Who would have thought a small town of 1,400 people could call the heart so?
Culcairn (situated in Southern New South Wales) is a peculiar place of residence—peculiar in a good way. Without so much as a beach in sight (and even less tropical weather) the main street is lined with tall, flourishing palms. They stand like a troupe of relaxed coastal guards. Armed. Uniformed. Each sporting an enviable mop of grass-frond hairs which dance in the South-Easterly breezes.
Another of Culcairn’s peculiarities is its fondness for “Mad” Dan Morgan (a bushranger), his life, his death, and his general irritable disposition towards others. I guess you could say that Mad Dan sort of became a local legend over time? Hmm…. or maybe not? Whichever way the townsfolk view the ‘legend’ of Mad Dan (positively or negatively), snapshots of his life are prominently displayed upon the halls of Culcairn history—aka our town murals. For example, one historical mural covers a wall outside our local Hub n Hive gift store and includes Mad Dan in the timeline. A second mural entirely dedicated to Mad Dan, covers a wall inside of Culcairn’s (now closed) Central Cafe. Both depict a few of Mad Dan’s interactions with Culcairn’s early residents. Let’s just say those interactions were possibly more than a little deranged.
While Culcairn may possess small cultural idiosyncrasies (what town doesn’t?), perhaps what stands out most is a phrase I’ve coined “the meeting place”. It happens every day without fail and is quintessential to life here. “The meeting place” is not a physical location, but rather, an interaction. A way of being. Hmm… Perhaps the best way to describe it, is merely to describe it?
Three scooters rest at ease on the footpath outside the local IGA. Three elderly gentlemen sit on those scooters, each with silver hair and dressed in all manner of attire. One has a small Jack Russell Terrier on a leash. The Jack Russell has laid himself down as though fully cognisant of the morning ritual. Swatting at flies and taking an occasional humorous jab at something, the elderly gentlemen enter the throes of good old fashioned chin-wagging, interspersed with occasional greetings for passersby such as: “How ya goin’?!” or “Nice mornin’ for it!”
In the Culcairn Bakery “the meeting place” is none too different. “How are you, Cath?” the barista inquires as she makes my coffee just the way I like it.
“Cath! What are you doing back?!” It’s one of the townsfolk I haven’t seen in a while. “Haven’t seen you around for ages! How long you back for?”
I catch the eye of an elderly lady over to the side of the bakery who has just waved at two youths sitting at a table on the opposite side of the room. One of them is her grandson. The two boys wave back. Her grandson pulls a face at her. She grins.
It seems everywhere you venture in Culcairn, there is a “meeting place”. Informal. Accepting. Often gratuitous; always friendly. It is no surprise then, that Culcairn is widely known as The Oasis of the Riverina. Although such a nickname would usually imply water or rainfall are to be found, I tend to think it pertains more to rest and replenishment as found through simple acts of kindness, decency, helping a mate out, and concern for fellow man. Perhaps then, the palms of Culcairn are symbolic and not quite as mismatched as previously voiced?
My mother and my three brothers and I fled to Culcairn in ’91. It was a spur-of-the-moment fleeing coupled with an obscure yet strangely familiar feeling that we had just returned home somehow. Not many knew we had left and not many knew we had arrived, but what was astonishing (for me) was that I felt that we had accidentally stumbled upon a place we had lived in before. Only we hadn’t lived here. And maybe it actually didn’t feel like a familiar place, but rather, a safe place.
As a family, we found comfort and support in Culcairn: “Do you have enough food?” “This is just a casserole I threw together, thought I’d share some with you!” “Do you need anything? Mattresses? A table? Diningware?” Moment after moment, interaction after interaction, Culcairn demonstrated to us how it was an oasis. How it was one continual “meeting place”. How it was a safe place.
Finally, the other thing I have noticed about this town over the years is that the membrane between heaven and earth seems to be quite “thin” here. Some people would likely argue theologically with me over this suggestion, but I cannot ignore my own testimony or the events therein (there are far too many events for me to detail on this forum) insofar as Culcairn is concerned. For example, when I lived overseas I frequently found it difficult to draw revelation from the Word of God, or to hear clearly from Him. However, every time (without fail) when I returned to Culcairn, I would instantly begin drawing revelation from the word and hearing from Him again. This was not superstitious or super-spiritual conjecture, but rather, something that I actually encountered time and time again.
The power of God, the angelic, and the freedom to meet with Jesus here was different to any other place I had lived. I often wondered if the difference was in the beliefs of the people (Mark 6:5), or if it simply had more to with the general location (Mount Sinai; the burning bush)? I will probably never know. But what I do know is that here, in this little town, the membrane between the things of the Kingdom of Heaven and the things of earth is thin, and I treasure that.
Some people might not agree with me in my assessment of this town. All towns have their pitfalls and people tend to view situations through varied lenses. And my story is not everyone’s story. Some people may in fact have experienced an entirely different side of this town, but as for me, this is my story.
Culcairn has been my “meeting place” in a myriad of different ways. And no matter where in the world I have lived or ever will live, I will always return to Culcairn at different junctures in time, because I know that I was sent from it.
It will always be square one.
The safe place.
The meeting place.