Merriwa - the land of golden opportunity?
By Suzie Kirk
17 Oct 2012
What city do you live in? What neighborhood?
Merriwa, far west in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales Australia. Merriwa produces sheep, horses, cattle and... photographers
What are some adjectives that describe your neighborhood?
Historic western town, sheep, wheat fields, bushrangers, murder, horses, national parks, wild-life, mines
How long have you lived there, and what brought you there?
As a child, I lived with my family on a large sheep station, owned by James Bettington Edwards. We loved the freedom of the bush, but moved away to be closer to family and urbanisation. I always returned to Merriwa for camping/shooting trips until ten years ago. I finally moved my family of three daughters back for the sheltered and idyllic country lifestyle I missed.
What is your favorite thing about this place? Your least favorite?
I love the history of Merriwa, the aboriginal sites, the stories and legends of bushrangers, the pioneering spirit of the earlier settlers, most of whom still have family holdings in the area. The township itself has always been an aging town, but a recent trend in country living has seen an influx of younger families. Merriwa is very community minded, caring for its elderly with dignity and respect. It's not unusual to be bombarded down the mainstreet, by the electric mobility scooters with their bright orange flags,( an indication to be aware that we have a senior citizen in our midst), all parked outside the cafÃ© on the footpath. I love the surrounding bushland, spectacular views of the ranges, historical shearing sheds, the abundant wildlife and National Parks and the history of our local aboriginal and the sacred sites in their Wiradjuri country.
Being such a small community, everyone knows your business and that would be my least favourite thing, but I guess when you don't know what your're doing someone else always does. This is a community that celebrates its sheep, but not a lot of emphasis is placed on the bushrangers and their exploits.
Do you feel that you belong there?
I resonate with the energy of this area. I love being in the bush, breeding our own sheep and being part of a caring, rural community. I love it that my family have chosen Merriwa to raise their own family, for the reasons I did.
What is the most common misconception about where you live?
Most people think we have two heads, six fingers, play the banjo and drink moonshine on the verandah at sundown, unless of course you have blue blood and belong to the land and gentry in which case you are definitely inbred and not particular about what time of day you drink.
But seriously, Merriwa is a widespread community of hospitable country people, who pitch in where needed. And even though it's a safe place to live and raise a family, in the past this wasn't always the case. Due to the isolation and distance between neighbours, the area was the running ground for many bushrangers, one of which was a woman, but none as murderous as Jimmy Governor, a part aboriginal horse breaker who worked on one of the stations and was also a part-time police tracker.
What is a special fact about your city that you have to live there to know?
Renowned as the birthplace of Pony Club in Australia and for the Festival of the Fleeces and in particular the Running of the Sheep . This was sponsored by Holeproof Socks and the sheep lead the parade down the main street wearing red socks.
What aspect of your city do you secretly love?
I love the passion that a lot of the community share for photography. Young and old. We have our very own community newspaper and we run a photography competition each month. We also have our local photography group on facebook. I love the resourcefulness, particularly the youth, for finding enjoyment in a town that lacks entertainment facilities.
Anything else you'd like to add?
It wasn't until a visit to my sister's property at Bobin Creek, a mountain area 430km away, that I noticed a plaque on the creekside road, for Jimmy Governor and wondered who he was. I was amazed to find his story started in the Merriwa area, murdering at first in retaliation, and ended at my sister's property where he was captured, taken to Darlinghurst Prison, Sydney and subsequently hanged in 1901. In digging further, my favourite spots at "Hands on Rock", "The Drip" at Ulan and "Big River" in the Goulburn River National Park, were all haunts of his.
Aboriginal for "grass seed", Merriwa was founded in 1839. Early pioneers had to cope with very primitive conditions and isolation, severe droughts , then the 40's depression. A lot of sheep were boiled down for tallow or left to die. Today the area is flourishing. However, the landscape is gradually changing to the tune of gas wells and mines. With the mining industry destroying much of the countryside and inadvertently the displacement and destruction of our wildlife and habitat, I like to record through my photography, as much as I can in my time for our future generations.