Just like big families, country towns have their own parade of unique characters and passions, buildings and histories — all united by a shared sense of pride and identity.
In the next few months, The News will visit communities near Shepparton to find what makes them tick. Yesterday, journalist John Lewis visited Longwood.
Not many small towns can boast a gemstone and minerals museum, a window cleaner called Shadow and a pub with balls on the barstools — but Longwood can.
The approach to the town tells you what drives the place — a big rust-coloured sign says Longwood Prime Lamb Country. Sure enough, there’s sheep and plenty of wood in the paddocks, but there’s not much to remind you of the other, more shiny engine of the town — thoroughbred horse breeding.
There’s probably as many horse stud and training facilities in the Longwood-Euroa-Nagambie triangle as there are woolly jumpers. And where you get horses and sheep, you get characters.
It’s Friday lunchtime at the White Hart in downtown Longwood and the chat is flowing, along with the stubbies. It looks like everyone is on extended smoko.
Shadow and Philby are a handyman duo who work around holiday homes and properties set in the hills. Shadow wears a Crocodile Dundee hat covered in badges and cleans windows.
‘‘This is the employment office,’’ he says.
Philby ran the Avenel pub for nine years and is now a mechanic, who can turn his hand to bathroom renovations, decks and pergolas.
‘‘People just leave us the key. Once you have a good name — you’re in. It’s grouse that people trust you,’’ he says.
Former jockey Rob ‘Curly’ Marshal leans against a wall, trying not to stand out. Naturally, Curly is the White Hart tipster, but according to some, he’s not always on the money.
‘‘People make up their own minds,’’ he says, with a shrug of his shoulders.
The windows rattle and Longwood Action Group president Steve Torbin walks in wearing a bikie’s leather jerkin and swinging a helmet. He picks up Shadow and Philby’s conversation.
‘‘This is a great meeting place — where else do you get, bikies, butchers, jockeys, mums and tradies? This is where you get your work,’’ Steve says.
He’s a boilermaker who has turned his hand to metal sculptures and quirky garden furniture. Examples of his work are everywhere from three giant flower stems made from header blades and steam pipes parked on the pavement outside, to door handles made from railway sleeper lugs, and a pair of metal balls which swing cheekily from a bar stool.
The White Hart was given a facelift after former owners Anne and Ian Moore returned last year.
‘‘The old girl needed a tidy up, so we shut down for three months,’’ Anne says.
‘‘We all needed therapy,’’ Philby chimes in.
Outside in the sunshine, senior Longwood residents Maurie Brodie and Chris Lalor are chatting about the town’s patchy mobile phone reception.
‘‘Just down the road you get four bars, then you come into town and you get one — you’re at the end of your signal strength. It’s ridiculous,’’ Maurie says.
Maurie runs Longwood’s renowned Rockery Gemstone Museum which attracts thousands of visitors each year. He’s lived in the town all his life and has been a CFA member for 40 years. He reckons the town is as popular as ever with tree-changers and new people moving in.
‘‘You can get to Melbourne in an hour — there’s a lot of subdivisions happening to the north of town,’’ he says.
Chris has only been in Longwood three years, but he reckons it’s a terrific place.
‘‘People here are just fantastic, they’re really involved and concerned. There’s the action committee and there’s working bees to improve the place. I love it here,’’ he says.
Shepparton-based artist Tank arrives with his latest creation on the back of his ute — a rust-coloured sheep made from a recycled gas tank — which he places on the nature strip at the front of the pub. Tank helped renovate the White Hart last year.
‘‘I love this town — it’s like my second home,’’ he says.
Back at the bar, Steve looks like he’s running an action committee meeting.
‘‘We’re trying to encourage more tourism and camping, there’s a lot to do around here,’’ he says. Anne agrees.
‘‘We’re a close-knit community, but we always welcome people from outside,’’ she says.
Katherine Goodall has lived in Longwood for 15 years after marrying former footy club president Mark Goodall.
‘‘It’s great for the kids, everyone knows them, they can’t get up to too much mischief. We travelled Australia, but we settled here. People often come back here — they have a bit of Longwood in them,’’ she says.
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