A town called Trundle
Refusing to fade out of existence, a small country community fights back first watch
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