My village may be tiny but you can get a latte every 18m (2024)

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Rosie Beaumont

Opinion pieces from local writers exploring their suburb’s cliches and realities and how it has changed in the past 20 years.

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I hit a kangaroo in my new car. It was a Kia, it still is, but I’m now waiting for half of the body to come on a boat from Korea, so I won’t be seeing it for a while. But that’s OK because I live in Hurstbridge, and we are always prepared for that kind of thing out here.

Our little community, 30 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, sits at the point where concrete suburbia meets bushland, and we happily give way to nature all the time.

Our colonial-style village is perfect for people who lose their cars because of a sudden encounter with the wildlife. Everything is within a 10-minute walk: the friendly organic fruit and veggie guy, the friendly butcher, the friendly family-run baker and the friendly lady who sells and possibly makes her own earwax candles.

But there’s more to Hurstbridge than our walkable urban design and organic produce. We’re lots of fun, too, and we love tourists.

Our 1½-kilometre shopping strip is testament to that, featuring nine cafes (that’s one latte every 165 metres), two places where you can get a massage, a French patisserie, a Japanese lantern shop, a place where you can buy crocheted chickens, and Ric the mechanic, who everyone knows because he runs one of the few practical businesses in town.

And then there are the bicycles. We have lots of visitors on bicycles, the sporty types with expensive gear.

On any given day, you’ll find them tearing down the main street on their way to the Yarra Valley. You can get stuck behind a peloton for days, waiting for a moment to safely overtake on the narrow, winding roads, or you can simply stop and observe one of the many robust conversations between a cashed-up cyclist and a cashed-up tradie who have met in less-than-ideal circ*mstances on the road, and it’s all gone downhill from there.

Hurstbridge is a proudly historic suburb, too, settled by Europeans in 1842, and we strive to be a living embodiment of our past. The latest census confirms a whopping 88 per cent of the local population were born in Australia, compared with only 70 per cent of Victorians.

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Everywhere you turn, there are historic buildings, filled with photographs of bullocks and steam trains and bushrangers, and you will never hear a local describe Hurstbridge as a suburb because it just doesn’t fit with our wild colonial vibe. No self-respecting bushranger could ever admit to living in a suburb. Instead, we prefer terms like “town”, “village” or even “shire”, if you’re the romantic type – the fact that Hurstbridge is formally listed as one of Melbourne’s 321 suburbs is of little concern because, like all good frontier communities, we make our own rules.

Our century-old Wattle Festival attracts hundreds of visitors each year, who come to our town/village/shire to ride in a cart pulled by a bullock, which is actually a large horse, but you can pretend. Or you can splash out on a quaint memento of your day travelling back in time, such as a tea towel with a print of the 100-year-old Hurstbridge Post Office or a recently crocheted chicken.

The Wattle Festival also marks the one day in the year when the trains on the Hurstbridge line are guaranteed to run on time because we swap the stupid electric versions for a big old girl powered by reliable steam, so it’s worth a visit just for that.

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But it’s not all fun and historical games out here in Hurstbridge. We have our problems, too, such as an alcohol consumption rate that is consistently above the average recorded in the Victorian Population Health Survey, and a discernible cultural tension between the mainstream Wattle population and the smattering of alternative lifestylers, who hide away in our densest bushland settings and rarely venture out to visit the butcher or the baker, but they will make a run for the lady who sells and possibly makes her own earwax candles.

Hurstbridge was among the 78 communities affected by the Black Saturday fires. My family had been living in the area for only two weeks when that 46-degree day hit. We sheltered inside our poorly insulated hillside home, trying to distract our small children from the strange thumping sound outside, as the bodies of giant sulphur-crested co*ckatoos fell with heat exhaustion from the gum trees, and landed dead on our deck. We thought we had moved to hell.

That night, the horizon lit up, bright orange with the glow of fires that would get within 10 minutes of Hurstbridge, before turning on the 100km/h wind and travelling in the opposite direction to Marysville, where 34 people died.

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For months afterwards, the shock and the grief in the community was palpable, as we tried to reassure our children, and each other, that we were safe but all the while keeping an eye out for signs that another fire was on the way.

That was 15 years ago and Black Saturday is now part of our suburb’s history, but the community has bounced back: the residents of Hurstbridge and our wacky businesses, the bicycles and the wildlife and, bless them, the tourists.

And, in a few weeks, I’m hoping my Kia will bounce back, too, so I can get on with the serious business of trailing those cyclists and looking out for the kangaroos.

Rosie Beaumont is a Melbourne-based writer.

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