We call it ‘drought’. This is dry country in which periods of wetness are the exception. And yet, like Britain – which grinds to a halt at the first snowflake, as though each winter is an entirely new and unforeseen phenomenon – Australia still thinks of herself as a wet country punctuated by unexpected times of dry.
Goodooga is dry at the moment. As dry as.
There was a time when Goodooga was quite the town. Things were hopping here before Lightning Ridge had even been thought of. But the last few years haven’t been kind to Goodooga. The banks have gone, the 12-bed hospital is now a zero-bed clinic, and the work on the land has gone the way of most work on the land.
It’s easy to focus on the signs of decay and dilapidation. Tumbledown houses . . .
. . . and abandoned businesses.
But N and I travelled to Goodooga this day not to see busted-up old houses. Last week, the Hon. Mark Coulton (Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation & Local Government) officially opened a new bore baths in the town. Hands up anyone who knew we had a Minister for Decentralisation.
We arrived just before lunchtime, hungry and ready to inject Ridge dollars into the Goodooga economy. The pub was open but its kitchen wasn’t, but the publican gave us a hot tip that the store / post office has pies. Pies! Off we went, tummies rumbling in anticipation.
Unfortunately, like everything else in Goodooga on this fine Saturday morning, the post office / store was resolutely shut. As the Pie Nazi might have said, “No pies for you!”
Instead we had a big drink of water – mmmm – and set off to find the bore baths.
Down the street a bit and turn right and . . . here it is!
The idea is to create a reason for people to pull off the Castlereagh Highway and head west. And by ‘people’ I mean retirees hauling caravans or gigantic motor homes. Everyone wants a piece of the grey nomad economy, and I can understand why. Goodooga’s having a crack, and the bore baths is a start.
The brand new facilities are excellent, with ramp access and a nice ledge to sit on.
It was a warm-to-hot day with a northerly zephyr, the kind of day on which only a nutter would consider getting into the bore baths. It was, however, totally gorgeous. Maybe because it’s a smaller volume than the Ridge the water is cooler and so there was none of that jelly-legged head-spinning feeling you can get when the water is nose-bleedingly hot. The cool showers before and after were beautiful and refreshing.
We towelled down and headed back to the pub to see if the kitchen was open. Please be open. Please.
The tiny front bar was brimful of Yuletide cheer and, praise thanks to Our Lady the Madonna, Mother of the Divine Baby Jesus, the kitchen was open. Hallelujah!
We went for the steak sandwich and chips, with gravy on the side.
As we “munged down on a mad feed” (as the kids at school say), N scrolled through the wonderful Trove and we read excerpts of daily life from Goodooga in the 1880s. The area was, at the time, “. . . struggling through a four years’ drought . . .” (go figure) but the Maitland Mercury‘s correspondent was bubbling with excitement over new land releases, descriptions of jolly weddings, lamentations of folk falling out of buggies. It was all about hope and growth and the future.
People came and went as we ate our sangers, buying Coke or using the ciggy machine. We fell into conversation with three men – a Goodooga local and his two Kooma nephews, descended from rain-makers. (Yes, we made the necessary jokes.) Kooma is the language to the north of Goodooga, which itself falls on the border of Yuwaalaraay and Muruwari country. We had a lovely chat about language and history and demise of Goodooga as they waited for their takeaway burgers. And then it was time for off.
The road out of town has a new stretch of bitumen down towards the cemetery. I’m a sucker for graveyards. Goodooga’s is chipper and well maintained, though the older part (I guess in other places it’d be called the ‘pioneer’ or ‘settler’ cemetery) is looking neglected.
It was impossible not to be reminded of the Mercury correspondent’s bullish enthusiasm as I wandered through the shattered headstones.
The banks have gone, the hospital’s gone, the store has gone. But the rain-makers are still here, and will be for many generations after the grey nomads and Minister for Decentralisation (and the one after him, and the one after that) have retired to the Gold Coast.