The following article was written in 2013 as part of a Camp Creative travel writing course run by award-winning freelance journalist, Lee Mylne. If you would like to enquire about travel writing or accommodation reviews for your business, please get in touch.
Dad & Dave
When my parents informed me they were moving to Bellingen – population 2,700 – I had visions of tumble weeds dancing down an abandoned street to the tune of a 1940s great western shootout.
My housemate has a theory about small towns: without fail they’ve all got a sex shop and a funeral parlour. While I’ve no interest in proving this theory, I can confirm that ‘Bello’, as the locals call it, has an array of lively, G-rated activities suitable for punters of all ages and budgets.
Mum and Dad left the big smoke of Brisbane in 2010 in search of the elusive ‘something else’. They craved a slower pace. Mum wanted a vegetable garden and Dad wanted a stretch of river to unleash the oars of his single skull rowboat.
From their Bello yurt they’re now able to stroll 10 minutes into town from home. Mum’s garden is sprouting cherry tomatoes faster than you can spell salad, and although Dad’s boat hasn’t met water since rumours of a rogue bull shark, he’s found himself a friend: Dave.
Dave lives next door to Mum and Dad. In fact, he’s lived there for 35 years. He’s an unassuming, middle-aged character with thick, squarish glasses and a wicked sense of humour. Much like the town centre, blink and you’ll miss it. He feeds the cats when my parents are away and brings over icy poles right on cue when temperatures exceed 35 degrees.
Once a week, Dad and Dave walk across Lavender Bridge, where children below build dam walls from heaped grey stones. They continue on past the lightly graffitied but otherwise immaculately kept skate park, and float into one of Bello’s many coffee shops where they perch under a canopy of Camphor Laurel trees to ponder the state of the world.
While they probably consider themselves SNAGs, The Vintage Nest fashion and homewares cafe on Hyde Street is often overlooked for somewhere less conspicuous; left to the busy hands of passing backpackers to survey the sales rack packed with pre-loved 1950s dresses.
When they’re feeling particularly adventurous they’ll head down to 5 Church Street: “an open space where people from all walks of life can come together to share an experience – to enjoy being nourished – to leave feeling inspired”.
The ethically and sustainably-minded restaurant boasts local, organic and bio-dynamic delights to savour whilst enjoying regular live music, ranging from Afro-reggae and jazz to Joni Mitchell tribute shows.
Before returning home, having agreed upon a formula for world peace, Dad and Dave drop into the IGA, where I’m told you can “whack a packet of PK on your card” without incurring a surcharge or meeting minimum spend requirements. Now that’s friendly. Here, Dad picks up some chicken-infused country style roast vegetables and freshly squeezed local cow’s milk.
Although Mum’s excused from Dad and Dave’s weekly men’s group meetings in nearby Coffs Harbour, she can be seen accompanying them in Bello as they drift in and out of art exhibitions at Memorial Hall, attend social and environmentally themed lectures at Alternatives Bookshop, and indulge in organic, wood-fired goodness from Hearthfire sourdough bakery, hidden beside The Federal Hotel.
It’s a sleepy little town, Bellingen, tucked 11km off the Pacific Highway on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales. You’ve kinda gotta know what’s going on, to know what’s going on.
The mysteriously under-represented demographic of 18-35s is perhaps due to the luring glow of Sydney some 500km down the road, but I suspect this is perhaps the way Dad, Dave, Mum, Australian journalist George Negus, internationally acclaimed concert pianist David Helfgott and the rest of the Bello Boomers like it.