Almost 60 years ago John O’Grady wrote his classic Australian comic novel They’re a Weird Mob under the pseudonym Nino Culotta, and driving through Inman Valley last month one may have easily assumed there had been a sequel.
After all, who would paint a door as part of the brilliant Festival Fleurieu celebrations depicting a letter box and a toilet seat? Is that what they do with the bills in this stunning hamlet in a sprawling picturesque valley between Victor Harbor and Yankalilla?
It was a bit of an in-house joke really, highlighting the fact the local progress association needed to find a new place for the post office boxes and they chose the storeroom in the toilet block behind the community hall. Country humour, they call it, and Nino the fictitious Italian writer would have been lost for words.
He would have also struggled to adequately describe why Inman Valley – named after Henry Inman, founder and first commander of SA Police, who captured two convicts here in 1838 – is such a treasure. A lot of towns across our magnificent nation can also boast of beautiful scenery, including down the road where we have the Glacier Rock, which many remember as a kid.
But in Inman Valley, the 732 people who live across 380km2, are also beautiful on the inside. You just don’t see it unless you get to know them, for here they don’t have tickets on themselves, they just wear pride.
Helen Schofield (pictured) and partner Steve Cossey bought a large property here up the hill in 1993 when living in Melbourne, and eventually built in 2000. “It was strange coming to a bigger town compared with where I grew up,” Helen said.
Bigger? Inman Valley basically has a quaint church, Daryl Robertson’s thriving garage, a community hall, tennis courts, and a devine cafe, the Country Kitchen, owned by Barry and Frances Furler with daughter Kate running and producing, among many delights, sensational pies and pizzas. Helen came from Culla in south-west Victoria and there were only six other students in her school.
Yes, Inman Valley is bigger, but according to Helen not much different to most country towns in the sense of sharing an amazing community spirit. “I just feel that whatever you put into your community you get twice as much back,” she said.
“I just love all the different people you meet here. If you lived in the city you would never meet them; you don’t know your neighbours half the time. Down here, you just seem to meet people from all walks of life. Everyone has something to give to the town, and you learn so much from others.”
According to Helen, setting Inman Valley apart from most is that, like any town it has its older people, but they are young at heart. “There is no time warp here,” she says with a smile. “Part of the reason is because of influx of younger families, and what is really special is that the older and longer-established families have embraced that and accepted them. Here, everyone is welcome.
“The talent of some of the people here is just amazing… they are all unassuming. People wouldn’t know what they have achieved in their lives; they are so humble about what they do. People like Nancy Duggan down the road; she is a magnificent basket weaver and she has baskets in galleries around the country.
“There is Pat Hagan, who lives on the top of the hill; she does beautiful silver jewellery… she sells to jewellers in Sydney and other places. You see others like them around the place and you just don’t realise their talent.
“There are so many wonderful artists and crafts people, and they all get together to promote Inman Presents, which is part of Festival Fleurieu. Every time something like this is held we find one of two more people who are working away in their sheds or spare rooms creating things.
“They don’t have signs on them saying look what I have done, just like the ladies who have worked tirelessly for the Red Cross for all these years; they just do it and no one makes a fuss. It is what they have always done, and I admire each one and every one of them.”
And there is also Helen, who takes the enthusiastic local kids for Hot Shots, a junior tennis program, twice a week because there are too many for one night. She plays both tennis and table tennis, is part of an amazing quilting tribe, has been on the progress and hall committees which are now one, and with Steve, whose expertise is valued by the Victor Harbor Golf Club, is incredibly dedicated when it comes to the Country Fire Service.
“Having come from a small country town I never expected anything different here in terms of people becoming a part of the town,” Helen said. “I just knew we would get involved in the community, and when you do you are accepted very easily.
“As far as the CFS goes, other members of our brigade have been to NSW and Victoria to fight fires. I didn’t join because I wanted to go over all the state fighting fires and stuff; I joined because I wanted to feel that I had a better understanding how I could also look after our own property if there was a situation.
“But once you join, complete the training and you have been to a couple of local fires you see things differently. You’ve been out there all day and you are exhausted, and you see the trucks and strike teams coming from other areas from miles and miles away to help you. The relief that you feel knowing you are going to get a break is incredible, and you gladly reciprocate knowing they need help and a rest somewhere else. It’s why we all went to the Sampson Flat fires (first week of January); you see others and you know we will all go and help each other.”
Inman Valley had its own fire just beyond the main stretch last year when a shed was razed; significant because the house was not on the electricity grid and the shed had all the solar panels meaning the family had no power. The community association rallied immediately, putting together fundraisers and just about everyone in the town donated a replacement shed tool for the owners. Helen wasn’t surprised. “It’s what we do,” she says.
The progress association has raised an amazing amount of money over the years from fabulous events like the good ’ol bush dances to help the town. The hall was built in 1954 by volunteers, just like the tennis clubrooms on land owned by the club paid for by doing things like catering for weddings.
Remarkably, this is one of the oldest and longest-running tennis clubs in the state – established on March 3, 1904 when they chose their navy and cardinal red colour which they still wear today. How do we know? In this town they keep everything, including minutes from every tennis club meeting since the very first, and from marvellous recollections by local historian Carol Jones.
In this neck of the woods come the winter it can get very cold in the valley. The mornings become very frosty, while up on the hills they get blown away amidst the clouds. Yet, they all sit warmly in comfort with the radiators blasting. Some suggest you can afford this when you pick up your electricity bills at the community toilet.