.

  • Lastly I need to remember to have fun and enjoy conversations for their own sake. A quick background story. Way back when I lived in Sydney and was working at Disney a bunch of co-workers suggested we go ice skating. I had never been before so was keen to give it a go. We arrived and started stumbling around in our skates. I was very interested in how the whole thing worked and spent a lot of time looking down and moving my feet around in different ways to see how it effected my movement. Some time passed and then I went back to sit next to my friend Debbie, "Where have you been?" she asked. I looked at the clock and realised our two hours were almost up, I'd spent the whole time trying to figure out more about skating instead of having fun with my new friends. This post is in itself evidence of my tendency to analyse things. Its something I enjoy, it clicks in my mind and feels good, I doubt I can stop :), but sometimes a chat is just a chat. A nice chance to share and listen with a fellow traveller. I'm lucky to have gotten to know so many in such a short time, I love the country.  


Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Ian. It's always worthwhile reading your contemplations on animation and now country life. Congratulations to Vicki on her new job, love the horse walking as a way she meets neighbours.Lovely pics of your garden yielding from all of yours and Vicki's work!D Nice not to be considered the most prehistoric in the vicinity. Go Gen-X, always a little slower, (that's a good thing), less showy, but always more thoughtful. Keep up the lovely thinking and growing in your new community, you two.

Judi said...

You wrote "Suddenly at the age of 40 I'm being referred to as that young bloke" well today in Foodworks I was refered to as that "young lady" I looked to see who was standing behind me LOL

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