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Byron Shire
May 6, 2021

Here & Now #74: Rock Valley Centenary

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Rock Valley. Saturday, 3.10pm

This is a not-so-delicious irony: the young man on the Rock Valley Hall stage is acting the part of a soldier leaving for war.

One hundred years ago the Rock Valley Hall was built by locals (not the original ones – they had been well dispersed by then – the white ones). Also, one hundred years ago young men from this area were sucked into a foreign conflict far away from Leycester Creek and her grassy paddocks.

Nothing changes. Here we go again.

Okay, so no-one from Rock Valley, a farming area just north of Lismore (and near where I live), has yet been sent to fight in the latest crusade against evil, but the bluster of patriotic guff once again fills the national airwaves as it has many times over the last century. The smell of bullshit hangs heavy over these cow paddocks.

Sooner or later, a mother will wonder for what purpose her son was killed fighting an enemy today who was an ally yesterday in the perpetual game that reminds me of Orwell’s 1984 where the allies and the enemies interchange with frequent regularity to suit the current political imperatives.

A young woman waves a tearful goodbye as the soldier picks his way through the packed hall to an uncertain fate. He reaches the door. Outside, a new Rock Valley post office has risen from the ashes. Frightened by the slouch hat, a new Rock Valley baby squeals at her mum, who reassures her that all will be okay.

The hall centenary has attracted a huge audience of locals, showing that, despite the comfort of the internet world in which we increasingly seek refuge against the awful reality, a community defined by the geography of where we live and peopled by neighbours is still important to us. And the rural hall is the focus of that community.

The older folk sit at trestle tables laid with checked tablecloths, as they have for a hundred years. Time and the Australian sun have taken a toll, but still the elders sit and talk over cups of tea; the blokes about fences and cars, the women about blokes and doctors, both about when their parents sat here, drinking tea.

In a way, nothing changes.

Of course, the Wiyabal people would disagree, but these original folk live in a different time frame. For them, a hundred years is a second. The last two hundred years were a passing moment in a long Bundjalung history that stretches back to before the Western clock started ticking. But in that passing moment, everything changed. For the first people, tragedy unfolded in a blink of an eye.

For us new settlers, a hundred years is nearly all our new history. And though the Forester has replaced the horse, subdivision has replaced farming, and the land is confused as the climate changes, things stay the same.

Still we go to war.

Australia is a war-loving country (even if Australians aren’t). We will travel to the other side of this planet to make war. And it’s not to help people we make war, oh no. There’s plenty of people in Australia who need help, not the least of whom are the Indigenous people against whom we conducted our first war.

A woman with a yellow NO CSG triangle on her lap laughs as a young fella in a black mask sneaks exaggeratedly across the stage and sets fire to a make-believe Rock Valley post office.

In a way the original people would understand, this rural community is keeping its local history alive through theatre and stories performed in its hall, no televised distortions required.

Yes, it is a history steeped in war. But maybe, hopefully, things will change.

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