“Marvel Loch: The Town Midas Touched” is what greeted us on a sign as we rumbled in to town, three of us on two motorbikes; my back aching and my mind racing.
I couldn’t wait to check out this town (20 mins south east-ish from Southern Cross), especially the pub, because- you see- I’d been fantasising all week about what I would do with it if I had full control over the property. My mother mentioning that she may be interested in investing out there almost sent me crazy with excitement and ideas.
“WE COULD OWN SOME LAND IN A GHOST TOWN??? FUCKING YEAH!”
And what a ghost town. A gold-mining town from way back, the place is now all but deserted, home to about 15 people, half of whom I think I met while I was there.
One of the residents I met was a teenage girl, who was working behind the counter of the corner store, which doubled as a DVD hire place. She was watching the Mighty Boosh as we walked in. I took photos of the nearly empty shelves, and asked her how long her family had lived there. Her answer was “Since my great granddad.” I thanked her, and then asked if she knew when the pub was up for auction. She didn’t. I thanked her again, and left the store, joining my tour guide and his companion by the side of the road.
My tour guide and his companion were “Johnny”- the owner of a farm about 20 minutes north of Southern Cross- and the beautiful “Ingrid”- a Swedish backpacker he had hired to help out on the property. Both were amused by my enthusiasm for documentation.
“You look like a bloody tourist snapping away like that,” said Johnny.
“Nah mate”, I yelled back, as I ran across the road towards what was left of a demountable home, “I’m a journalist!”
I giggled to myself, and kind of felt like slapping my own cheek. Describing myself as such felt absurd. Voyeur would have been just as fitting. Pervert, even. Is there a noun version of Schadenfreude? Is there a word for that feeling you get when you can smell an opportunity to do something paradigm shifting amidst the rubble of old industry?
I photographed everything, as Johnny wistfully described to Ingrid and I what it was like there in its hey-day: The pub was pumping, over 800 miners in the myriad camps around the town, the school had about 150 kids, and there was a cabaret every weekend. I didn’t question the usage of that word at the time, but I think now that maybe cabaret was code for strippers; lest he upset our delicate lady sensibilities on this trip out even further in to the middle of no-where.
The pub building was large, and it was surrounded by miners’ accommodation: demountables divided up and numbered like hotel rooms, chairs still sitting on the front porches, despite no one having lived in them for at least 12 months, if not a hell of a lot longer. I checked a few doors, but they were locked. I gave up after five. Fuck it; my desire to find something interesting (photographs/a notebook/a decomposing corpse) was outweighed by the awareness that our sunlight time was limited. Can’t spend an hour trying every door in the surrounding camps, when there is so much to explore before sun down, and with it the increased risk of crashing in to kangaroos on the ride home.
Walking around the pub grounds and the living quarters, I was struck by how much potential the property had. There was even a pool there. If I had my own way… man, I’d outfit that place with solar panels and some windmills, turn the pool in to an aquaculture prawn farm, do a big ol’ permaculture holistic property+environmental management system, and run myself a fucking artist commune/community garden/tourist accommodation out here. All I need is internet and some investors willing to forgo any repayment for about 24 months (one can still dream in profit-driven society, right?), and we’d have ourselves a fucking cool, self-sustainable place to hang out. Easy as. And tourists would flock from all over the world to see what the hell is going on.
That’s what I don’t get about this area: the possibilities for tourist attractions out here are either unknown, or ignored- to the extreme detriment of the local economy. Maybe everyone is too busy eating rotten fruit from the IGA and washing the dust from their clothes to think about possibilities. Maybe they’re too tired from trying to figure out what Rick Wilson (O’Connor electorate’s Liberal Party representative) is planning to do about drought affected farms to come up with their own new, creative ideas for economic turn-around.
I was ranting to Johnny and Ingrid about my thoughts, trying to make it clear to Johnny that I had a solid foundation in hospitality work, a good understanding of the industry, and could legitimately run such a business if I set my mind to it. Ingrid was supportive: “Yes Tahlia! That’s what this area needs! New ideas and inspiration from people with a fresh perspective!” Johnny, however- a wheat famer, agriculture traditionalist extraordinaire- seemed less enthused. “Sure mate, there’s some eccentric characters out here… just so long as you serve ‘em beer they’d be fine with it.”
So who wants to invest in a ghost town with me, huh?