At an orange snail’s pace

Cittaslow is a wonderful international organisation with 220 accredited towns across 13 nations that draws upon their very soul; a beautiful, natural way of life embracing its Italian translation: slow town.
To open the gates of acceptance a criteria of 50 must be met including everything that is good about the town including its beautification and engagement of the now globally-accepted principles of the slow food movement.
It is also very much about reaching the heart of a community, but like the incredibly humble beginnings of Cittaslow in Chianti, Italy in 1999, it takes a special person to make it happen. For Goolwa, it was Lyn Clark. And it has been an amazing journey beginning from the depths of despair of the prolonged eight-year drought that crippled this town from 2001.
When Lyn and her husband John went to a meeting of the Southern Alexandrina Business Association to listen to the real impact the drought was having on the town they learned the financial loss was $20 million per annum. No cost could be placed on the mental strain.
The forlorn figures who sat in that room were asked for ideas, and according to Lyn the light bulb flickered inside her. She recalled watching a current affairs program Foreign Correspondent, and a story on how a community in Europe had prospered having become a Cittaslow town.
“It was about identifying the good things about the town and encouraging others to slow down and experience what it was offering,” Lyn said. “I thought this was a great thing that could apply right across the Fleurieu Peninsula because it was suitable for every town in our region.
“The reaction by SABA was to do a feasibility study, and the Cittaslow concept was worth persevering, which was difficult at the time because we had to find out what Cittaslow was all about. At that stage no town outside of Europe had gone through the process.
“It was hard work for Cittaslow too… the language barrier was a challenge for all of us.
“We had to work with Council (Alexandrina) because so many of the criteria they set that we had to measure the town against involved what council was up to. Those within our council were fully supportive, which made a huge difference; this had to be a combination of council, community and businesses.
“Cittaslow is not something that you can put together and describe in a single sentence because it involves everything to do with the community. It involves environmental issues, infrastructure, heritage, tourism, education, community programs.
“It took us a while for people to understand the word Cittaslow because it is a strange one with the Citta being the Italian word for town or city ad the slow representing the slow food industry. That was unusual in itself.”
With a handful of people behind Lyn’s idea to explore the Cittaslow option and still trying to grasp its aims and philosophy, imagine trying to then having to convey this to the community. She organised a public meeting, and it was here that the crucial soul element of the town emerged. Of course, Lyn was not surprised.
“We had 50 volunteers who stepped forward to help us with the Cittaslow accreditation process,” Lyn said. “We all had to learn what Cittaslow was and what it all meant; the implications. We started doing the presentation in 2006 and we finished in 2007 to get answers to 50 criteria to measure the town against.
“It made us look at what we actually did in this community; not just the good things, but those that needed more work and could be done better. We came out with an enormous sense of pride.
“We also found out for the first time a lot of things that council were doing. There was so many environmental things – and continue to do – and the infrastructure work that we may take for granted. It was a wonderful thing for us personally, and we felt that council learned from its community. There was a lot of listening from both sides.”
Lyn made several excellent presentations to the Alexandrina Council, at which time she made a pledge. “I said that if we became Cittaslow we would become important on the world basis, and the world can come to us,” she recalled. “This is what is happening at the assembly. Yes, I feel good about being able to honour this promise.”
This assembly is attracting almost 100 people who will be warmly met by Cittaslow Goolwa’s 160 members. The visitors are from China, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Korea, Poland, Portugal, Taiwan, The Netherlands, Turkey, United States of America, and representatives from Australia’s other Cittaslow towns, Yea and Katoomba, which followed Goolwa’s trail. Imagine that, friends from places like Finland and Iceland. How many tourists do we get from there?
The visitors arrive Tuesday, May 9 and have a real Aussie barbeque. What else? On Wednesday it’s welcome to country and a brilliant smoke ceremony with Major Sumner representing the people of Njarranjerri, and children from Goolwa Primary School joining in a flag ceremony at Centenary Hall. Guests will be on the Cockle Train to Port Elliot and the Southern Fleurieu Historical Society, and others on to Victor Harbor to take the Big Duck and explore Granite Island.
Throughout these events the members will converse the best they can in their different languages and formalities will be further observed on the Thursday including welcoming new member towns to Cittaslow.
It has taken Lyn six years as president to take Goolwa into this beautiful environment, but when suggested health issues will almost certainly prevent her from jumping for joy she merely laughed. You sense, however, deep emotion inside, and not the self-congratulatory kind either. Lyn stepped down as president last December to allow younger members who share her passion for all good things about Cittaslow to take our local group even further. Lyn has never seen this as being about her, but the town.
Lyn smiled when asked how she felt about this assembly, and spoke of her satisfaction. “I have seen Goolwa Cittaslow from birth to adolescence and now the new team is taking us to the next stage and really doing a great job,” she said.
“We have had our assembly, food & wine, community garden and the Goolwa Primary School groups all working so well together.”
Goolwa Primary remains special to Lyn because it embraced what Cittaslow was all about by implementing healthy eating programs. In 2014 Goolwa Cittaslow was presented with the Chiocciola Orange Snail Award for community programs involving working with the Alexandrina Council’s the OPAL group.
The children were basically given a container with soil, and seedlings they took home and grow, and then needed to prepare a report. For some, it led to beautiful ingredients in a salad bowl for the family. For others, there was the despair when the snails ate the leaves, bringing irony given the orange snail is the symbol of Cittaslow.
The kids who had the bad luck with the snails shared a laugh or two and were surrounded by support. That’s typical of this slow town. Here, they say it also takes a child to raise a village.