Current Issue #488

Good Country:
Something in the Nairne

Michael X Savvas

The charming Adelaide Hills town of Nairne, established in 1839, has a long (and sometimes smelly) history and continues to surprise and enchant.

A 1908 publication, The Tourists’ Guide to Nairne, describes the town as “a quaintly pretty, Englishy looking, sweet smelling little town on the Nairne Creek … one of the most attractive and get-at-able of the Hills’ towns”. Flash forward 111 years, this portrayal is still accurate. Yet oddly enough, not even all Nairne locals are fully aware of this quirky South Australian town’s offerings.

Nairne resident Norma Osborne says that some people living in a Nairne housing development “commute to the city but have never been down the main street”. Pity about that. For a stroll down said street is worth the legwork.

One central feature of the street and town was Chapman’s. From 1899 to 2002, Chapman’s cured bacon and ham and was a major employer in the town. Older Nairne folk recall the distant time when pigs were offloaded from a train. For fun and thruppence, the kids would chase the pigs down the main street to Chapman’s. Sadly, the former site is being demolished.

Nairne Main Street
Michael X Savvas
Nairne Main Street

The porcine influence also permeated the town in other ways. Ray McIntosh, secretary of the Nairne Museum, says that when he moved to Nairne in the late 80s, “the trucks would go by and the smell of the pigs would linger in the main street. When Chapman’s were cooking, the smell of bacon would waft over the town. You’d notice it if you were in the garden or walking around”.

Today, Nairne smells sweeter. On a warm day with a gentle breeze, one is struck by the variety of fragrances in the streets – sometimes from the roses growing in people’s front gardens and through white picket fences, sometimes from the sunburst trees lining Main Road. There’s also a buzz in the street (literally) with bees and cicadas doing their thing.

Murals adorn the walls of many old buildings and tell of Nairne’s early history. One such mural depicts the Chapman’s pigs running amok. A pig statue also peers curiously over the balcony of the Nairne Market. Aside from that, you won’t encounter pigs anymore. The snout has no clout. But the people are lovely.

Case in point. Luci Simmons runs the toy shop Head Heart and Hands Imaginative Play and is an internationally trained puppeteer. The former primary school teacher visited Sussex, England, in 1977 to learn puppetry from a German lady. Simmons became hooked and has created and worked with puppets ever since. She presents a seasonal puppet show, with her characters Blizzie the Gnome, Cracky the Cocky, Brushy the Possum and others.

Simmons explains puppetry’s appeal: “You’re working with beauty and not caricature. It takes you into a different world. You see the children enter a miniature world of imagination. Children can learn from puppets, and the stories can nourish the children’s souls and promote good values. There’s something magic about puppetry.”

Luci Simmons and Cracky
Margarita Zelenskaya
Luci Simmons and ‘Cracky’

Further down the street is a trendy café, Pallet, peopled by friendly, urban-infused hipsters. On a sunny Sunday, the place is packed and pumping.

Wander across the street and you’ll find Jambo Sana, a café and “hope shop” (home to charity Australia  HOPE International). In this slice of Africa, Norma and Bill Osborne andtheir dedicated team do wonderful work that empowers impoverished African youth. Jambo Sana sells African-made art and crafts; the profits from these and the fundraising arm have helped establish churches and schools in Africa and allowed many African youths to be taken off the streets, housed and educated, with many graduating from university.

Jambo Sana also has a Ugandan themed menu, with such items as Ugandan-style samosas, classic Ugandan street food known as ‘Rolex’ (a mispronunciation of “rolled eggs”) and a chai made the traditional Ugandan way, with ginger pummelled into black tea”. Says Norma.

Importantly, says Norma, “The Nairne community have responded really well to what we’re doing. The fundraising group are all from Nairne or the Hills. I love Jambo Sana because it gets us to meet local people. And I love Nairne because it’s unique.” That’s true. And that’s all folks.

Michael X Savvas

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