Fufu and I have fond and unique memories living the country life in the small, rural town of Wee Waa in New South Wales, Australia. It is a little agricultural town, known as the Cotton Capital of Australia, since cotton is such a major industry there. I say that it’s small because only about 2000 people live in this country town. Fufu and I lived there for a number of months, and stayed there for a period under a year. The reason was because we bought our first home there. Interestingly, our home that be bought consisted of a number of units, and so we became very familiar with our tenants who were some of our neighbours.
Fufu and I love travelling. We love experiencing different cultures, and putting ourselves in strange, extraordinary, and even uncomfortable situations where we can learn about the lives of different people and communities.
The best way really to learn about other people and get to know them is to live in their community, and breathe in the air of an area, and feel the beat of its day-to-day grind and goings-on. We certainly became very familiar with Wee Waa, since we own property there, lived there, worked there and became involved with a number of the community events.
Here are some of the insights that I have about living in a country town. Of course, these are just my personal points of view, but they are based on my personal and real experiences living in Wee Waa, in the heart of NSW.
1) People are absolutely nice and welcoming: ALL strangers actually said “Hi” to me
In order to go to Wee Waa, we had to drive about 8 hours from the area we grew up in Sydney all the way to the dry plains of the Narrabri Shire, of which Wee Waa is a part of. It was a tiring drive, past many diverse Australian landscapes, and whenever I had to visit my family, the drive was epic.
When I reflect of Wee Waa and those long drives to the country town of Wee Waa, I think of Jason Aldean’s country song:
“Dirt Road Anthem”.
“Yeah I’m chillin’ on a dirt road
Laid back swervin’ like I’m George Jones
Smoke rollin’ out the window
An ice cold beer sittin’ in the console
Memory lane up in the headlights
It’s got me reminiscing on them good times
I’m turnin’ off a real life drive and that’s right
I’m hittin’ easy street on mud tires
In fact, during my time in Wee Waa, I actually grew a love for country music, embracing the country life.
During the first few days and weeks living in Wee Waa, we quickly discovered something unusual (well, unusual for us anyway). Everyday, we walked our dog, Buckwheat around the town for him and us to get some exercise, but also to explore the neighbourhood. As is custom in Sydney, where Fufu and I grew up, whenever you pass anyone you don’t know, you simply pass by them – and more often than not, you actually ignore them or don’t acknowledge them. That’s not the case in Wee Waa.
Interestingly, whenever we passed by anybody (and pretty much everybody) in Wee Waa, they would greet us with a “Hello” or “G’day”, and we’d reciprocate appropriately with a smile and a greeting. “G’day mate. Howzzit goin’?” It was just a small little thing that people did in Wee Waa that was characteristic of the town, and I suppose it’s characteristic of Aussies from the country and small towns. In Sydney, on the other hand, people would find it so odd and peculiar if I randomly said “Hi” to them if I didn’t know them personally.
There’s something about that nice, friendly, warm character that I miss and adore about Wee Waa – and which really contrasts from the cold, robotic, barriered demeanor in Sydney. What’s fascinating is that in Wee Waa, if you didn’t say “Hi” then you were thought of as snobbish, so Fufu and I got along with that habit and it really made me feel part of the community doing that.
2) I actually talked to my neighbours
Another thing that happened which surprised me was that I actually talked to my neighbours in Wee Waa. Not just my tenants, but I also got to know and befriended a lot of other people from around the town, who were all pretty much my neighbours too. I heard their stories, we had beers together, and even had parties together.
One of my neighbours worked in the local cotton factory, another worked for the local council as an electrician, another worked as a dance teacher and swimming instructor, and another worked as a mechanic, another worked for the local IGA grocery store, and another even worked as a sheep herder and fruit picker. These were certainly hard-working people. Their stories fascinated me.
In contrast, my family rarely talked to our neighbours in Sydney. In fact, we even tried to avoid some of them. It felt more awkward in Sydney. I reflected on this difference, and it made me feel quite sad about how urban life can be filled with so many people, but you don’t actually get to know people, like really get to know them (nor even want to know them). Yet in the small town of 2000 people, it seemed like everyone knew everyone else.
3) Sharing things is so common. We were showered with things to help us get started.
Another thing I really admired about Wee Waa was that many of the people there were so giving and generous. Many people knew we were just starting out there, and different people in the community let us borrow furniture, bed mattresses, cutlery and pots and pans. I was really so touched by it.
Although it was a little awkward that some people in Wee Waa thought that we just recently moved to Australia, and thought we were fresh migrants. I think it was because we have Asian-looking faces, but it certainly was not the case that we just moved to Australia, as we actually grew up in Sydney and had lived there for so many years already). I didn’t mind too much though. I think they were just curious, and assumed we were like some of the other new migrants that had come to town. Nevertheless, they did welcome us into the community and were very kind.
4) Some tensions between white and Indigenous populations
While there were so many great things about the people in Wee Waa, I don’t want to sugarcoat it and say that everything was rosy and perfect living the country life that might see in pictures or in tv shows. During our time there, we did notice a number of tensions between the white and Indigenous populations. In fact, there was a fight between one of my indigenous neighbours, Bruce, and another white neighbour, Wallace. It was such a weird and awkward, and even frightening situation. I haven’t used their real names here, just out of respect for them, but this is a true account of what happened.
One day, all of a sudden Fufu and I heard a rapid knock on our door. It was Wallace, shouting that Bruce had a hunter’s knife in his hands, and Bruce was outside threatening him. Wallace stormed into our place, and we locked the door behind him. Bruce was pacing around outside in the front yard, yelling to Wallace and the rest of Wee Waa to “Go back to where you came from. This is our land.”
Wallace hid at our place in the meantime, and in a flustered, speedy voice, explained that Bruce was apparently drunk and he thought that Wallace’s dog had taken his shoes, because one of his shoes were missing.
We called the police and they actually arrested Bruce. Being drunk and agitated, Bruce resisted the arrest and shouted at the police. They pinned him down to calm him and put him at the back of the police car. The sad and devastating thing was that Bruce kept shouting and kicking the windows while we was in the car.
What was even more devastating was that Bruce’s two children were outside of their house, and as they saw their drunk and infuriated dad, they were sobbing and confused what was going on. The image of those kids crying is still imprinted in my mind.
Of course this was just one incident, and certainly it is not representative of the whole indigenous population in Wee Waa, nor is it representative of all of the relations between the white and indigenous populations there. There are some very respected and nice indigenous residents in Wee Waa. We actually befriended an indigenous woman who was also a bus driver and part-owner of the small bus company. She shared with us fantastic stories of her youth, such as her journeys across the Australian countryside by foot, bush tracking techniques she had learned and the various special Australia plants that had medicinal properties.
Nevertheless, we were so shocked when this incident with Bruce and Wallace happened. In particular, that line that Bruce yelled out really stuck with me: “Go back to where you came from. This is our land.”
In Sydney, I had been used to actually hearing white Australians using that phrase against migrants, refugees and even Australians like me, who are Asian-Australian. Yet, in Wee Waa, I heard the phrase being said by an indigenous man to a white man.
This sort of conflict thing didn’t happen every day in Wee Waa, but within the town, one could sense an undertone of tension between some of the white population and indigenous population. This is perhaps not a unique characteristic of Wee Waa only, but perhaps a feature of contemporary Australian life, as Australia as a nation still has not fully resolved its relationship with the indigenous people. According to a 2011 census, about 20% of Wee Waa’s population is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, many of whom are part of the Kamilaroi people.
A few years later, once we had moved out of Wee Waa, I had heard that Bruce had actually passed away in a motor accident. He had been speeding on a motorcycle on a nearby highway of Wee Waa.
5) All the major shops are on just 1 road on 1 block
All of the major shops in Wee Waa are on just 1 road and on 1 block. In total, there’s only really about 10 shops. The main ones being the IGA grocery store and the hardware store, both of which we frequented often for groceries and paint supplies since we renovated our multi-unit property. The other major place was the pub, which we had a beer once when one of my Sydney friends came to visit.
The Wee Waa library was also a major hub in the town, and Fufu and I often went there to use their internet as it was a lot faster than our’s at home.
While there was a swimming pool in Wee Waa, there wasn’t a gym. This was a bit of a challenge for Fufu and I since we love working out and staying fit. So we had to be creative, and for a while we ran around the local Wee Waa oval or simply walked our dog around town. We also worked out at home using the Insanity exercise program, which was convenient but very challenging.
There isn’t a cinema in Wee Waa, and there aren’t any major entertainment options there. However, there is a DVD store there. For entertainment, Fufu and I would mainly watch movies and TV shows at home. Regarding entertainment, many Wee Waa residents are extremely proud that Daft Punk performed their album launch in Wee Waa, which attracted thousands of tourists of the town. Many people there remember that event, and they talk about it with such pride and fascination.
6) Wee Waa Tourist Attractions: Wine & Giant Telescopes
One of my Sydney mates wanted to visit us in Wee Waa, and we welcomingly obliged. He grew up in Sydney as well and hadn’t visited Wee Waa nor that part of NSW ever before. Together, we all went and visited some of Wee Waa’s attractions.
First, we went and visited the CSIRO Australia Telescopes at the Narrabri Observatory. It’s nearby Wee Waa, so you’ll have to drive there from the town. It’s free to get in, and there you’ll find a number of giant telescopes. They are quite impressive, as I hadn’t seen anything like it before. You can take some photos with them from a distance. You can also check out the information centre, which has some photos and info about the telescopes as well as some of the planets, stars and other celestial bodies that can be observed by the telescopes. There’s also an informative, but slightly odd, audio-visual presentation in a viewing room that you can watch.
The other tourist attraction we visited was the Wee Waa winery at Seplin Estate Wines. The people at the winery are very friendly and apart from the wine tasting, they shared some stories about Wee Waa and its history. We tasted a number of reds and white wines, and in the end we bought a bottle of white wine.
Other than those two major tourist attractions, we also had a beer with our friend at the Wee Waa pub, as well as had a delicious dinner at the Wee Waa Chinese Restaurant, which is located at the Wee Waa Bowing Club.
7) Learning to Love the Land & Discovering Australia
Being the Cotton Capital of the World, we quickly discovered the importance of cotton in the community. Cotton is a major economic driver in the town. Having grown up in Sydney, I didn’t really appreciate the significance of agriculture, but in Wee Waa, I really felt it. It especially impacted me when in the church masses that Fufu and I attended, the people of the town would pray for more rain to help the crops grow, and they prayed for drought not to affect them so severely.
Throughout the several months we lived in Wee Waa, we also used our hands so much more to do hard labor and work on our Wee Waa property. We did a lot of landscaping, planting new flowers, painting and other renovations to our property to help beautify it for ourselves and our tenants, but also to somehow help improve the look and feel of the town. We learned not to be afraid to work with our hands and to help enrich the earth.
We discovered another side of Australia, and I’m glad we lived there. We got to make new friends, who had different upbringings and worldviews than us. We got to know about the country Australian lifestyle. I think many Aussies, especially those who grew up and live forever in the big cities like Sydney, really miss out on what it’s like living and experiencing a different kind of lifestyle – the rural country life.
This reminds me of another country song that I used to listen to so much and loved during my time in Wee Waa – Jason Aldean’s “Fly Over States”.
“With a windshield sunset in your eyes
Like a water colored painted sky
You’ll think heaven’s doors have opened
You’ll understand why God made
Those fly over states
Take a ride across the badlands
Feel that freedom on your face
Breathe in all that open space.”