Another Country Town With A Story and a Film Festival: Dungog

Who knew?

Dungog, on the Williams River in the higher Hunter Region is a dairy farming area with many fine colonial buildings still in existence. There are also many thickly timbered areas particularly around the picturesque Barrington Tops. Back in the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s the Brushbox was milled and laminated for the floors and wood panelling of Sydney’s iconic Opera House.

Coolarlie 1895

There is a palpable creative vibe to Dungog with its artisan co-operatives along the Main Street and quirky antique stores.

The James Theatre, the oldest purpose-built cinema still operating in Australia , started its life as an open air theatre in 1912 – how I loved the old open air on the NSW South Coast as a kid! – and now also hosts live performances, dance and film classes.

I was gobsmacked to learn that in 2007 Dungog held its first annual three day Australian Film Festival to foster Aussie films and talent. I only stumbled across this information by asking about the Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett Boulevard signs located at the Tourist Information Centre. Created specifically for the first Festival, all the other signs went “walkabout”, as they would. Why have I never heard anything about this Event ?

Typical wide streets of our country towns

This Festival morphed and expanded into the Dungog Festival five years later and continues to grow with interest from both locals and visitors alike. The dates for the 2019 event are Friday, 4th October till Monday, 7th October.

The blurb goes:

The festival will burst with the sights sounds and experiences of Arts, Activity, Food, Music and Fun in the pristine rural setting of Dungog. More than ever this year the Festival has events to suit all budgets including the addition of the free Sunday Street Party.

They are creating a dynamic program that will engage both the Dungog community and visitors from further afield. Key events such as the ‘Long Table Dinner’, ‘Gala Street Parade’, ‘James Theatre’, Sculpture on the Farm’, ‘Wallarobba Hall Oktoberfest’, ‘Garden Ramble’ ‘Long Lazy Lunch’ and much more are all certain to draw crowds.

Buskers, bands, solo artists and everything in between will create a vibrant atmosphere on the streets of Dungog, where just a few steps away the historic James Theatre will host a film program Dungog’s fresh approach to the moving image will deliver some truly retro and innovative cinematic experiences that venture outside the cinema walls, giving visitors new ways to engage with film around the town.

For more information: http://www.dungogfestival.com.au”.

I love supporting our country towns with these endeavours and will most certainly put my hand up for dog sitting duties that weekend. Without the dog.

TRIVIA : Just outside of Dungog is a little settlement called Gresford. Lots of beautiful rolling hills, it is the location of a property by the name of Torryburn. This was Dorathea Mackellar’s family home from 1898 onwards and where she wrote, as a teenager, the iconic poem, “My Country”.

From Wikipeadia. Traditionally starts at Verse 2. “ I love a sunburnt country”.

Country towns. Love ‘em.

Kurri Kurri, a Country Town With Heart, and a Great Book

The Hunter Valley, with its wineries, eateries, galleries and boutique accomodation, is a Mecca for tourists, and cashed up ones at that. On the fringe is Kurri Kurri, a township with few remnants of the architecture dating back to the early 1900s indicating that this place once enjoyed a mining boom. In the 1990’s all but one of the coal pits was closed and 11,000 people lost their jobs. 

All these years later this little country town is still doing it tough. The Workers Club has been boarded up, and charity stores outnumber other retail outlets.

We loved walking around the town centre and chatted to a few locals at the Cafe. I also ducked in for a quick haircut where a delightful lass shared local knowledge about places of interest.

(Personal Message for Cat Balou, daughter of mine : – Confirmed that there were NO grey hairs. From a professional, sweetheart. Take that!)

Which reminded me of a recent read : Janesville, An American Story by Amy Goldstein, which details the impact that the closure of a car manufacturing plant in Wisconsin at the beginning of the recession in 2008 had on an entire community. Goldstein is a staff writer on social policy for the Washington Post and shared a win in the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

This non fiction effort covers a period of five years which is fascinating in that the author follows characters from how they coped initially with their dismissal from their jobs and where they are down the track. It covers all that you would suspect, including homelessness, suicide, family breakdowns, loss of self esteem etc. It showed how the loss of one industry impacted on other industries and how the entire community was effected economically and socially.

On the positive it explains how some workers on the assembly line were able to set themselves up through study to become successful professionals, as well as how the community worked together to assist each other . “Barb believes that Lear’s closing was the best thing that could have happened. It’s closing taught her that she was a survivor. It taught her that work exists that is worth doing, not for the wages, because you feel good doing it”.

Although the American politics and mechanations went way over my head it was interesting to read that government funding into retraining programs did not have the successful outcomes anticipated.

The coffee is great in Kurri Kurri which labels itself  “A Country Town With Heart”,  and is worth a visit if travelling around the Hunter. It also has the largest number of murals on the mainland.

Let’s inject a few bob into our country towns this year, and hey, we might even learn something of our history, our heritage, along the way. And take it from an old girl: one five star marble bathroom looks the same as the next.

TRIVIA : – Kurri Kurri has produced the largest number of first grade Rugby League players in :

Andrew Johns

John Sattler

Paul Harragan

Eddie Lumsden

Mark Hughes

Fairy Penguins Rule.

“Is this Heaven?” asks a ghostly baseball player in Field Of Dreams.
“No. It’s Iowa”.

No, it’s the beautiful Hunter.

When I open the front door to walk the Lab in the mornings I am greeted by grazing kangaroos in green paddocks.

Thirty minutes to the west are the beautiful vineyards of the Hunter Valley, although if you are expecting to pick up some cheap plonk these are not the venues for you. Cellar Doors and eateries within the wineries are big business these days, unlike 40 years ago when they consisted of mainly tin sheds.

Thirty minutes to the east is the coast where I caught a fish yesterday, spotted a pod of dolphins, and frolicked in the waves.

To the north by ten minutes is a little township steeped in history. Our country towns are fantastic places to explore especially with the aid of a Heritage Walk map. Interestingly, I stumbled across this hitching post from America from the late 1800’s. If we can no longer call them Fairy Penguins and are no longer able to buy golliwogs, then please explain…..

In a park in Maitland not featured on the map I came across a Memorial to those who lost their lives at Sandakan during WW2. If you want to touch up on Australian history read Paul Ham’s Sandakan and learn why a previous generation wholeheartedly supported the Australian car manufacturing industry.

Soon I will venture south some thirty minutes to the local zoo where I have an appointment at the Meerkat enclosure. I’m all for collecting experiences but being peed on by a meerkat is not one of them. Thanks, daughters of mine.

Eccentric Vs Passionate

When I travel, even on short trips, I like to buy myself a momento, something that will “take me back there” when I’m old and grey, fifty years from now. Anything but frivolous, I don’t buy tee shirts, tea spoons or snow domes, but rather books or sometimes, a painting. Nothing flash nor expensive, just a little thing that means something. Something to starve off the Alzheimer’s…….

So in a Retro second-hand shop in Bungendore, NSW, forty kilometres out of Canberra, I located a first Edition copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim for $7. Couldn’t leave it there, could I?

I was telling my Canberra based daughter of this find over an alfresco meal in the city and she said “ Is that the place run by the bloke with a beard? He’s renowned for being eccentric!”

I don’t know about eccentric, though passionate for sure. He let me touch his virgin ( Mickey Mouse) Mouseketeer vinyl LP with accompanying booklet, though sadly it was for Display purposes only. He then went on to share his feelings of fifty years ago for Annette and I just had to respond likewise about Bobby with the beautiful smile.

There was also a collection of books from TV series’ from the 50’s and 60’s for sale : Combat, Leave It To Beaver, The Munsters. My head went into a tail spin and the Gemini within faced dreadful turmoil. Bad Gemini said YES, what a wonderful addition to your bookcase, Good Gemini said NO and did acrobatics over spreadsheets and I could hear my mother’s voice from fifty years ago reminding me of the starving Ethiopians. The internal struggle was real. It was Batman Vs The Joker all over again.

I just loved The Big Valley. An American Western television series which ran from 1965 to 1969, starring Barbara Stanwyck as the widow of a wealthy 19th-century California rancher and Richard Long, Lee Majors, Peter Breck and Linda Evans as her family. At primary school there were huge debates as to who was the cutest son.*

As usual, the daughter rolled her eyes when I shared this tale. Though I’m not sure why really. This is what I brought home from my London travels………….

Be kind. Passionate rather than eccentric.

*Jared

Against All Flags and Burrill Lake

I’ve previously shared the movies that helped mould the person I am today: Reap The Wild Wind with John Wayne being crushed by a giant squid accounting for my fear of seaweed ( and love of calamari), and Elizabeth And Essex with Errol Flynn and Bette Davis which was my excuse for decapitating my sister’s Barbie dolls.

A road trip through the haunts of my childhood on the New South Wales South Coast has stirred many memories; some good, some bad, but none ugly. Nothing is ugly once you hit the beautiful beaches and forests of this region, except perhaps for real estate prices.

Coming from a family that enjoyed fishing, swimming, and body boarding in these same waters I was reminded of successful nights of prawning and catching Blue Swimmer Crabs in Burrill Lake, just south of Ulladulla. The Father Bear would wade knee deep in water holding a Tilly Lamp, guiding everybody else who would have a net ready to scoop any crabs attracted by the light. No need for any bait. That was me. I always attracted crabs.(Get your minds out of the gutter please). Nips from crabs were plentiful though I never complained as nothing ever did beat a fresh crab sandwich with a spray of pepper.

Catching up with a friend and neighbour of fifty plus years standing over these past days we sat and watched Against All Flags, a 1952 movie starring Errol Flynn and Maureen O’Hara, which reminded me of the time where I confronted my military father and refused to be used to attract Blue Swimmers. It was the summer of rebellion. I was 8 and I had just seen this movie for the first time.

Onboard a 1700s merchant ship, determined British naval officer Lieutenant Brian Hawke (Flynn) bravely endures twenty lashes with the intent of using the wounds to help him go undercover on the pirate island of Libertania. Once there, however, Hawke is brought before the colony’s head pirates, the Captains of the Coast, and forced to prove himself in a fight to the death. As he endures the various trials of a pirate, he finds himself drawn to the beautiful buccaneer Spitfire (O’Hara) and torn between her and his mission to disarm the renegade settlement. Co-starring Anthony Quinn, it’s a Technicolor epic filled with buxom maidens, breathtaking swordplay and dazzling spectacle. From IMDB.

For the purpose of this story you need to know that when the pirates realise that Errol is a spy they inflict an awful punishment.  They tie him to a pole on the tide line and await these butt ugly crabs to come out of the water to scavenge for food. Errol as a main course – delicious!

Off set Errol was injecting oranges with vodka in defiance of the No Drinking Rule, and was seven years off his early demise. I think he still looked damn fine, and when the mogul princess in the movie kept asking for “more”, as in kisses, I knew just where her head was at. 

It was an absolute treasure to rewatch this movie all these years later in colour and with a wonderful friend. Cath, I never knew you were such a movie buff, particularly one with such an eye for bloopers. ( Watch for Spitfire’s beauty spot changing cheeks).

I still have a fear of live crabs though am partial to a good crab salad with mango.

The South Coast, Errol Flynn and good friends. What a great start to retirement.