Ten years ago this month, I moved my family to Barham. I had built up a little weekend clientele in Barham while completing my Diploma of Remedial Massage in Echuca and figured a few months in Barham with my friends, Ilka and Simon Oster, would be fun before the boys and I returned to our home near Hay.
Six weeks after arriving, we rented and moved into a beautiful and much-loved family home on the river, Willow Bend in Teddy’s Lane. The months went by and the boys settled into school at Barham Primary. Thanks to the support from the local community, my new massage therapy business, Rosedale Health and Wellbeing, flourished and thoughts of returning to Hay began to fade.
Fast forward to 2019 and I while I will always have a soft spot for Hay and its community, I now well and truly regard Barham as my home. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to live and work in such a beautiful part of the world and to have raised my three sons here; I find our local community supportive and inclusive.
While poor seasons and even poorer government water policies have badly impacted our farmers and in turn all of us, Barham has continued to bat well above its average for a little country town. We have a diverse range of quality shops, restaurants, pubs, numerous accommodation options, clubs and sporting facilities, schools, hospital, medical clinic, pharmacy and two excellent supermarkets.
A couple of weeks ago, a post shared locally on Facebook greatly disturbed me. The post was shared widely throughout our greater district along the Murray from Echuca to Swan Hill. This post was advertising that Woolworths Kerang was now offering online shopping with delivery for a fee. And would deliver to numerous locations, including Koondrook, Barham and Cohuna.
Within a very short amount of time from that post being put up, the Woolies delivery van could be spotted on the streets of our town. That white delivery van with the Woolworths insignia and the people who choose to support it could well herald the retail decimation of our community.
Never has it been so important to “shop local” in rural Australia. If we want our town to be a vibrant, healthy community then we have to support its businesses. These businesses in turn, support us. In particular, I want to highlight our two supermarkets, Barham IGA and Barham Foodworks. Both supermarkets are owned and run by local families. Both supermarkets provide employment stability and flexible working hours to many local adults as well as providing an excellent start for our district teenage children in the form of after school hours work. This is a fabulous grounding for our children’s future, teaching them: commitment, responsibility, reliability, punctuality, team work, social skills and interacting with a diverse range of people and at the same time, providing an opportunity for our children to begin managing their own finances.
Woolworths is a massive multinational supermarket spread throughout Australia and New Zealand and owned by the ASX listed public company, Woolworths Group Limited (well known for “screwing” farmers but I digress…) and while I acknowledge, its Kerang store provides employment for many people who live in Kerang it is not a business that supports our Barham community to my knowledge. Every business in our twin towns of Barham and Koondrook, are regularly asked for donations towards local noble causes (our schools, various sporting clubs, hospital, nursing home, local not-for-profit organisations etc) and pretty well every local business I know, contributes in some way, shape or form throughout the year.
And while I’m not immune to out-of-town shopping myself, I do not and will not make a specific trip out of town to shop.
I enjoy supporting our local businesses and in particular my numerous-times-a-week trips to our supermarkets, I appreciate how fortunate we are to have the variety and quality of produce at our convenience, I enjoy the social interaction as I cruise down the aisles and a smile and a chat with whoever happens to be manning the checkout.
Imagine for a moment, our town minus its supermarkets. Imagine our main streets lined with empty shops. Imagine our children with no part-time, after-school-hours job opportunities.
Will that white delivery van with the Woolworths insignia, fill that void?
Is this (imagined) town, with no supermarkets and empty shops a town you would like to raise your children in? Is this a town you would like to start a business in? Is this a town you would like to retire in? Is this a town you would like to visit and holiday in?
Each and every one of us has a role to play in the long-term health of our local town and community and it starts with a commitment to do the majority of our everyday shopping in town.