We all tend to think of the small country towns, dotted all over Australia, as being unchanging. The butchers shop has always been on the corner of Johnson Street, the shop next to the pub has been a record and CD hire shop for as long as anyone can remember and the Doctors surgery was half way up Dixon Street since, now, when was it?
But, to think that can be very misleading. It’s surprising just how different most towns are, even from as recently as the last twenty-five years. It’s just that the changes happen gradually and don’t draw attention to themselves, as a new multi-storey block might, in the middle of Melbourne.
It was about twenty-five years ago that Jacqui and I moved into the lovely little Gippsland town of Yarram, and a casual glance down the main street today, would cause me to say it’s just as it was then. But then my brain starts to click into gear and I remember that there weren’t the series of pavement protrusions down both sides of the road until Council decided the town needed beautifying. Though why three or four bulges in the pavement should be considered for that doubtful claim escapes me. Not only that, but a few years later, another Council truck arrived, installed two new bulges and fitted traffic lights on each side to help in the movement of pedestrians! These were the first set of lights ever constructed in the town and since then everyone has been on tenterhooks wondering when the boys from head-office will turn up with more to dot along the highway. Not that we even needed the first ones, actually Yaramites were rather proud of the fact that we had managed to avoid the beasts until now!
Other quiet changes that have taken pace include an enormous Woolworths Supermarket (for a town with a population of 2,000?), the change of Yarram Retravision to Betta, one of our two pharmacies moved across to the other side of the road and a Real Estate Agent moved into their old premises and one of three butchers shops the town boasted is now a funeral directors (rumour has it that they still use the meat refrigerators in there, to keep their customers cool!).
The petrol station at the southern end of the town has been completely demolished and rebuilt with new owners, and the Towns Mens Club on the east side of the street has amalgamated with the bowls club and tennis club again on the other side of the street and calling the new set-up Yarram Country Club. Where the town club was before, is now a hardware store, joining two others already in business nearby.
And so it goes on, what was the shoe shop now deals in giftwares, the travel agents site now hosts a coffee shop and the Westpac Bank recently became the local vets office.
The changes, when I come to really examine them, apply to very nearly every set of business premises and shop in the town, and yet, as I said in the beginning, at first sight you would say it was just as it had always been. I suppose these quiet changes are really a sign of a living, non-stagnating town, and one where a new trader soon fills an unused shop. Unlike some less fortunate places, where half the windows in the main street will sometimes be blank and empty for long periods of time.
My greatest wish is that the small businesses are still able to survive, despite all the massive conglomerates who are swiftly taking over our major cities. If the small trader dies, so does the town he or she had been serving, and that would be very sad!
Has your town changed it’s face since you’ve lived there? What has been the biggest change for you and your community?