When I was younger, no one had ever heard of it.
"Bondi?" they'd say, thinking of Sydney's famous beach. Probably as far away from the country town of my youth as it could be in terms of in flavour and colour, as well as distance.
And then they would be disappointed that they wouldn't have a free room by the sea the next time they were in Sydney. But if they wanted to drive around 240 km northwest of Brisbane, to a quiet country town hours from the nearest beach, they would be as Happy As Larry. Whoever Larry was.
(Disclaimer: Travelling time varies according to wee stops, spew breaks, poo stops, play time, more wees, coffee for mumma, feed-the-starving-children stops, even more wees, and at least one roadside threat to leave feuding Small Humans on the side of the road.)
These days, most people I encounter seem to know about Wondai. Not just because I've told them, but because they've been there during holidays in the South Burnett. Farm stays, winery visits, boating and fishings trips to Boondooma Dam, and/or visits to the Bunya Mountains, to name a few popular attractions in the area.
Yes, my home town has become quite the rural destination in recent years. It is anything but a "Shithole", as former resident, and comedienne Mandy Nolan claimed in a newspaper column and on a you-tube video recently. (I'm purposely not linking to the article, but you can find it easily via google.)
Nolan later posted on Facebook that the newspaper piece was meant to be a moving piece about her aging grandmother's pending demise, and that offended town residents were 'rednecks' and 'fundamentalists' who clearly did not understand metaphors.
Sorry love. They aren't uneducated. Or rednecks, fundamentalists, or whatever other 'insult' you can think to sling at them. Most of them anyway. And even if they were? That's not their fault surely. People are who they are. And as someone who claims to have suffered from prejudice as a child, I would have thought you would have been the last person to judge.
It was just that your piece wasn't that moving, or very well written really. Otherwise there wouldn't have been any room for doubt or misinterpretation.
As for Wondai? Well Wondai is a lot of things. But it is not a Shithole.
And believe me I have spent a lot of time in Wondai, and some time at Shitholes. Particularly as a working journo in London (but that's a whole other blog or book).
But I digress.
I must clarify here, that I do not live in Wondai. But I love to visit, complete with my city kids, who are delighted when we sight the town emu. We sadly have yet to be chased by bees. We also have encountered more snakes in and around suburban Brisbane than at dear old Wondai, even while out at the infamous Yabby Spot.
Wondai is a typical Australian country town. It has a good school, a few shops, and friendly locals. You can park right outside the shop you need to go to, and the RSL does a good seafood basket or steak with all the fixings for no more than $12. If you are a vegetarian, as I have been at times, you order something for a few dollars, and load your plate up with self-serve salad and veggie dishes. Honestly, best value in Australia. Not haute cuisine, but honest and good. You cannot go wrong, and there are always leftovers for the dogs.
On our last visits, I didn't see the boarded up local shops Nolan refers to in her article. In fact I haven't seen them on any visit, and neither have the locals I've asked.
The new residential and industrial developments surrounding the town disprove her theory that Wondai is dying.
And yet, I kind of get it. It's a long drive to Wondai from the Big Smoke. Or the beach. Or the glorious damp greenery of northern New South Wales. Perhaps it puts the pressure on a bit for the town to put on a show.
Unlike Nolan, I never really looked at growing up in Wondai through rose-coloured glasses. It was hot and dusty. Sometimes there was drought. Sometimes (usually short-lived) local flooding. At times it was Dead Boring. At times it was wonderful.
I was bullied at school for being smart, and belted by a teacher in year two for having the temerity to Join The Dots. (She didn't explain I had to do it in numerical order). I was picked on by another teacher because he thought I was smirking when someone was getting into trouble. Um no. That was my serious, scared-the-hell-out face.
Sometimes Wondai sucked. Particularly when one of us had to see a medical specialist, which involved a long drive, usually to Brisbane or occasionally to Toowoomba. To my parents' delight, I could usually be counted on to be sick somewhere on the side of the road. If we were lucky and I was able to 'save it' until we stopped.
And thank God teachers can't be so mean anymore.
By the same token, I had the freedom to ride my bike to school, and walk my dog to my Nana's house and back. To go yabbying on my own or with my brothers. To spend my summers at the local pool. Even if it did shut at lunchtime. If I did anything wrong, the chances were Mum and Dad would know about it by nightfall.
And yes, there's still not a lot to do there. But that's part of the attraction. (And the Secret Yabby Spot is still there for those in the know).
Like most small towns - Wondai is home to about 2000 permanent residents - it has its share of characters. (No cowboys though. Last time I looked, they were living in America.)
Of course, there are pros and cons to living in the country, kilometres away from the nearest facilities city folk take for granted. Like, I don't know. Medical specialists. Major airports. Swimming pools that stay open during the hottest part of day.
But the can't-be-argued-with positives are people with hearts of gold, who visit the aged and sick - even though they're not related - because they have no loved ones who live nearby. People like my dear Dad who
That's my Wondai.
Generally, a region like Wondai is populated by people who actively choose to live there. Often they've made very difficult financial and lifestyle choices to stay or move to the country, because that is where they want to be. And that makes it a very special place indeed.
It makes the people extremely innovative and yes, sometimes quirky. Third and fourth generation farmers, who, desperate to stay on the land but battling falling prices and harsh environments, swapped grapes for dairy and grains, and made wine instead. Or olive oil. Or cheese.
Or built farm stays. Or brewed boutique beer.
You've got to love that!
Here are a few more things I love about my Non-Shithole hometown.
- When my son had his first near fatal anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts, we knew there was no point calling an ambulance because there was no hospital ER in Wondai (yes, it's a small country town), my relatives said to call Dr Lip. Dr Lip was the town GP when I was a little girl. He still is much-loved town GP, and I think he is always On Call.
He answered my distress call to his home immediately, said to meet him at his surgery, where he quickly and without fuss, saved my son's life. I will never ever forget what he did that night. (I had suspected my son had a tree nut allergy, but my city GP had insisted it was an intolerance and I shouldn't worry. Hah! C. knew not to eat nuts anyway, but had unknowingly eaten something that contained a trace of them.)
That night, Dr Lip treated and diagnosed a serious allergy and insisted we see a specialist and carry an epipen, and have an action plan, which of course, we now do. He accepted my effusive thanks with good grace, which only made me admire him more. Where else would this happen? There was no ambulance, no triage, just instant and life-saving attention. (An ambulance would have had to come from another town and would have been far too late).
- One average weekend when we visited Wondai, coincided with an army celebration. We watched the memorial march, and were then invited into the RSL for lunch. My son has Aspergers Syndrome as many of you know, and I was sure would hate the noise, but he was so interested in the history and the diggers' stories that he was right up for staying. What a wonderful and educational day out we had!
And how many real-life stories we learned thanks to the patience of the diggers, who were happy to share their experiences with my youngsters. Talk about breaking down barriers. I can't imagine being welcomed into the fold like that in the city - in fact it has never happened here. And the kids still talk about it!
- Every month, Wondai hosts a fabulous farmers' market. It's the same as city markets, but on a smaller scale and goods are offered for a fraction of the price they'd be sold for in the city. I love chatting to the artists and produce growers, and the CWA ladies who still turn up with their goodies baked from scratch. They are bemused when I want to take photos, and only one or two know what I'm talking about when I say I'd like to put them on my blog! There is so much talent in the region, and the nearby art gallery is also worth a look. I have a piece of Wondai art on the wall at home, and it always attracts (nice) comments.
- I never return from Wondai empty handed. There are always boxes of goodies to bring home. It might be organic veggies grown by my parents in their own garden. Potatoes Dad gets the kids to help him dig up - which is all part of the fun. Dad's fantastic imperial mandarins, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and zucchini. The best eggs from the happiest hens owned by my brother in law's Mum. Or mangos from her own trees. (Thank you Doris) Or perhaps another relative will have a glut of some yummy fruit and veggies, or my niece and nephew will have created something delicious in their gourmet country kitchen and send a few delicious samples home with us.
- Walking home from a trip to the very friendly IGA one day, there was a toot of a horn and a car pulled up beside us. Out stepped a lovely lady who has known me since I was an ankle-biter. She always recognises me - I have no idea how - and takes an interest in me and my kids. She chatted to us all, hugged us, ruffled my childrens' hair, and went on her merry way. Afterwards my kids said: 'Mum, are you famous in this town, or what?'
Maybe I am kids, maybe I am.
And unlike Mandy Nolan, I'm not ashamed.
Maybe, one day, I'll be up there in the fame stakes with Wondai's Mate. And I will not mind one bit.
Harmonie shopping at the local IGA. Which, unlike our city supermarkets, is pleasantly uncrowded, and there is usually someone on staff that I know from the past. Please avert your eyes from the items in her trolley. Of course I wouldn't allow her to buy such rubbish! Cough.
Readers, how do you feel about your home town?
Readers, how do you feel about your home town?