Current Issue #488

Good Country:
Whispers of wealth in Jamestown

Michael X Savvas

Jamestown, established in 1871 in SA’s Mid North, has acquired the nickname of Snobtown. But is the moniker fair?

With grain, sheep and canola farms surrounding it and Belalie Creek slicing through it, Jamestown is an attractive town. Its well-preserved churches and business premises suggest a monied past. The soothing sounds of trains at night suggest a monied present.

Perhaps Jamestown’s most telling sign of wealth is its three banks, housed in grand old buildings – and still operating to boot.

Speaking of boots, RM Williams, founder of Australia’s most iconic clothing brand, was born in either Jamestown or the neighbouring Belalie North. He spent his childhood in both areas.

Although Jamestown and Belalie North display various monuments to Williams, I didn’t notice anyone wearing moleskins or other classic RM clobber. Rather, low-slung jeans and practical sweaters dominate. Jovial Jamestown resident Bill Blake recalls, “I was once in a pub here, and a bloke walked in. He was well dressed, so I asked him where he was from. He said, ‘From Switzerland.’

‘Are you Roger Federer’s gardener?’ I said. He said, ‘I just sold a Pilatus jet and I’m looking for RM Williams gear.’ I said, ‘RM Williams gear’s too expensive for Jamestown.’ Here, it’s cockies dressed in their work gear.” And yet, there are clues that

Jamestown folk do have money that they’re happy to spend on quality goods and services. For example, the Depot on Irvine is a stylish homewares store, stocking candles, artisan jewellery, giftware and the like. It smells amazing. The Depot’s manager, Mel Sparks, stresses the friendliness of the locals. I agree.

When I was a teenager, people driving near my mum’s Langhorne Creek dairy frequently gave me the one-finger salute. That is, they’d raise one finger from the steering wheel to greet our car, passing in the opposite direction. Sparks’s husband gives the

welcoming finger wave to everyone he drives past. Although the gesture’s now much less common on SA country roads, I was pleased to see it a lot around Jamestown. In fact, more than I’ve seen anywhere in recent years. One guy even drove past me in the town and waved like we were reunited twins.

Margarita Zelenskaya

Another place in Jamestown providing fine products is the vibrant cafe/greengrocer/art gallery called ek-wi-tee Café. Unless in connection to a company’s shares, equity is the opposite of what one would expect in Snobtown. But charismatic café owner Barry Shaw says, “Equity – which means integrity and fairness – is what we have.” With ek-wi-tee constantly busy (and buzzy), Shaw and his dedicated staff are clearly treating their customers well.

Shaw previously worked as a garden designer and had a cafe in the Dorrigo rainforest. But he fell in love with Jamestown’s peaceful feel and settled here. He focuses on selling “some of the finest Australian-made products”, many of which aren’t seen in other SA stores, such as a gourmet white chocolate and strawberry rocky road from Peter Nicholson.

In strange South Australian synchronicity, the site of ek-wi-tee is where Haigh’s Chocolates’ Alfred Haigh started selling fruit and sweets in the 1890s.

Shaw doesn’t waste anything. The gardens are fed by Boston Bean (Port Lincoln) coffee grinds from the store. And what delicious coffee It is. Shaw says, “Most cafes will serve you a single shot. We have a double shot as a standard, and we don’t charge for that.”

He even has a philosophy about the paradox that generosity has made his business successful.

“It’s not about the hip pocket here. Being generous becomes way more viable and lucrative than trying to screw the dollar, because you get this loyalty from customers. Now people are coming here for coffee instead of going to Clare. We’ve become a destination.”

And when I ask Shaw if Jamestown is a snobtown, he answers in French: “Au contraire. It’s a wealthy town, and the farms are huge, but it’s more quiet money. The wealthy customers are actually quite humble, and they look after me.”

As my fiancée photographs the longest-running butcher shop in SA, a man leaps out of a ute, smiling. He yells to me (presumably about the butcher), “He’s a bloody great bloke!”

It doesn’t surprise me. Belying its nickname of Snobtown, Jamestown has some of the kindest and friendliest people I’ve encountered.

Michael X Savvas

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