Renaissance of a New England Village.
The universal law of attraction is a strange and wonderful thing, and the little village of Kentucky is a great example of this. Twenty years ago, it was a cluster of cottages and houses on small acreages, a village store and a primary school with a dwindling number of students. Many of the vacant timber cottages were falling into ruin, variously occupied by itinerant people smoking suspicious substances, bats and brown snakes.
A community erstwhile founded on war heroes and apple blossom had become quiet and peaceful, with an ageing population.
Returning home one uni holiday, I was appalled to find one of our beautiful landmarks, the little railway station, completely demolished. Having never bothered to involve myself with anything to do with the preservation of local landmarks – that, of course, being the responsibility of the ‘older generation – I furiously interrogated my parents. “What the … ? Why didn’t you do something?” Unfortunately, they said, it had just slipped past – people just hadn’t realised it was to be demolished, until suddenly it wasn’t there.
This was certainly a wake-up call for a community so devoted to preserving its treasures – an ominous sign of what would follow if residents let down their guard even for a moment.
Apart from this unfortunate incident of historical destruction being slipped past the normally vigilant Kentucky residents, other crucial local services were vigorously defended. The general store, community hall and public school were maintained, thankfully, as once lost these utilities never seem to be regained. Several enterprising Principals meant that Kentucky School started to gain ground by attracting children from surrounding areas on the back of the solid, disciplined but progressive education provided, and the steady increase in school enrolments kept things ticking along until the next progressive shift in the wind.
Meanwhile, many families quietly and successfully continued to run other businesses, such as Fine Wool Merino studs (for which the area is well known), farm tree nurseries, timber processing plants and the few remaining commercial orchards. So Kentucky was hanging in there, but not really going forward – like so many other places of similar demographics.
Kentucky’s real shot in the arm came with the whole ‘tree-change’ movement, where the area had the advantage in the location bun-fight in that it offered real bang for one’s real estate buck – acres of fertile granite soils to run horses, cattle, sheep, alpacas of course, and all the assorted barnyard motley crew that comes with living the rural dream. OK, so it’s a bit further out of town than other similar areas, but with the extra kilometres also came cheaper real estate, and an affordable place to live suddenly become a sought after little honey pot. This is where I believe the law of attraction really came into play; like everywhere, real estate prices jumped, and so did the fortunes of Kentucky.
So what if the reality of taking over an old weatherboard cottage and acreage is running out of water, fixing busted pumps, dealing with chicken-nicking foxes and various other travails that have been left out of the real estate blurb. Practicality, common sense and willingness to ask someone who actually knows what they’re doing goes a long way in these parts. Locals chuckle to themselves that “townies who think they know it all and aren’t smart enough to ask for help won‘t last long”, and it has to be said that that is pretty true.
Attempting the rural life without a good dose of practical country skill should not be taken on unless armed with a healthy measure of humility, coupled with the ability to listen … a good supply of alcohol is also highly recommended, both for oneself and the tradesmen or neighbours needed to help fix the various glitches that come with owning your own patch of dirt. A word to the wise … for goodness’ sake, make friends with neighbours. Chances are, they know more about your property than you ever will – like how your front verandah may get flooded after a particularly heavy downpour, or how that lush paddock you think will fatten 20 weaners is actually a bumper crop of weeds which needed spraying 3 weeks ago.
Luckily for all concerned, Kentucky has so far attracted a veritable cornucopia of the most fascinating characters, who have managed the rural transition with skill and enthusiasm. Interestingly, it seems to have a strong pull for creative, artistic people, and these newcomers have brought a wealth of new skills, hobbies, interests and businesses to our formerly rather sleepy community – and Kentucky has embraced them with open arms.
Unusual and interesting roadside gardens appeal to visitors, bikers and vintage car enthusiasts, who regularly tootle around the quiet lanes to catch glimpses of sculptures, flowers, stone meditation retreats and renovated churches, as well as the usual comforting rural scenes of hay baling and kids on ponies. They are luckily not put off by the odd spill around a particularly bad bend that has long since lost its slow down sign. There’s always an obliging local to pick them up, dust them off and send them on their way.
Some visitors include former residents and people who have worked here or visited Kentucky in its orcharding heyday, when buses of sight see-ers would flock out for a tour of the orchards when the apple blossom was at its peak. They invariably remark that it is wonderful to see a resurgence in both visitors and things to do – especially such civilised pass-times as sipping coffee, tasting wine, touring rose gardens and visiting family friendly alpaca farms.
Meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead down at the local school … another lauded Principal took over a few years ago and has injected his own brand of diversity and academic achievement to its growing list of credentials. The Kentucky School kids are real little crowd pleasers, earning their keep with the ability to make hundreds of dollars for a few hours busking on their regular trips to Sydney to perform at … well … the Opera House, of course. This is in between learning to ski at Lake Jindabyne and getting ready to tend their soon to be constructed Kitchen Garden, from which they will pluck fresh produce to turn into mouthwatering dishes in their specially designed kitchen – thanks to a prestigious newly awarded Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden grant. Whew.
There is a variety of extracurricular activites too, with regular classes held at the Hall by the Kentucky Progress Association offering such pursuits as clay modelling, archery and tennis, if one is so inclined; and of course, there are our very own village markets now being held quarterly.
Where previously the only real option for social interaction for adults was a snatched conversation by the petrol pump at the general store in the afternoon, locals now have extensive lunch, morning/afternoon tea and dinner options – and we’re talking the good stuff here too. Seared Salmon for lunch from the local store, cappucinos and cake or high tea at the rose garden and to top it off, cocktails, wine tasting and a truly superb meal at the winery. And so it goes that life out in our neck of the woods is pretty good … pretty damned good.
Photos taken by Michael Taylor.