I moved to Castlemaine in 2009 and it’s the smartest decision I have ever made.
I chose this town because of its proximity to Melbourne and the convenience of having a direct train route to the city, thinking that I didn’t want to lose my connection to the possibilities for work, culture and an expansive social life down there. But the truth is, I rarely go to Melbourne.
Everything you need, apart from the odd international festival or concert or very specialised service, is actually here. And if you want to go see Bruce Springsteen or that acclaimed new play, you drive or catch the train down to the ‘big smoke’ and you see it. It’s not far.
The thing is, it’s quiet in Castlemaine. By that I don’t mean nothing happens, but the lack of cars and trucks and trams means there is generally far less noise in the background to your daily interactions. You can think more clearly, with more time and less distractions rushing past your eyes and ears. And people look you in the eye when you walk past them on the street, always acknowledge you and say ‘hello’ – even if you don’t really know them. You are joined in some way to every person in this town, however distantly, and have many connections, or even relationships, with locals. Walk into the supermarket to buy some groceries and you inevitably meet several people you are at least acquainted with; chat in the queue; give a nod over there to another couple of folk you know while you chat about the weather or some Castlemaine event or news with the person at the checkout.
Do you need help fixing a fence, moving something, someone to mind your dog while you’re at work? You find it here easily. Ask, and people will willingly give you their time, space and advice.
Friends aren’t necessarily easier to make in this town – it’s Australia, after all, and people are still quite shy beyond initial introductions. It may take you a little time to get invited to parties, asked to dinners or social events. But once you do make friends, they are yours forever – and they share with you their own knowledge of what Castlemaine is, beyond the newspaper weekend supplement articles. Intimate local knowledge of the best swimming holes and walking tracks, who are the most reliable tradespeople, the more interesting activities for kids, any upcoming Castlemaine collaborative social activities becomes yours too.
Eventually, you become a ‘local’ too and you belong. It’s a wonderful feeling.