One of the big regional stories in the Daily Advertiser over the past few months has been a construction project on the Hume Highway, the main route that runs between Sydney and Melbourne, the country’s largest cities. It is about 870 km between these two cities, and just about half way between them is the little town of Tarcutta (about 45 km southeast of Wagga – we’re not on the highway).
We went to Tarcutta one day last weekend, after seeing in the Advertiser that Saturday was Tarcutta Market Day. We thought, hey, maybe some fresh veggies, fruit, etc…why not? We like going to the little towns around here, checking out what is there.
Well, there isn’t much in Tarcutta; it seems that it’s entire existence has been based on the fact that it was a good pit stop for people – mostly truckies – driving this route. There is a huge Caltex petrol station (really huge…) with a variety store, a huge parking lot for transports (basically just a big flat chunk of concrete), a café, an op-shop, a craft shop, a clothing factory outlet, a war memorial and a motel (or two? can’t remember).
Maybe one of the coolest things about Tarcutta (well, OK, the only cool thing and it isn’t really that cool – it might actually be pretty common) is that one of the Halfway Motor Inn not only has rooms, but it has stables! We don’t think it is for people who are riding from Sydney to Melbourne, but more likely for people transporting their horses. Yep, there are a lot of horses in this area, and we see trailers all the time, heading off to one race or another. Or maybe the owner is a bit of a crazy Christian fundamentalist and is hoping that some evening when they were full a pregnant virgin will show up looking for a room…
The reason that the highway construction has been news is that they built a bypass around Tarcutta. So what little they have is probably going to get less. The locals complain that no one comes there now, so businesses are dying. Over Christmas, when a lot of people travel – therefore pit stops do well – business at the Caltex’s fast food outlet was down more than 50 percent from last year. Yikes!
So when we went to Tarcutta, we didn’t know what to expect. But our expectations, as low as they were, were far too high. The market…pretty pathetic, really. A few tables of people selling things like knitted baby clothes, a couple tables selling jam, one selling fresh herbs, one with a some pumpkins and squash, and a couple more selling commercial flea-market style crap and lucky dips. And a sausage sizzle, of course…it isn’t a market without one. We went in, looked quickly, and left, feeling kind of bad that we weren’t doing something to help their economic woes but we just couldn’t see anything worth buying.
We did go to the craft shop across the street, which had similar but better things: more baby clothes, some pottery, some really nice wooden bowls, preserves, etc. We bought a jar of pickles, a jar of jam, and a date loaf (something like banana bread but without the bananas). Total expenditure: $16, which was probably a good percentage of what would be spent in Tarcutta that day. Definitely not enough business to sustain a village.
At the same time as the highway got diverted – and it is only a short jaunt into town from the highway, so this would have worked – the government scuttled plans to build a huge truck stop in Tarcutta. This would have put some more business into town. Not going to happen. No real reason given. But is it sustainable in the long run to base your entire economy on a truck stop? Probably not.
And the locals also complain that the new bypass doesn’t have good enough signage and that, for instance, people don’t know that you can get off at that interchange, stop in Tarcutta for lunch, and then go to Wagga. Which actually isn’t that realistic because 1) we’re not sure if the café is still actually open (you could get a pie at the Caltex…) and 2) if you come off the highway there and head to Wagga, you still miss Tarcutta by about a kilometer. But desperate people come up with desperate ideas.
But, now for a reality check: the people of Tarcutta have been complaining a lot about how the bypass has devastated their town, but based on our observations they weren’t doing really well before. There were businesses that have obviously been closed for a lot longer than the bypass has been open. The school is closed (at least we hope it was…it looked like it should be condemned). An op shop and a gas station do not make a town. And while the bypass might be what finally kills it, it seemed to already be on its last legs. Building the bypass was more like turning off the machine that is barely keeping someone alive than shooting a healthy person. In fact, we found this blog from 7 years ago where a traveler points out that Tarcutta has been in palliative care for a long time.
Overall, not a fun road trip…But though this post is a bit negative, we are sad to see the small regional towns dying. We’ve been to a few of them, and they aren’t thriving. For example, in both Ganmain and Lockhart – which we had fun in, as we point out in previous posts – major businesses are for sale and having a hard time finding buyers. This is a partly the culture that we came here for, to get away from big city life. Hopefully something happens to revive the rural towns. And for now, we will continue to do our share of sustaining their economies, one jar of jam at a time.