eople say that on a chilly morn from the heights of Mount Compass you can see the city commuters from the south go under the fog on the outskirts and go through without seeing the town. Much like it is on a sunny day, actually; it’s why they call it the biggest drive-through this side of our magnetic north.
It’s a pity because there is a lot more to Mount Compass than the ceramic cow and its calf, which if you hadn’t noticed is much nicer than that cow they had stuck on a giant pole more than 20 years ago.
The remarkable thing about this town and surrounding area is that the 2006 census showed the population was 695, and in 2011 it soared to 2657. The predominant area of employment is still agriculture – many dealing with real cows – and the huge growth is revealed around the Fleurieu Golf Club with an influx of young couples in relatively new houses with jobs in the city.
Yet, for all these changes, mother-of-three boys Katie McHugh, 32, who has lived here all her life, believes this town that locals affectionately simply call Compass hasn’t really changed. And she says that speaks highly of the character of those new to the town.
“For generations they have been saying Compass has always been a town that has survived well on a strong community feeling, and I haven’t known it to be any different in my time,” Katie said.
“People drive through here and never get to know what the town is like. Live here and you discover that it’s all about a great community. All of our sporting facilities are community-owned so we need to have a strong community for all of that to continue to exist.
“Most other towns complain to their local council something needs to be maintained or fixed, but here we just do it. We have to do the working bees; we have to do the maintenance.
“The town is run by a community centre group with sub-committees. There are a lot of retirees who have one amazing work doing things like getting the supper club going, which are huge nights. They have music and supper night once a month in the hall. They might have a jazz band or a comedian and everyone loves the atmosphere. We have them to raise money for projects, and right now the big one is major renovations in the hall. Again, all community funded.
“There are so many who do a lot more than me right now… I am on my netball club committee; the Compass Cup committee, and the Sports & Social Club committee which handles the football club facilities… we are renovating that too and we have to find the money. It’s been a slow process.
“There are people my age working on the Compass Cup, which is the major fundraiser for the town. Having a cow race is different, and we need something like this because being such a small town without a lot of businesses you can’t always keep asking the same people for sponsorship.
“Last year the Compass Cup made $25,000 with every cent going into the town. We put out to clubs if they needed money or whatever to write to the committee. Like the last few years we put quite a bit into the Sports & Social Club; $1000 went to the local scouts for a new trailer. It makes everyone feel good.
“On the day of the cow race groups can have their own fundraising stall or whatever; it’s another way for them to fend for themselves because it gets so hard when you’ve got so many different clubs all needing money in a small town.”
Katie was brought up on a dairy farm on Tooperang Road, and her parents, who have since moved to Lucindale in the South East set the example of helping the community where possible. Of course, with three boys aged under six, and helping her husband Ben, on their 200-acre property with 80 beef cattle it’s not always easy for Katie. One day her experience working in animal health and her degree in agriculture may come to better use, but she wouldn’t change a thing. Besides, the boys have great character and are as well behaved as boys can be.
Katie said that sense of family values remained strong in Mount Compass. She is also looking forward to Tom starting school next month at Mount Compass Area School and being taught by some of the same teachers who taught her. “It makes you feel old,” she says, if that is at all possible aged 32.
“The school is a reflection of the general community because everyone knows everyone else. You care and look out for each other’s children; you share the good times and bad times.”
Katie said Mount Compass had also shared more than its share of tragedy, including the profound sadness having lost three good young lads – Brock Grivell, Jake McMillan and Matt Solly – who died in a car accident on Australia Day, 2010. They played football alongside each other in the 2009 senior colts grand final, which the side lost by a point, and the clubs now compete for a shield in their honour.
“You never get over each tragedy,” Katie said. “Losing the three boys at once was a massive loss; their families were so involved in the town. We all still feel the loss. Everyone just still rallies together and tries to do what we can.
“The town and surrounding area may have quadrupled in population but the town spirit is still there. It seems those who have come here have adapted to what this town is about. You cannot ask for more, can you?
“Everyone is a lot busier than perhaps people were years ago, but most of the people still get involved in the community in Compass because that’s what this town is about. We still have to chip in to get things done. I think that is the appeal; why people move to Compass because that’s what it is.
“People drive through and they don’t really see the businesses apart from, I suppose, the bakery, which has a good reputation. Some may see shops that have closed down over the last few years, but forget that all towns are like that.
“I guess people may see the football scores and note that we struggled again this year… we tend to leave our run too late and just miss finals. We’re in a town where you can’t attract huge sponsorship to be able to buy players, but I think that’s good because it develops good club spirit and we are competitive which to me is success.
“Compass is still about families who have always put a lot of time and effort into the footy club generation after generation. We are lucky to have those people who do that, but now we need new people to also become involved.”
Katie plays A-grade in wing defence or goal defence for the town’s netball club, which has perhaps enjoyed more success over the past decade or so, but importantly like the football club and other sporting clubs it provides a marvellous opportunity for youngsters to enjoy the participation.
There is a lot to like about Mount Compass, and if you take time to stop you will see tiny ceramic cows at the base of the large cow and calf symbolising the donations and the spirit from within the community for this project that evolved to mark the 1994 Year of the Family.
And while you’re here the pasties at the bakery are worth a try and the schnitzels in the pub are bigger than that cow still at the end of a long pole now out the front of some bloke’s dairy farm down a dirt track the other side of Compass.