Alexia Purcell

Caragabal: the small town with a huge community spirit

WHEN it comes to writing, I don't usually struggle. But I struggled to write this travel piece on Caragabal.

So I sat back and asked myself why. And then it hit me: because I don't want to tell you just about the town.

If I wanted to tell you just about the town I'd write: Caragabal is a small country village in central NSW home to about 200 people; it's primary industry is grain, sheep and beef farms; there is a pub, a hall and a school.

There you go, done.

But see, you could have found out all of that on Google.

I want to tell you about the people of Caragabal. Because they're what makes this town really special.

I was lucky enough to meet many of them at their annual camp oven cook off over the June long weekend.

The camp oven cook off was exactly what you'd expect from a country shindig: cooking, family fun, music and a bloody great big fire.

Families at the camp oven cook off Alexia Purcell

Now I grew up in what I thought was a country town but this was something entirely different. Never have I experienced community like this. It was like being at someone's backyard barbecue. 

Everyone there was on first name basis. People flitted from group to group as they stood around their camp ovens, submerged in a hole full of coals in the ground, ribbing each other that they were going to win the cook off.

Some were cooking roasts, some desert. One contestant even cooked a caramel slice. In a camp oven!

In the end, the winner of the cook off was one of the organiser's sons and while she wasn't a judge, others jibed that his win was rigged. But it was chili coconut crab with, fair call.

There was a jumping castle for the kids, billy-boiling competitions, whip cracking and tug-of-war. And each activity was met with the same enthusiasm and healthy competition as the cook off.

As darkness fell the bonfire was lit. It was the length of two-caravans and a caravan high.

Flash from the fireworks Alexia Purcell

The music started and people sat around the fire, sharing their camp oven meals with each other while the children ran around and rode bikes. 

If one child started crying it wasn't just the parents that got up. Everyone kept an eye on everyone else's children. Now that's what community is about.

After the auction and the fireworks I took our two small, sleeping children back to our caravan.

As I got them settled I heard the first few bars of the song Crossroads and knew that my husband had been asked to get up and play.

He played six songs to a cheering, dancing crowd and while I knew he was good, now the people of Caragabal do too. He's been asked to come back and play at next year's cook off.

The next morning we went and helped a few of the hard working Caragabal Memorial Hall committee members clean up.

You see the cook off was just one of five annual fundraisers the town hosts to raise money for their hall.

Caragabal Memorial Hall Alexia Purcell

A few years ago the Caragabal Memorial Hall was in a such a state of disrepair a few locals created a committee to restore the 78-year-old building.

According to one committee member, it was cheaper to renovate than knock the building down. And of course, situated right in the heart of the town, knocking it down would have left a hole in the village and the community.

So far they say they have used more than 100 tubes of no-more-gaps, repainted the interior, rewired and rebuilt sections of the hall.

After the first round of renovations they held the Caragabal Ball. It was such a success it has now become one of their yearly fundraisers along with the cook off, Carols on the Main, Australia Day and Anzac Day.

Inside Caragabal Memorial Hall Alexia Purcell

There were only a handful of outsiders at the cook off, us included. It was special and I feel special for having been a part of it.

So, if you'd like to meet some amazing people and have a fantastic time I thoroughly recommend visiting Caragabal for one of their fundraisers.

You never know, maybe I'll see you next year at the camp oven cook off. After all, it sounds like my husband will be there playing.

WHAT: Caragabal camp oven cook off
WHERE: Caragabal, NSW
WHEN: Sunday of the June long weekend


December: Carols on the Main
January: Australia Day
March/April: Caragabal Ball
April: Anzac Day

CONTACT: Like Caragabal Memorial Hall on Facebook or call Donna Pursehouse (02) 6347 5230 or Dixie Maslin (02) 6347 5341

Alexia Purcell is APN Australian Regional Media's social media editor.

Connect with Alexia on Twitter or on Facebook.