Viable rural communities are essential to life on the land.
Without the support and sense of belonging to a local community, people could not survive the harsh conditions and isolation of rural and remote areas. Community events and institutions have always been a mainstay of country life and help to overcome the loneliness felt by many on the land. Regional festivals, social and sporting events, as well as institutions such as the local church or school help to build close-knit communities and punctuate a hardworking year with much needed entertainment and social contact.
Agricultural societies and shows are a way of bringing rural communities together and have become a feature of rural life. Whether local regional shows or Sydney’s famous Royal Easter Show, they are an opportunity to showcase regional livestock and produce. To many people, especially those in remote areas, the local show constitutes the highlight of the year and is a focal point for the whole community.
Organizations such as the Country Women’s Association help to improve welfare and conditions for country women and their families. Medical services such as the Bush Nursing Association of NSW and the Royal Flying Doctor Service have made a real difference in improving health facilities and services in rural and remote areas.
The role of education and involvement of young people in rural societies and youth groups is important, as they are the future of rural life in Australia. Sadly, the exodus of young people leaving rural communities has always been a problem.
Even though over 60 percent of Australians currently live in capital cities, as a nation Australia still recognises a close affinity to the unique landscape of the countryside and to those who live on the land. The cultural mythology of ‘life on the land’ is a pervasive one, represented in our literature, music and folklore. A. B. 'Banjo' Paterson's iconic poem The Man from Snowy River, Dorothea Mackellar's My Country, and Jack O'Hagan's song Along the Road to Gundagai - are all ingrained in our national psyche.
Community events are a way of bringing local people together and boosting morale in rural areas. Particularly for isolated families, recreational events are an opportunity to connect with neighbours and offer a much needed social outlet for rural folk. Weddings, dances, concerts, picnic races and sporting events - are often an opportunity for locals to get dressed in their finest, exchange gossip and enjoy a respite from the hardworking year.
“The late bounteous season has put the people in good heart”
- Agricultural Shows - Cootamundra, SMH, 17 Sept 1913
More organized events such as local shows, processions or commemorative events involve the whole community in activities. ‘Back to town’ events, popular in the first half of the 20th century, were a way to celebrate an area's achievements and encourage former residents to return home for the festivities, which usually included street parades, sporting demonstrations and carnival events.
Back to town events
In the first half of the 20th century, many rural municipalities held 'Back to town' events to commemorate the founding of an area and to encourage old residents back to their hometown. Celebrations usually included a variety of events – from grand street processions and historical pageants, to carnival attractions and exhibition sporting matches. Local dignitaries would attend and the whole town would participate. Such events promoted the area, as well as boosting morale amongst the local community.
The Library holds many souvenir booklets published for these events. Ranging from small leaflets to more elaborate publications, the illustrated souvenirs usually included early histories of the local area, churches, schools and organisations, images of buildings and landmarks, as well as advertisements for local businesses. This Back to Goulburn souvenir featured an illustration by artist D. H. Souter which was used as the main logo for the Goulburn centenary celebrations in 1920. Souter's image of a dog arriving by train highlights the role railways had in country towns such as Goulburn, opening up rural areas for settlement and farming.
Back to Goulburn centenary celebrations
Back to town events captured the hearts of current and former residents alike.
Long-time Cootamundra local J. D. Sueur penned a poem for the occasion which featured in the souvenir publication: 'Back to Cootamundra Celebrations', 1926.
Send a message to our kindred / In it, state the joy we seek,
'Tis the pleasure of their presence / Back to Cootamundra Week.
Ask them back to see the old town – / Show the many deeds we’ve done,
Then they’ll see the hand ne’er tired / Of the work which they begun …
Inspiring not only poetry, but music as well, ‘Bathurst – my old home town’ was a song arrangement of J. Naughton Harris’ poem, especially written for the Back to Bathurst week in 1924. The nostalgic lyrics recall his hometown of years gone by.
…When the velvet night is falling / In my heart where e’er I roam
I can hear the dream bells calling / From my far Australian home
They enthral my soul completely / with their changeful melody
Bathurst church bells chiming sweetly / In my home across the sea
Back to Bathurst in the morning / When the rosy sheen of dawn glows
‘Ere the bush birds hail the day / I’ll be well upon my way
For I know my old home town will welcome me…
Bathurst – my old home town. Sheet music, 1926
This story has been developed with the support of the State Library of NSW Foundation.
We would like to acknowledge the generosity of the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation.