A six-foot-three bloke in a pink dress, ferocious blonde wig, and high heels – clutching a handbag and a beer – greeted me as I walked through the doors of the local watering hole.
And ‘she’ had sixteen mates.
I was back in Ouyen, the tiny Mallee town 450 kilometres north-west of Melbourne where I was born. Things sure had changed since I’d last dropped in for a frothy.
Actually I’d been asked to be a guest judge of ‘Miss’ Ouyen 2011 – a fundraiser for the local hospital, and part of the annual Farmers Festival, which culminates in the community coming together for the Ouyen Show.
Practically the entire town turned out for the Show, and what struck me was the genuine respect within the community for older people. All day, white-haired nannas worked the crowd dispensing kisses, hugs, smiles and supportive words to people whose families they’d known for generations.
I left Ouyen years ago for the bright lights of the big city. Yet during the day I got chatting to a woman who’d done the opposite, moving from Brisbane with her family. Over a vanilla slice she told me that, a couple of months after she and her kids arrived, her father came to visit and took his grandkids to the shops – only to be stopped numerous times by protective locals checking the children weren’t in ‘stranger danger’ from a man they’d never seen before.
Some people spend their whole lives trying to find this sort of community.
So what can us city slickers learn from Ouyen? Simply that big homes, big jobs and big debts create lots of work and plenty of stress, but don’t add much to our happiness.
And I’m not just being sentimental after too many beers at the Ouyen pub. Deakin University’s landmark Wellbeing Index research has found that our happiness is more leveraged to our relationships and community bonds than our bank balances.
Ouyen isn’t a high-income area – not many farming towns are. Yet its real wealth comes from the community, a shared sense of caring and belonging that many of us in the rat race chase, but rarely find.
Tread Your Own Path!