A town called Trun­dle

Re­fus­ing to fade out of ex­is­tence, a small coun­try com­mu­nity fights back first watch

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell

WHEN he trav­elled out west in NSW in 1909, record­ing his be­lief in the im­por­tance of the out­back to Aus­tralians, cel­e­brated his­to­rian C. E. W. Bean wrote: ‘‘ Out here you have reached the core of Australia, the real red Australia of the ages.’’ He called it ‘‘ that mys­te­ri­ous half-desert coun­try where men have to live the lives of strong men’’, and be­lieved that even more than 100 years later it would still af­fect the Aus­tralian imag­i­na­tion, much as the life of the sea has af­fected that of the English.

I thought of Bean while I was watch­ing Coun­try Town Res­cue, a pas­sion­ate new ABC se­ries from Zapruder’s Other Films. It pro­vides a thought­ful com­men­tary on the bush as theme and in­spi­ra­tion. Filmed ar­du­ously across 12 months, the se­ries was pro­duced and di­rected by Deb­bie Cuell ( Miss­ing Per­sons Unit, Gangs of Oz), a dis­tin­guished veteran of the ob­ser­va­tional doc­u­men­tary. Cuell pro­vides a nice glimpse into a na­tional psy­chol­ogy that still, if only just, prizes the bush as the home of a dis­tinctly Aus­tralian way of life.

Coun­try Town Res­cue is about the way a group of peo­ple in cen­tral-western NSW work to­gether to save the small his­toric town with the won­der­ful name of Trun­dle. The word, of course, means to move along with a rolling gait and the town’s name pos­si­bly de­rives from the way the place — 65km north­west of Parkes on the Bo­gan Way and 421km from Syd­ney — was once a stopover on the leg­endary old stock route that ran from Forbes in the south to Dan­daloo in the north. In time it be­came the town’s main street and, at 60m wide, it could ac­com­mo­date turn­ing bul­lock-trains. Hence Forbes Street, Trun­dle, is the widest street in NSW. Lo­cals say you need a packed lunch to get from one side to the other.

Now Trun­dle is dy­ing, its fall­ing pop­u­la­tion threat­en­ing its ex­is­tence. Aban­doned farm­houses are part of the land­scape, schools are strug­gling and younger lo­cals flee to Syd­ney, six hours away.

Cuell fol­lows five fam­i­lies culled from more than 400 ap­pli­cants who aban­don their pre­vi­ous lives and move to this ru­ral com­mu­nity. The town is re­fus­ing to go down with­out a fight and some of its cit­i­zens hear of some­thing called the Rent a Farm­house scheme, which has suc­cess­fully en­cour­aged fam­i­lies with ap­pro­pri­ate skills to move to dis­in­te­grat­ing ru­ral towns. The Trun­dle Tree Change Com­mit­tee is formed with the aim of rent­ing out some of the area’s derelict farm­houses for $1 a week. The body is soon in­un­dated with ap­pli­ca­tions.

The first episode of the six-part se­ries, edited from 400 hours of footage, in­tro­duces the suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants, in­clud­ing a Mus­lim fam­ily from Syd­ney, the Ele­mams. Is their dream of a ha­lal farm vi­able? Will the town’s com­mu­nity ac­cept a prac­tis­ing Mus­lim cou­ple? Then there is the Roberts fam­ily, a mum and two small, needy kids, who bring with them the most touch­ing story so far. Donna Roberts, a for­mer pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor and cruise ship worker, lost her hus­band to a brain tu­mour on Christ­mas Day in 2009. Like a char­ac­ter from Steele Rudd, she’s a good fit for the town and its larger-than-life Aussie char­ac­ters, and her sto­icism and ir­rev­er­ent bat­tler hu­mour give her an al­most Dick­en­sian di­men­sion.

Trun­dle turns out for Coun­try Town Res­cue

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