The Victorianization of CampFire Creek
The little village of CampFire Creek is spread out around where the road crosses the creek. One old timer said that in the days of the squatters, the drovers used to bring the mobs of sheep down through here. They could put the sheep in the dry creek bed with only a short fence at each end, so they chose this spot to camp overnight.
In the nineteen sixties when the city people (- the "Long Hairs", old Joe used to call them), came and bought the Stevenson house , a couple of the women spent a lot of time going through the old Mechanics Institute library. They said they found an squatter's map on which a shepherd had identified the stopping place. He had written "Campfire Creak"; C..R..E..A..K, he had spelled it. One of the women, Felicity, ("Is that really a name?", Old Joe had asked.) had prevailed upon the Council to pull down the old sign by the bridge and put up a new one with the original spelling. They say that she said it was "to honour our Pioneers". "To poke fun at us ordinary country people!", Old Joe had growled, when someone had explained to him that that wasn't the normal spelling of "creek" nowadays.
Perhaps someone built a shanty once the path the sheep followed had become an identifiable track. Then the bridge and then the town sort of grew around that. The bridge has been replaced twice, although the original general store is still there, almost fallen down. A young bloke had a go at selling irrigation pipe and fittings from there a few years ago, but that's all gone now.
The Railway came and went. Felicity and her friends found a copy of a petition that had one hundred and fifty signatures asking for the railway branch line to be directed through the town. A man named Jack Carter had set up what he called the "CampFire Creek Railway League".
Old Joe said that he could remember Jack Carter. When Joe was a youngster, old Jack used to hang around the town as if he owned it. "It didn't matter what happened in the town, Old Jack always had something to say about it", old Joe said.
Old Joe said that he could remember the man who had got the railway for the town, and he could remember when the line was closed and then pulled up.
"That's how it goes!" he said. "Come and gone - all within the lifespans of two men".
"The railway was very important to the town," Old Joe said. "There were ten households of Railway people. There were two engine drivers, two firemen, although young Mick didn't account for a household. He was a single man. He boarded with Old Mrs Passmore in that old house down by the corner. You know, that place on the corner just past the bridge, where all those tall weeds are. There used to be a house there."
"There was the Station Master and his assistant, and there were four fettlers and their families. They were good breeders, the fettlers. On average more than four kids each. You can imagine what that did to our little school when that lot left."
"Then there was one guard."
The town used to have road transport as well. Sandy Piggert had a wheelwright's business. He used to make drays and wagons and buggies. Then when motor cars came in he catered for them too. Petrol used to come in tins - tins the same as kerosene tins. The tins used to come in a crate. Sandy used to take his horse and cart down to the station to pick up the motor spirit. It used to come up from the big smoke in the guard's van.
The first car in the town was an Oakland. It was owned by the General Storekeeper, Karl Schmidt. Old Schmidt never drove it himself, he was always driven around by one of his spinster daughters Hilda or Emmie.
"Jack Carter reckoned," Old Joe said, "that the motor car was hailed as a big advance. It was believed that as it required the close attention of the driver, it would completely eliminate the danger of drink driving. Not that you needed the drink factor to add to the danger when Emmie Schmidt came along in that old Oakland!"
The bitumen road came, and the railway went. The people didn't buy their cars from Sandy Piggert; they went into Grayson where they could get a better price. Grayson had a huge grocer's shop and a hardware shop and a shop of every imaginable other kind. All of these shops sold the same stuff as Schmidt's General store, but they sold it cheaper.
When the Dairy industry was deregulated, the dairy farmers had to get out. They were all already broke and mortgaged well beyond the bank's limit, so when the bank held the auction it was a fire sale really. Old Joe said that at least the bank came back to town, even if for only one day!
A smarmy bloke from the city bought six of the farms and planted Tasmanian Blue Gums. Felicity and her friends put up quite a protest, claiming that Tasmanian Blue Gums weren't native to the area and shouldn't be here! Nobody listened.
Then the smarmy bloke went broke, and as he had broken some condition of a government grant, the government took over the properties and declared them to be part of the State park. When the State park service was privatized, and that Japanese multi-national got the contract, they ripped out all the blue gums to use as pulpwood and planted Japanese Maple. They said it was important to have the same species in all their plantations around the world so they could capitalize on their expertise and reap the benefits of economy of scale.
Everyone expected Felicity to kick up a ruckus. She just looked sad and said that she exhausted herself over the blue gums, and if no one else was going to run with the Japanese Maple issue, then she wasn't either.
When the first bitumen road came, there was a large gang of men to build it. They came and stayed in an encampment just down from the bridge. They got involved in the town somehow. They patronised the General Store and the two hotels. They came into the town on Saturday night to see the new "talking pictures" that were shown in the Mechanic's Institute Hall.
When the freeway came, a generation later, it swept past the town about three kilometres away. If you stood on the bridge and looked South down the creek valley, you could see between the trestles of the old railway bridge. You could see the big machines with Japanese writing on them, gouging their way through Bert O'Brien's paddocks, but you never saw the people who worked them. Perhaps those big new machines didn't need people.
There used to be six churches in the town. Catholic, Church of England, Presbyterian and Methodist ... and two German Churches, one down past the bridge and the other way up the other end of the town. There had been a fight once between two factions of Germans and these Germans, stoical in most ways, nursed their passion for their grievance for a hundred and twenty years. Then they united, but it was too late. The dwindling flock flocked into one church, but soon after that there were no churches.
It is said that if the two German ministers saw each other on the footpath, one would cross the road to avoid the other. Old Joe said that once Pastor Krusel and Pastor Minge were both walking along the South side of the main road when they spied one another. Just then Rudy Smyth came out of Station Street with his six Clydesdales and a wagon loaded high with bags of wheat. Pastor Krusel was distracted for a moment by a parishioner, and Pastor Minge was distracted by the green grocer calling on him to look at the lovely big grapefruit he had just got in. Both men of the cloth disengaged themselves from their distractions and found that they didn't have a clear view. The Clydesdales were in the middle of the road, but Rudy was talking to someone, and the wagon was stationary. There were several buggies parked outside the Grand Hotel opposite, and a crowd of people on the footpath. Both ministers hurried to the hotel side of the road and proceeded on that footpath, although neither could see through the crowd at the hotel. Suddenly the crowd parted, then the two proud men found themselves face to face.
This was a story that Joe had heard Old Jack Carter tell, and there was no reliable account of what happened next. After a previous telling of that story, Old Joe said that there was something wrong with it. "If Rudy Smyth had had his wagon piled high with bags of wheat, he would have been driving into Station Street, not out of it," Old Joe said. In spite of this, Old Joe still liked to tell the story. It was too good a story to be spoilt by worrying about that sort of detail.
Anyway, all the Churches have gone now. We had six men doing full time pastoral work, and now we have two young flibberty gibbets sent out by the council twice a week. They visit the old folk in the Elderly Citizen's Club, and try to think up activities. Once they decided to have music, and chose Elvis Presley, being the oldest singer either of them had heard of. They put their Elvis tape on and all the old people asked them to turn off that "noisy young people's music".
The freeway carries people past, so we don't see many outsiders in CampFire Creek these days, just the Japanese Tourists who ride their hired bicycles along the old railway embankment past a big reflective sign that proclaims "Rails to Trails".
On a recent sunny afternoon, old Joe sat on the seat out the front of the boarded-up building that used to be the Post Office. A car load of young people had got out of their car. Perhaps they were lost or something, and needed direction. Anyway they had got caught up with Old Joe and had got the complete history of the town – all the way from the sheep in the creek. If they’d bought him a beer he’d have told them all the sheep’s names.
"There’s no work here any more." said Old Joe
"Now just about everyone in the town is either on the dole or the old age pension."
"We had a Premier once, named Bolte," said Old Joe. "The bitumen had got just about everywhere, and this Bolte seemed to think that you could get just about anywhere from just about anywhere else pretty easily and quickly. He had this plan called "Victorianization". He wanted us all to think of the whole of Victoria, and not just our own town. "Think Big" he used to say."
"He said that if we maximized the benefit for Victoria as a whole then we would all benefit. He said that if one town had a woollen mill, then perhaps there was only enough business for one woollen mill, and the other town should find something else to specialize in. Many towns were losing their livelihood at the time, and he wasn’t too popular everywhere."
"He came out to Grayson yer know, and addressed a meeting there. The crowd were pretty hostile. He asked them to recall that his electorate was a country electorate. They all yelled out that they did recall that."
Old Joe paused as if for effect, but none of the young people laughed or even smiled. They just stood around in rapt attention.
Old Joe felt that something hadn’t gone quite right. Perhaps he was losing his touch as a story teller.
"It’s a good thing," Old Joe said, " that they don’t have this Victorianization for the whole world. All of Australia would be on the dole or the old age pension."