The Voles at the VIC

I have a long relationship with info centres. When my mother lived in Broken Hill, the Info Centre was a meeting place and had the best coffee in town. You could fall off an overnight bus or the Indian Pacific (in the days when people still smoked down the back near the baggage car with the animals and sometimes it wasn’t tobacco they were smoking), mainline caffeine, and regroup. My mother would meet friends there for morning tea even when no one was coming or going, that’s how good the coffee and the ambiance were in the Silver City VIC.

Riding a bike through the Flinders Ranges and the empty, barren stretches of the Stuart Highway I always liked the info centres that had public toilets, a tap, and some shade. Driving my evil Lithuanian ex-mother-in-law through the rural areas of Victoria and South Australia on an ill-conceived road-trip, info centres were the only place where she didn’t whip out her toilet-seat covers (we won’t speak badly of the departed, but fuck I hated those disposable toilet seat covers). A good info centre can impart the flavour of a town, give you those sneaky bits of information that don’t appear on tripadvisor, set your journey on a weird and different path. I drank beer one hot spring day with the volunteers at the Cardwell info centre and wound up on the Culpa Road, in the strange and eerie high country around Tully Falls, on their somewhat inebriated advice. The info centre in Mackay charged our battery for us during floods, and found us a tarp that got washed away (sorry, Mackay VIC). I have forgotten the name of the little town in western NSW where a crocheting woman in a crypt behind the church directed us to the $20 a night ‘Pumpkin Cottage’, but that was up there with great finds of my travels.

It was inevitable that I would end up working at one of these havens with a covey of extremely elegant and articulate older women. Let me introduce them. There is cat-lover S., who dyes her hair a medley of blue and purple, more punk than little-old-lady. There is hyperactive L., just back from India and staunch advocate for the National Parks of the area. N. knows everything there is to know about local history and can answer tricky questions about the water-courses that feed into each other and the direction in which they do so, and new recruit C. is so enthusiastic about the area she bounces as she gives people directions, even when their destination is only the local IGA.

There is talk of the Info Centre where I work becoming more entwined with the one at the other end of our LGA. In an increasingly homogenised world there is a wonderful (and frightening) amount of passion for our uniqueness and originality among the vols (a title I always hear as ‘voles’, with the accompanying image of slightly manic rodents), and the specificity of our little crease in the map along the Border Ranges.

Happy fifteenth birthday, VIC. We wish you another fifteen years in your funny little stone building with the beautiful light and the incumbent water dragon.

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