Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 26 May 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010
I had intended to write another column on New England films. Then a comment by Alexander Mendoza on the Save the Beardy Street Mall Facebook page caught my eye. He wrote:
“When I didn’t work all day, I used to go down town and sit outside for hours at Caffeinds and Rumours because it was good food, and good company. I always knew that I’d bump into someone down there.”
This really struck a chord.
In case you haven’t worked it out by now, I really love Armidale. I can’t help it. It’s just part of what I am.
For much of my working life, I have lived outside Armidale: first I lived in Canberra or Queanbeyan; then, after nine years back in Armidale, we moved to Sydney.
Throughout I kept coming back. Year after year I came back for events, or just to visit for the weekend.
After Dad and then Mum died, I came back to stay with Aunt Kay and Uncle Ron.
Ron and I had a game. I had to find out what was happening in town that he didn’t know and in the shortest possible time! The pattern was always the same.
Saturday morning, I would go downtown to the Mall, buy a paper and then (weather permitting) sit down outside.
Ordering coffee and breakfast, I would read my paper and then watch the world go by. Nearly always, I would see people that I knew who would stop for a chat.
Breakfast finished, I would go for a wander around the shops. By the time I went back for lunch, I could tell Ron what was going on!
After we moved back to Armidale, and then again on weekend trips back after our move to Sydney, there was a similar pattern: Saturday morning breakfast in the Mall, followed by shopping.
You can see that the Mall was central in all this. It unified the pattern of traffic across the CBD by providing a central focus.
I have spoken before about the remarkable reinvention of Melbourne as the lifestyle city.
City life is not just services nor convenience: it’s lifestyle and interaction between people. Lose this and you lose the city.
It seems that you can take people out of Armidale, but not Armidale out of the people.
Both my daughters are heavily involved in the consuming life of Sydney. I don’t see any way of digging them out of this. Yet recently I had a surprise.
Eldest was nine when we left Armidale. Now twenty two, she still classifies herself as a country girl and has Armidale as her hometown on her Facebook page.
One of Helen’s friends (Jenny) challenged her about her Facebook page. Why did she say that she was a country girl and from Armidale when she was clearly a Sydney Eastern Suburbs’ chick?
Helen got quite upset. Joined by sister Clare, she launched a spirited defence of Armidale and country girls, combined with an attack on the Eastern Suburbs equivalent.
I was taken a bit by surprise. I have no expectation at this point that either girl would want to live in Armidale, but the connection is still there.
This brings me to another point.
Regular readers of this column will know that I am writing a history of the broader New England.
Doing this from Sydney is proving difficult. The travel I need to do is all north, while I don’t have easy and immediate access to the records and contacts that I need in Armidale.
Given these problems, the family has agreed that I might base myself in Armidale while I’m finishing the book. Previously this would have been difficult because of my role as major child care. However, with both girls now at university, this is no longer an issue.
The suggestion does not involve breaking the family up. Rather, the idea is to create two nodes that we can all move between as circumstances permit.
Now I have to work out how we might fund this.
When I was in Armidale before, I used Armidale as a base and earned most of my income outside the city. That meant a fair bit of travel. To do this now would be self-defeating.
So the issue that we are working through now is just how I might earn enough cash in Armidale to actually fund the whole thing. And that I don’t know yet!