Seven random things about Castlemaine

1. New friends, old friends and rediscovering long lost friends.

Being in Castlemaine was intensely social. Everyone was incredibly friendly and generous – we were treated to lunches, dinners, coffees and drinks all over town. Castlemaine has a rich and diverse local community with a strong appreciation of the arts. But maybe country towns are also inherently more friendly than big cities. 2011 could prove to be a very sociable year on the road, if the past few days are anything to go by.

2. Castlemaine Library and the sad, mangy stuffed koala above the encyclopedias.

I’ll be spending a lot of time in country libraries over the next year. Castlemaine set me off to a good start. The air-conditioning was a godsend and the old koala keeping watch over the readers felt symbolic. I’m working on a book for the National Library of Australia about European responses to Australian animals. The first example of a koala presented to the Governor of NSW was a pair of pickled paws.

3. Walking through the Botanical Gardens at dusk.

I love the old world charm that so many of Australia’s goldfield towns still possess. It’s as if corners of them are frozen in time – Victorian architecture, monuments, grand sweeping boulevards and Avenues of Honour. Thanks to the recent rains the Castlemaine Botanical gardens were lush and green. There’s something both worrying and poignant about the longing and ambition of early European settlers to replicate the old world in the (ancient) new world.

4. The municipal pool as the afternoon heat intensified

Something about walking down to the pool brought back flashes of all the Australian children’s fiction that I read as a kid. It was as if I could hear little snatches from stories by Colin Thiele and Ivan Southall, Hesba Brinsmead and Nan Chauncy. I can’t think that their novels necessarily featured country swiming pools but something about the heat, the crowds of kids splashing in the pool and the smell of an Australian summer conjured their stories.

5. Hosting our first caravan park ‘soiree’

At home, we have a long dining table and a great big friendly kitchen but the Punchmobile isn’t really designed for entertaining. So it was great to discover that a table of cheese, biscuits, olives, and home-made pickles can be just as welcoming when the company is good and the conversation lively.

6. The night sky above the caravan park

Caravan parks have their own rituals which I know very little about as yet. Both The Professor and I are really baby-caravanners. His family had a holiday house when he was a kid and my family had too many kids to take on any sort of holiday so we’re both learning about the complicated subculture which is the world of caravan parks. One of the things I was dreading – tramping out into the night to use the communal amenities – has turned out to be actually kind of fun. There’s nothing nicer than staring up at the stars with your toothbrush in hand.

7. Mr Punch at the Castlemaine Art Gallery

Best until last. The Professor did four performances at the Castlemaine Art Gallery. I went to three of them. I never seem to tire of watching Mr Punch. Every show is different. Every audience’s response is unique. Whether it’s a small boy who can’t stop shouting ‘sausages, sausages, not squashages’ at Mr Punch; a little girl in a pink dress with a chubby face full of wonder; or the delighted old lady stroking Toby the Dog, for me, watching the audience is part of the fun.

So much contemporary entertainment involves audiences sitting passively, soaking up culture without response, that Punch and Judy takes people by surprise. Mr Punch encourages kids to talk back. He argues with them, shocks them and astonishes them. The beautiful aesthetics of the gallery provided a perfect backdrop for his brazen craziness.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Every adult was once a child and the child inside them never disappears.”

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