More than a dozen photographers I know converged on a town close to where a few of them live, Tumbarumba. A two-pub town with a bite still in the air even after the long weekend of October, the town like so many small country towns I’ve been to reminds me of my grandparents. They lived on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, so the location itself has nothing to do with it, I think it was more that in these towns the chains to our past are still there. City life is defined by development and gentrification, while the small country towns, starved of their young by two world wars, starved of their industry by mechanisation and global markets and then slowly strangled by the decline of rail and the withdrawal of services, are defined by the fact that they have never really left their past behind.
You can see it in the bowling greens, the repurposed buildings, the shuttered stores full of furniture that would have filled a pre-war house (that’s ‘pre’ the Great War). You can see it in buildings that collapse rather than gentrify, in industry that now only exists as an exhibit for kids who didn’t manage to nag their parents into going to the Gold Coast these holidays. You can see it in the staff of a pub who go out of their way to help you, the waitresses rushing across the street to get meat from the supermarket so the aforementioned group of photographers are fed. You can see it in the smiles and the waves.
If you pause for a minute near the war memorials you can see the young men – and there must have been plenty around, so many of their names are in the stone – joining a march, getting on the train, you can feel the stillness of the train that returned empty. You can see the industry those left behind tried to build and you can see the lights go down as a generation later, the last ones out locked the gates.