In 1995, I moved with my partner from Melbourne, that big sophisticated city in the south, to Keppel Sands, a small village in Central Queensland. It was to be our new home. This part of Australia is frequently referred to, by those who like to sneer, as The Deep North.
How has it worked out for us?
First, let me tell you a little of its geography and demographics. Keppel Sands is on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, just a tad north of the Tropic of Capricorn. The beach is about a kilometre in length. See the tiny pimple in the photograph at the end of the beach? It is called Musa Head. If you climb to the top of it and then look out to sea, you can count eighteen offshore islands, including the Keppel Group. Then just beyond the horizon is the Great Barrier Reef.
My partner, Janet, has a twin sister who also lives on a beach on the Pacific Ocean, but on the other (eastern) side of it. Her house is poised uncomfortably on a cliff-edge in a small coastal town called Bolinas in Northern California, overlooking the Farallon Islands. Janet likes to say that if she were to spit on the arc of a great circle, the gob would land on her sister. Don’t get me wrong. I believe she loves her sister.
Compared with the gleaming white-sand beaches in the south-east of the State of Queensland, our beach is quite unprepossessing. But it has a couple of advantages. First and foremost is few people know about it. If I walk on the sand and find more than about three people there for whatever purpose (walking, swimming, fishing), I find myself asking, What are those people doing on my beach?
And it has four-metre tides. This makes it a poor proposition for developers wanting to build canal estates. Nobody wants to get up in the morning to find their boat four metres up or four metres down.
Keppel Sands has 212 houses, so it is a very small village. It has a pub, a school with 2 classrooms, a post office, a shop, and … the Ko-Op. The Ko-Op is, for the most part, a restaurant. Tammy, the chef, has (I am lead to believe) worked at reputable venues in London and Paris. So her meals are almost always good. She puts a lot of imagination into menu design. Her Saturday night specials have become an institution in town. You can look up the Ko-Op on TripAdvisor and see for yourself.
And my book is on sale there. So what’s not to like?
Now I don’t want to pretend everything about small-village life is hunky dory. There is a tiny coterie of small-minded people in Keppel Sands who seem hell-bent on disruption. Whatever committee it is they join, their only aim is to push themselves forward, to big-note themselves. Making a constructive contribution for the general good is for the birds according to these folk. If lies and fake news are the only way to get attention, they will not hesitate to lie and fake the news. My policy is to avoid these people. They are poison.
The vast majority of folk in Keppel Sands are not like this. They are pleasant, supportive, sociable, constructive, and honest. In a big city, you would be hard pressed to find people like this. An former associate of mine, who lived (maybe still does) in a small regional city in Australia, was once asked how he could bear not to live in a big city, thoughtful talented and cultivated person that he was. His response was, ‘It’s like this. There are twelve interesting people in this town, and I know them all.’
Could big-city dwellers make the same boast?
So the people in Keppel Sands with whom I choose to associate – ‘the twelve’ so to speak, though there may be more – are amenable folk to say the least. They would not hesitate to come to my aid in a crisis, and vice versa. As is the rule in small communities, they know a lot of detail about my private life. How could it be otherwise when we are all at such close quarters? Do they invade my privacy? Do they use this knowledge against me? Of course not. And the quid pro quo is I know heaps about their private life.
Openness of this kind is the best way to finesse idle or malicious gossip.
I’m not trying to pretend these admirable people don’t have their foibles. Of course they do. They are human. And I’m sure I have foibles too. But I reserve the right not to mention foibles. I’ll only mention the good things about them. Why? Isn’t the answer obvious? It’s because I have to continue to live with them day by day.
Small-village life is not for everyone. For many people, big-city life is their oxygen. But I can honestly say it suits me. And Janet too, I believe. When I left Melbourne a quarter century ago, I was not at all sure I was doing the right thing. Now I am certain.