Why do we travel? We travel for fun, to explore, to learn new things. We travel to visit friends, take up a new job, to relax, to learn about other cultures. Another reason to travel is to revisit the past. We all have those nostalgic memories from when we were younger, but is it a good idea to return to those places?
Visiting the farm I grew up on is #17 on my Fifty Before 50 Bucketlist.
See the rest of the list here.
I have not really been back to the area I grew up in since I was a teenager. I did do one very quick trip for a family wedding about twenty years ago, but barely stopped long enough to see anything. When I decided it was time to finally travel over to Head of the Bight to go whale watching, it was a no-brainer to call into the town I grew up in, see my old farm and school, and re-live some memories.
I grew up on a farm outside of the small Eyre Peninsula town of Wirrulla. It’s a dot on the highway a long way from anywhere really. It’s surrounded by farmland, mostly wheat and sheep, but it’s right on the margin of arable land. Just a few kilometres further inland from my farm it becomes station country. This is where no cropping takes place, instead it is huge parcels of land used solely for grazing, generally sheep or cattle. This is the Outback!
The town has a pub, a general store, a sports ground – and not a whole lot else. Even the school I went to in my early primary school years no longer exists. We only had about 50 kids from kindergarten to high school, so it was pretty small to start with. It was closed down when I was about ten years old and we were all moved to an “Area School” newly built out in a paddock centrally located between four small towns. It was about thirty kilometres on the school bus every morning and afternoon, which was a bundle of noise and chaos every day. I think back now and wonder how our bus driver coped!
While not entirely wild, we were an active bunch, but I think that was fairly normal for country kids growing up in the 70s & 80s. Everyone was involved in sports, and going to the football on the weekends was a given. It was often the only social event on the calendar, and due to distance, often the only time we saw our friends apart from school.
For anything more than the basics, we needed to travel almost 100km to Ceduna. This is where we did our grocery shopping, bought clothes or other supplies, had medical appointments and went to the hairdresser. Or we would have if we went to a hairdresser – conveniently that was my mother’s job before us kids came along, so we got the chop sitting at the kitchen table. Always right before school photo day! Didn’t every kid at that time have a fringe that was too short in at least one school photo??
So we were brought up tough. If we hurt ourselves, it better require stitches or a cast if we were doing the trek to the doctors. And a cold didn’t even get acknowledged, we really needed to be properly sick! I barely remember seeing a doctor at all, except for that one time I ended up in hospital with either gastro or a kidney infection or both. Apparently I was pretty crook.
Wirrulla now is even smaller than when I was growing up there. It’s a general trend the world over that your people leave the country towns and move to the city. That has certainly happened here too. Out of my family and my cousins, there is now only one of us in the town. I also have an Aunt and Uncle still there. Much of the population is now over 40.
There have been some attempts to draw in visitors. After all, Wirrulla is one of the gateways to the Gawler Ranges. A few years back my Uncle noticed that all the towns nearby that were getting tourists seemed to have one thing in common – they had a jetty. They also had the ocean, something Wirrulla was definitely missing! But that didn’t stop the idea from growing, and eventually a jetty was built in Wirrulla too – conveniently right near the pub. So now Wirrulla claims to have the only inlaid jetty in the world.
But back to my visit. After a quick drive through the town, noticing not a whole lot has changed in the thirty years since I was last here. There was one new house, and all the temporary school buildings were now gone, but I could easily picture myself here as a kid.
We drove out to our farm. I was able to meet my cousin here who, since she still lived locally, spoke with the current owners so rather than just look from the main road we were able to go in. Before this visit I wasn’t sure how I would feel about coming back here. Our farm was in its third generation when it was owned by my parents and Aunt & Uncle. My Grandfather and Father both grew up here, and it is so much a part of who they are and who I am today too. I am inextricably linked to this piece of dirt in the middle of nowhere.
Over there are the quandong trees that fueled my love of this native fruit, and down that way is where I fell out of an old Landrover as my Dad was chasing down some horses. There is where I was bitten by a scorpion and was sure I was going to die, and that door is the one that my sister and I had to open and close quietly ten times every time we forgot and slammed it first!
I knew that in the intervening years the house and property had been, let’s say, let go! It has in fact had two different owners. The current owner grew up and still lives on a neighbouring property and really only has it for the farmland. So I was prepared for it to be a bit run down. While I was a bit surprised to see just how run down it was, I was not shocked.
While I did feel a little nostalgic, I did not feel sad. I think enough time has passed that it was no longer such an emotional thing for me. It was more fun as we walked through the house and I could reminisce with my cousin about the way things had been in the past. Some things seemed bigger or smaller than I remembered, but others hadn’t changed at all. The bathroom and kitchen were exactly as they had been when we left.
As part of the same trip we spent a couple of days in the seaside town of Smoky Bay. This is where we spent two weeks each summer, enjoying the beach and learning how to swim, fish, collect cockles, and all sorts of other useful skills. This was the holidays for the parents too, so us kids were often put to work. It was also a time when many of the kids from the district were in walking distance from each other so we could easily hang out without needing parents to drives us for miles. A nice change.
In my mind Smoky Bay had become almost mythical; that idyllic place from childhood that could never match up to expectations. I had spent years comparing every beachside place to Smoky Bay, that always had whiter sand and clearer water and better fishing and more incredible sunsets. My husband was probably sick of hearing about this place.
So I was almost scared to go back there too. What if it was a horrible place now and all my childhood memories would become tinged with this new reality?
I needn’t have worried. Even though we were visiting in the middle of winter and it had done nothing but rain for the whole week we had been travelling, the one full day we were in Smoky Bay was a belter! It was so calm and warm and the sky was perfectly blue. I don’t think I have ever stood on the end of a jetty that juts out into the Southern Ocean and seen the reflection of the whispy cloud in the mirrored surface of the sea. Incredible!
We spent the day fishing, not something I do often, but I had to re-live my childhood memories. And besides, I had been bragging about how fish pretty much just jump onto your line here there were so many of them! And of course they are all huge! Well, there were plenty of fish, we could see them in their thousands, but they weren’t so hungry the day we were there. We caught just enough King George Whiting, with a couple of Tommies and Trevally thrown in to feed three of us for dinner.
Revisiting the past with travel has been a huge success for me. Now I’m thinking about where else I can go! The only problem is I haven’t lived in a lot of places and didn’t travel much when I was young. Maybe I’ll just have to head back to Smoky Bay and enjoy some more time on the beach!
Where would you go back to tomorrow if you could?
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.