We all nostalgically talk of the good old days. More emotion is lavished on the thought of a paddle pop costing 20 cents than is put towards the fundraising efforts of the chocolate-selling scouts. I reckon people are more excited about remembering a time when excess sun exposure was good for you, rather than being less socially acceptable than smoking than they are about the next beer-swilling session at the pub, unless they are planning to balance their wine glass while they talk about days gone by. Living in the past is rampant.
Fear not, living in the 90s is still possible. In fact, I am doing it. All it required was an intrepid long-haul, kangaroo-killing roadtrip to the edges of the Aussie red centre.
At the end of the long stretches of nothingness a paradise of melancholy opens up. In the shops you can still put purchases on an account and pay at leisure. Most things are more relaxed here in the 90s. If you happen to be caught in a traffic jam – please note having four cars in front of you is akin to a 30km Sydney snarl – and find yourself tardy by about 20 minutes, there is a good chance that you will still be early.
Meat is not bought from the supermarket. Instead you can grab half a sheep from your friendly butcher for $60. And on your way out the door of the shop the butcher will pull on a home-made genius rope and pulley contraption that opens your door. From behind the counter! It’s the Harry Potter of twenty years ago.
If you want to go to boot camp here, it’s not going to be the hit on your back pocket that it is in the city. All of the I’ve-paid-90-bucks-this-week-on-an-arsehole-trainer-that-hurts-me-so-badly-I-can’t-pick-up-a-coffee-cup incentive is removed when you pay just $10 a month. Sausage sangers are still just a buck.
If you choose to take the faster route to the 90s, a twin-engine 36-seater dash eight that feels as if it is gliding along with the assistance of an air current will drop you down. Getting on the plane you’ll be given a hand-written boarding pass. The airline hostess takes your tea order on a piece of paper. It feels so personal!
If you choose to take the slow road, the clanking train that is less smooth than the beast you would find in Bolivia, then a farewell crew that includes a few local lads at band practice will send you off at the station. I almost imagined myself in a long dress with a corset setting off on a stately journey to the east. At 17 hours it felt like a bloody stately journey too.
We shouldn’t get too excited about the time warp. The coppers have kept up and their speeding-catching technology is far too savvy for my liking. And the town even has a website to tell all and sundry about their rodeo dates.
But the dating service is far-removed from the modern less-spontaneous-than-a-splinter internet-based offering that you get in 2012 in the cities. Out here the lovely lady at the classy boutique will put a good word in for you with the cockies. The publican will also watch out for any lads that aren’t consuming their ute-weight in XXXX. These ladies have not yet found me a cute bedfellow, but it’s still acceptable to wolf-whistle at a lady as she scrambles down the street eager to get out of a thunderstorm. And a wolf whistle does wonders for the ego.
People still send letters in the post and, importantly for me, they read the local rag. I’ve even started borrowing books from the library again, which, alongside the money I’m saving on boot camp, is very handy for my bank balance. My inherited issues with getting books back on time is still an issue, even though I live within strolling distance to the book depository, but I’m sure the barcode-zapping ladies will show some old-time compassion with late fines.
In Charleville you will still find chickens roaming the streets, parading their pink flesh and it’s perfectly reasonable to find brains on the menu. Sometimes we go back further than 20 years to find horses trotting down the street. Vegetarian and gluten-free fussiness is barely heard of and, I assume, not really tolerated.
But it’s none of these things that make the town special. The time warp is completed by the lengthy phone conversations where a request for the spelling of a name turns into a family history lesson or an in-depth discussion on the footie. Those conversations usually end with an invite to dinner.
The broad brimmed hats that bob across the wide streets always carry a wave and a smile below them.
If you need a ride to a place three-hours away it is very likely you’ll find someone that will share their ute with you. The woman at the petrol station will help you figure out what sort of fuel your mower needs. And when you need to get the newspaper down to Cunnamulla – a two-hour drive along well-patrolled roads – then people will help you find someone to take the rag south.
The friendliness is further down the scale than even the Nepalese. The all-encompassing genuine, no-bullshit nature of the people in this place make me feel engaged, interested. My constant quest for that community feel is satiated.
At times I struggle to remember that there is a world out there that’s bigger than the Warrego Watchman, my town and my blissful time warp.