As older people retired, opportunities opened up for younger people, aided by the development of some new businesses. As they came with their kids or had kids, school numbers increased, requiring more teachers. The city began to rebuild. While the population has been growing again, there is still a degree of fragility, not aided by the drought. In 2018-19, the town's income dropped by 3%.
"How's business", I asked? "Terrible", was the answer. "People just aren't travelling because of the road closures." Armidale's size provides a degree of insulation.
Some businesses along major traffic routes such as the Oxley Highway have already lost two months income because of actual or feared road closures associated with the fires. Apart from the fires themselves, people won't travel if they fear road closures, if they are warned not to travel because of risk of fires, The National Parks, major New England attraction, are all closed or open only on an irregular basis. Across Northern NSW, we have lost an entire tourism season.
I wanted to buy presents for youngest and her husband. They have very particular tastes and I wanted something different that would mesh with their tastes. I can't tell you more, however, for fear of totally giving away what I bought.
Granny Fi's is becoming an Armidale institution, one of a number of nodules that form the core of Armidale's remarkable and varied cultural scene.
It's a difficult place to describe beyond saying that it has a focus on handmade crafts and other products designed to appeal to the nerds among us.
Setting the store up has been a bit of a battle. Obligatory attendance at Comic-Con and various fan festivals provides money and presence but also distracts from the shop itself. They were sold out of one key thing I wanted, but promised to make it over the weekend. Herein lies a little story.
"How's business?", I asked in the normal way. "It's been very quiet, but something marvellous happened" was the response.
One side-effect of the drought has been the establishment of websites asking people to buy bush in compensation for the drought. These have been remarkably successful, especially in niche areas. Down at Uralla, for example, sales of some New England food products boomed to the point that they had to call in volunteers and set up a temporary packing plant to meet the Christmas orders.
In Granny Fi's case, the post they put up went viral. In something like 24 hours they sold out entire stock ranges, In fact, they over sold. The next 48 hours were spent without sleep packing to meet the Christmas postal deadlines, while making the additional stock to meet the extra orders .People really are nice, I thought.
While churches and especially the evangelical or Pentecostal churches that have been Christianity's recent growth area are spread across Armidale, Central Park is the traditional religious centre of Armidale. Surrounding the Park you will find the Roman Catholic and Anglican cathedrals, the Presbyterian church with the Methodists, now Uniting, a little way away down Rusden Street.
Ros's funeral was held in the Anglican cathedral. Designed by the famous Australian architect Horbury Hunt whose work played such a role in the Armidale built landscape, the cathedral is truly beautiful.
Pam's funeral was held at the Presbyterian church, a plainer building but still very attractive.
Both women played a major role in the Armidale community and this was reflected in the attendance. I arrived five minutes before the start of Ros's funeral. By then, the cathedral was already full, and I had to listen to the service via speakers in a little meeting room nearby.
I was a little earlier for Pam's funeral. The church was again full, I was able to find a a spot in the choir stalls, but a few minutes later they started bringing in chairs from the Hall and putting them in the aisles. I am not good at estimating numbers. but there must have been close to a 1,000 people in total at the two funerals.
Some people find funerals distressing. I don't, although I did tear up at Pam's funeral. Funerals are generally celebrations of a life and, in a way, lessons for the future.. I am always amazed at the things I learn about the person.
I can't help being an historian. Obituaries are one victim of the decline in the print media. We will all be the poorer for that.
The Saturday following the funerals saw the annual Historical Society excursion, lead by local historian Graham Wilson. We were to visit the old gold mining centres of Hillgrove and Metz.
To the east of Armidale, the coastal flowing rivers have cut deep spectacular gorges.This includes Bakers Creek. There deep lead gold was found, leading to the establishment of many mines especially at the bottom of the gorge, Hillgrove grew up on one side of the gorge, Metz on the other, both linked by steep tramways to the bottom. This was a big field that is still in recurrent operation today, if at a lower level.
Some fifty of us gathered at the Visitor Information Centre to join the big, modern air conditioned coach for the trip. Some of the roads we would travel are narrow and dirt, creating problems for the bus. But with some backing and turning, the bus was able to get through.
Our first destination was Hillgrove. Here we followed the modern road. I much prefer the old road that skirts hge gorge and passes Bakers River falls, but I can see the logic of the route we took.
At Hillgrove, we stopped in spots to look at explanatory signs and listen to Graham telling the story. There was a fair bit of wind making it difficult for me to hear, but I picked up the gist. I know Hillgrove quite well, but it had been so many years since I was there that I had difficult in properly orienting myself. It had changed.
With a population of over 3,000, Hillgrove residents thought that their town would be permanent and built accordingly. Hillgrove became a major centre. A remarkable amount survives, more than I realised, now signposted for visitors because of work done by the Historical Society.
After our initial excursion, we adjoined to the community hall for a morning tea supplied by some of our members. This was a truly sumptuous repast that would have done credit to any CWA branch. This started a discussion on food that continued for much of the day.
The community hall lies in Brackin Street, Hillgrove's main street. I wandered outside. looking down the street, refreshing my memory, trying to fit things in.
Brackin Steet runs along a ridge. Water was constantly short in Hillgrove. Rubbish including sewerage accumulate along the street. When rain came, this was washed down towards the houses on each side. One result was typhoid, killing many.
From the hall we drove to the old Hillgrove Public School, now a rather wonderful museum. It really is a gem, although it would benefit from better signage and more explanatory material on the machinery and horse drawn vehicles out the back,
Today, we forget our much physical labour was present in the past. I looked at some of the drays and wondered just how you would lift them up to back horses in between the shafts.
From the museum we visited the cemetery and then headed out to Metz along narrow dirt roads requiring our driver to have several goes at some point. I knew that lunch was included in the price, assumed something like sandwiches, but not so!
Echidna Gully, one of the new accommodation and venue facilities established outside Armidale. Because I have been away, I don't know these places.
Sandwiches my hat. Nice roast pork with baked vegetables plus a rather luscious desert. And a bar with local wines, although we had to pay for that.
It rained while were eating lunch, That was good and good timing too.
Now rather full, I didn't need to eat much dinner, we rejoined our bus for the last stage of our journey, Metz, talking about food.
Things got a little bit confused.at this stage. Metz was founded later than Hillgrove, was never as big, and vanished earlier. Today, nothing remains. The town site itself is on private property. We had two locals as guides who had grown up in the area when more remained plus two maps. We also had members of the family that owned Tattersall's Hotel in Metz, the last hotel closing in 1928 (photo 1924). Our problem lay in our maps.
Later, I was able to work things out, but I really need to go back and just walk around. You actually have to walk the ground to understand.
From that stop we drove the short distance to the Metz lookout, looking back over the gorge to Hillgrove, It was interesting in part because so much of the landscape had changed from the last time I saw it. I stood there and tried to imagine the people from Hillgrove going down the gorge side in a cable car and then up via cable car the other side to go to Metz dances. The mines would allow this so long as it did not conflict with work.
From there, we came home. I thought that it had been a rather special exccusion.
This will be my last dairy entry for the year. I wish you and yours a happy Christmas and a peaceful new year.