Now, anyone here who has lived in a small country town will recognize the situation I am about to describe. There is a familiarity with both the pettiness of complaint and the seriousness of the minutiae of desire for redress that runs like “Orteses Thread” through the fabric of the community..and like all these little communities, a heady mix of “rumour, envy and shadenfreude” sustains all it’s members!
Into this community, there came the CEO. of the local council to address the citizens in a “Community Aspirations and Goals meeting at the Sedan Memorial Hall, all invited w/ coffee and cake provided”. Now right there, from the start, any local could’ve told him that he could’a doubled his attendance if’n he’d offered ‘mini-savs’ on the menu! As it was , a goodly group turned up to ‘sus out’ the new CEO. I was one of that group…I had a couple of ‘goals’ of my own to suggest at that meeting!….
It went like this.
The new CEO came from the Sth East…Mt Gambier , to be precise..There is a lot of water down that end of the state..and maybe they are more used to partaking of THAT liquid rather that the Sedan locals..to whom beer and the like are no strangers! So it was as no surprise that several “known” members of the local public came to the meeting straight from the front bar of the Sedan Hotel..and I did notice that one such, with the nickname ; “Pull-through” (I won’t go into the reasons for these designations, it could be too tedious and convoluted…some though, give a hint!), skinny as he is, found the doorway a tad too narrow as he ricocheted off the jambs!
“ Now I don’t want to be sitting back in my office in Mannum dictating to the community what it will have”..the CEO began. “I want YOU..the community to tell me what are YOUR aspirations and goals for Sedan…” and here he paused for effect to thrust his pointer at several headings written on a large piece of butchers paper blu-tacked on the wall…he swept his black-rimmed bespectacled and wide-eyed gaze accusatively around the room….feet shuffled..a sign of expected comment.
“How about a ramp in the gutter there outside the pub..there on the footpath” ‘Banger’ was first off the rank…the CEO raised his eyebrows.
“Oh, so ..a ‘disabled ramp’ in the kerbing?” he suggested.
“Well…” ‘Banger’ drawled “Not so much ‘disabled’…well not going IN..coming out maybe!..” this got a few laughs..” But you can make a miss-step there and do your self some damage on a Friday night”..a good deal of nodding and cross-chatter affirmed this point
“…broke six bottles the other week!…”was heard in one camp.
“Yes, yes..I see…mark that down Mr. Parker. “ the CEO addressed his clerk. “Some more please”.
Of course, Banger’s first foray into the pond unleashed a tirade of ideas…from the problem with puddles outside the post-office (when it DID rain), painted house numbers on the kerbs (only a small portion of the town has kerbing) to a scenic car-park on the top of Sedan Hill for the visitors to the district (this last drew a muffled gasp from the crowd for it’s audaciousness…a pet project of Mrs. Auricht) ..several more trite complaints followed. The poor CEO, expecting more in the line of aspirations than desperations was becoming impatient at the somewhat pettiness of the requests..
“Yes, yes..but I was hoping for…for…” his eyes swept the room..he saw not the least sympathy….he understood..”…NO!..put those down, Mr. Parker..put those..those ideas in that ledger of yours….ok..any more?”
I was waiting for my moment..After a short silence and the turning of heads toward each-other negatively, I put up my hand.
“ I have an idea “ I volunteered. A disapproving murmur pulsated through the crowd..my reputation had preceded me!..
” A fountain!” I exclaimed boldly..” In the centre of the ‘square’ there…we move that cement obelisk..after all it is only a street sign, not a memorial..and we put a fountain in the centre of the town..as a mark of beauty and a testament to the resilience of this community living in a dry country…I envisage (yes..I spoke like that!..I had rehearsed) a low, brimming bowl with the water lapping over a polished, curved lip..within this bowl is a tryptich sculpture of panels..three sandstone panels carved in relief with representations of (in the centre) ; The Ubiquitous Mallee Tree..flanked by on one side representations of the Indigenous peoples and on the other ; the Pioneers of the district..(There was silence in the room as I spoke..more now, I realise , from shock than from politeness!)…the entire fountain surrounded by beds of native flora….so that visitors driving into the town from any direction, will immediately see this amazing display in the middle of dryness and say ; “WOW!”…” I finished my little spiel with a flourish of my arms.
There was silence in the room..a full seven seconds silence…the record for Sedan is ten seconds!..then , like bursting through the surface of water after a deep dive, the cacophony of the world around came crashing in…a veritable HOWL of derision and outrage was flung in my direction…everybody moved away from me..of the dissenters, “Groper” was most red-faced ..on his feet straight up..
“ Move the obelisk!..” he raged, “..move the fuckin’ obelisk !!..my dad helped build that fuckin’ obelisk…it’s..it’s a treasure..almost sacred!…no!..no !…we don’t move the fuckin’ obelisk!..no, ferget it!” nodding heads and cries of support for ‘Groper’ were thick on the ground , so that the CEO. gave a shake of his head to his clerk and then decided to wrap up the meeting. I quickly made my escape.
It was about a month before some folk would talk to me in the street after such blasphemy. But I do hold second place (I believe) in the ‘Sound of Silence’ record in the community..There are some small moments to treasure with the experience of living in small country towns…I’ll tell you about them someday!