I have a good working knowledge of a lot of NSW country towns; knowledge collected during innumerable visits for work. Some visits lasted a day, others up to a week. Most involved staying in a hotel and eating at local cafes, pubs or restaurants. Most of my time was spent at the place where I had a job to do, or in bed catching a bit of shuteye.
The jobs had a terrible tendency to require me for 18 hours or more per day, so although I have collectively spent weeks in some of them, I know a few towns hardly at all. I know how to get to all those old work sites without having to consult a map book or GPS, and I know how to get to my favourite hotel and watering hole from those sites - but the rest of the town is a mystery. My only interaction with the locals has been via those I have met at work, which might have given me a lopsidedly good or bad view of the residents.
I recently spent a bit over a week in a town of about 5000. Instead of spending that time in a hotel, we had our own place to stay, which meant daily visits to the supermarket for vitals.
You can learn a lot about a place by trawling through its supermarket.
For starters, each supermarket has a different mix of goods on sale, depending on the demographic of the local shoppers. Out here in Wogtown, a supermarket would die without a good selection of what might be termed "fancy" cheeses (that's Brie to the rest of you) and a slew of artisan breads. We also have a choice of 20 varieties of tinned tomatoes, and a mind boggling selection of dried pasta. But out in the country, most supermarkets seem to struggle to stock more than a slab of cheddar and the usual Coon (yes, one of the biggest selling cheeses here is called Coon, since it was first made by a Mr Coon).
But enough of cheese. It's the people that fascinate me.
In wogville, we have a large number of CUWs - Cashed Up Wogs. A typical example would be a middle aged woman, dressed in a leopard skin catsuit, covered in gold jewellry and driving a Mercedes no more than one year old. She's married to a bloke who is one generation removed from collecting goat shit on an dusty hillside in Sicily. They have all the class of an Ugg boot, an education that ceased at age 11 (even though they remained at skool for another 6 years) and the world view of a provincial peasant from a Transylvanian backwater. However, they have more money than the Reserve Bank. It might be better to call them CUPs - Cashed Up Peasants.
All that aside, most of them are pleasant to shop alongside - well, apart from those Italian women who are 5 feet tall, 4 feet wide and haven't showered for a few days, or changed their G-string.
In the city, supermarkets are socially stratified. Apart from meeting the odd strung out junkie from the housing commission slum down the hill, the shoppers I see each night are solidly middle class. They are Just Like Us. There are no bogans. However, if you go out west a bit, the supermarkets are wall to wall bogans, and there are precious few People Like Us. They have their supermarkets, and we have ours.
Out in the country, no such divide exists. There aren't enough supermarkets in a town of 5000 for the bogans to have one and the CUPs another. Which makes shopping in the country a much more interesting experience, particularly as I always have my ears and eyes open - even when I'm searching an unfamiliar biscuit aisle for a packet of Choc Mint biscuits.
My abiding impression from shopping in this particular country town is that most of the women are amazingly fat, whilst quite a few of the young men and almost anorexic. I saw cowboys in filthy jeans and big hats and blue singlets that could stick both legs into one leg of my shorts - and still have room for their mate to climb in along side. I saw young women - 18 at most - who were deeper than they were wider. That is, if you strapped a big pillow to the chest of a normal woman, and another to her back, you'd get a good idea of how monstrously overweight some of these kids were. I passed one shopping with her mum - the conversation went like this:
"Shit mum, two fucking packets of cream biscuits aren't enough. I fucking eat at least eight fucking packets of these per day. Like."
And she looked that way as well. And she looked just like she sounded. Total slapper. Unfortunately, she was one of many. Don't get me started on the 16 year old Aboriginal girls pushing prams in packs and arguing about where to buy some smokes.
In the country, the underbelly is right smack there in front of you. Up here in the Big Smoke, you can live your entire life without confronting the underbelly. The underbelly is Out There somewhere - out west around Parramatta. How I wish we could banish the likes of David Marr to somewhere like Orange for a few years. The intelligensia have no fucking idea what goes on outside their gilded towers.