Block Party, South Central
I live in South Grafton. I grew up, however, in Grafton, which lies on the other side of the Clarence River. The north side doesn’t need a geographical qualifier, because it is essentially the centre of the township. The ‘real’ Grafton. It’s the part you see on the postcards, with the famous avenues of Jacaranda trees and beautiful heritage streetscapes. The main shopping centre is there, recently redeveloped, with Woolworths, Coles, Big-W and Target providing for all possible shopping needs. There is even a second Coles a few blocks over, just in case the main one is too far away.
In South, we’re stuck with the dirt mall; Bi-lo and a couple of dodgy takeaways. It’s an emotive issue, but South Grafton has traditionally been viewed as the poor cousin to its northern counterpart, with visibly seedier goings-on and rather less in the way of entertainment. It’s true, I was woken at 4.30am on Friday morning when a fire truck parked outside my house, the firefighters battling to extinguish a vehicle, torched by vandals, which threatened to explode. To be fair, this is not a regular occurrence; at least in the part of South Grafton I live in.
Scandal erupted when my parents decided to cross the river, several years after I had left home. The close-knit group of friends with whom they dine each Friday night was shocked, as they had hitherto all lived in the same street, in a fairly well-to-do part of town. Once the predictable jibes died down (they have never entirely subsided), there were practical matters to consider. When it was my parents’ turn to host dinner, would it be safe to park in the street? How would one get home if one inadvertently consumed too many alcoholic beverages? And yet, my parents boldly forged ahead with plans to build their dream home on a river block, which happened to be on the south-siyeeed. Indeed, the house has since been the venue for many an impressive soiree, with its enviable 270-degree water views visible from the expansive decks, a hard-won reward for years of hard work and careful planning.
Like other moves they had made before, my parents showed impressive foresight with their river crossing. While South Grafton was a bit rough around the edges, they could see that it had potential. When they moved in, the main street was slightly dilapidated and neglected, but new businesses and cafes had begun to appear, and it was a quiet alternative to the hustle and bustle of the metropolis to the north. That was over five years ago, and their predictions for South Grafton’s bright future are now coming to fruition. As interest in the area increased, the council responded by investing in major landscaping and beautification works in the main street, in turn encouraging further growth.
To celebrate the main street upgrade, the community hosted a street party this weekend. Part of me was proud of my adopted hometown and excited to celebrate with my fellow South Graftonians. Another part of me feared that it would be a bit lame, further reinforcing existing northern prejudices. Happily, it was a block party for the ages, the kind of festival that you only find in country towns; free of pretensions, delightfully daggy and a celebration of all things local.
In South Grafton, ‘all things local’ apparently includes talented craftspeople from wool spinners to painters; vintage car enthusiasts; nannas who bake; primary producers; school choirs; roller derby girls; a guinea pig stud specialising in rare breeds (who knew there were pedigree guinea pigs!); and an enthusiastic society of Morris dancers. Sensory overload ensued, but I tried to capture the essence of the day for posterity, and to share with those who have never known the eccentric joys of country living. I am proud to call myself a South Graftonian!