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Regional Art Stories Local Insights – Dargo, Victoria

Situated on the lands of the Gunaikurnai people, and an entry point for the Alpine National Park, Avon Wilderness Park and Mitchell River National Park, Dargo is one of Victoria’s most remote communities. We spoke with some locals last week to find out how COVID-19 has impacted on the community and cultural landscape of their town. Described by one participant as “a playground for tourists”, their insights paint a picture of a small and vibrant community that is keen to share the beauty and bounty of the place they call home.

RAA: What do you miss?

Kerry Leemon (Dargo General Store): Dargo is usually frequented by travellers wishing to escape the hurry-scurry of life’s routines … I miss the buzz prior to lockdown. I miss the warm, friendly atmosphere at the Dargo Hotel, where we would frequent after work to unwind with the locals and share a good laugh and a meal.

Rosalie Campbell (Step into Art): I am an art instructor living in the Dargo High Plains … My “Step into Art” classes are face to face with small groups. Given our current restrictions, this is something I miss a lot. My business was very new and just starting to gain momentum. The lack of continuity with participants is a great loss.

Sue Neale (Ironbark Creations): I certainly miss the ability to move about freely in our community. In our remote area it’s usually great to be able to visit friends down the road; take a drive up through the mountains; take our dog for a swim in the river. What I miss the most though, is visiting our families and their visits to us.

Hughie Sherritt: Dargo is one of Victoria’s most remote towns, and is home to people who relish peace and quiet, and while the current pandemic is “different”, we have little trouble with isolation. The closure of the iconic Dargo Hotel and limited hours at the General Store has restricted social interaction somewhat.

RAA: What do you need?

Kerry Leemon: We run the Dargo General Store and Post Office, and therefore need to remain open for our locals … . Our current external visitation is minimal. We need to ensure that when visitors can travel again, dine out at the pub and go camping, that our little piece of country paradise is their No. 1 destination of choice.

Rosalie Campbell: I have found abilities in myself that I was unaware I had. It is a little ironic really, that this theory is not unlike what I teach and yet it took an occasion such as a pandemic to heighten this on a personal level for myself. My need to stay connected, not only to my family, but my own art community has pushed me to teach myself technology to much greater levels than I thought possible.

Sue Neale: Lots of happy tourists again. Tourism is such a huge part of life in Dargo, even though most people who move here come for the peace & tranquility. The businesses in town rely heavily on holiday-makers and travelers. Without these people to support our businesses, life here has slowed down immensely. The isolation has meant that the town’s businesses cannot enjoy & prosper from the tourists, but at the same time it has provided an opportunity to re-think business strategies for the future.

Hughie Sherritt: Our local Bush Nursing Centre and Staff are excellent but ensuring health care to an ageing population, can be restricted by “communication” problems, so we are desperate for guaranteed, reliable phone/internet service, rather than the current situation.

RAA: What does a vibrant cultural landscape in your region of Australia look like?

Kerry Leemon: Dargo has maintained quite a colourful yesteryear character, untarnished by commercialisation … I feel proud to be part of the unique tapestry of this community, where legendary mountain cattlemen still to this day drove from the High Country down the main street.

Rosalie Campbell: The Dargo community, nestled in the High Plains, has a tiny population of the most resilient locals. Come flood, fire, or pandemic … For me as an artist, the scenery and the history of our town is what makes it vibrant. I been lucky enough to have seen it depicted on canvas, captured in fire sculptures and timber works made from manuka. Even the local walnuts have been made into art forms. I am proud to say that the locals here are very talented.

Sue Neale: The freedom and confidence for each person to share their own talents and culture; and for everyone to explore and learn about those cultures. Dargo draws people from a diverse range of backgrounds, with skills, knowledge and talents that makes them all valuable to our community. Each person and family is unique - it would be wonderful to see these qualities shared throughout Dargo and the wider community, so that everyone can appreciate their uniqueness and applaud the creativity that exists here

Hughie Sherritt: The Dargo valley consists of rich granite/basalt soils, and is surrounded with mountain scenery offering many activities. Bushwalking, photography, birdwatching, visiting historical gold mining sites, camping, fishing or hunting, plus a network of tracks for 4WD or trail biking … Personally, our garden includes one of Victoria’s larger collections of Tall Bearded Iris, boasting approximately 4000 plants … with a floral display during October/November.

Image Gallery #

Dargo General Store. Photographer Kerry Leeman
Dargo General Store. Photographer Kerry Leeman.

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