The reason Bexhill is here at all is the train line. In 1912 the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) extended the railway line to just outside of a town called Leeville which promptly changed it’s name and moved to link to the line. The town became Assiniboia, which recently celebrated its centenary. Some time later the CPR built track south of the town and grain elevators were built to enable farmers to transport their harvest more efficiently. The first stop south of Assiniboia was named Bexhill in 1927.
The elevator served a community for almost 50 years. After transport developments, with more farmers owning trucks rather than relying on horses and wagons, it was easier to drive the 5 miles to Assiniboia. The elevator closed and was later demolished. Bexhill was relinquished to the history books.
While conducting research in the UK I was repeatedly told “there’s nothing there” “you’ll be disappointed” and given the distinct impression of ‘not to bother’. Alas, I am not put off that easily. The more intrigued I became.
Arriving here yesterday I was met by Art. Art was the last farmer to deliver to the elevator at Bexhill. His father farmed Bexhill land, where his son now lives and works. We went exploring.
Still a sign, he had a hunch it was still there. And today, after yesterday and this afternoon we found the remains of the elevator. There is no base, no building remains, but there was this. Definitely elevator Art said, and a can that carried the grain.
We also visited the museum today which has a ‘Bexhill’ sign and replica of the elevator that stood in Bexhill.
So much more than I expected, the area is so peaceful we sat and listened to the birds for quite a while. Two deer jumped across the tracks and I saw a snake. Three ticks removed, two wet feet after stumbling into the well overflow and new friends of Art and Rosalie who have been so generous with their time and warmth.
Each community I’ve visited I haven’t known what would greet me. Everything was an unknown. But each time I have been most struck by humanity and kindness. Circumnavigating the globe I have again and again been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. A cliche for a reason, I am now on the final leg of my journey and have encountered so many people with no reason to be nice to me at all, but time and again people have been so generous.
However, this is far from over and I still have much to say about Bexhill, Sunbeam Farm and Canada. To be continued….
Returning early to New South Wales for my flight on to Canada, I spent my last few days in Bexhill. Spending it in the village with Liz, Denver and Reece made it all the more special and was an opportunity to see Bexhill from another perspective.
Positioned ‘on the edge’ at the border of Bexhill, Cosy Camp farm is the name of a place found only in story books or nursery rhymes. Overlooking idyllic countryside the dairy farm has been in Selwin’s family for several generations. Not for the first time the longevity of a place and a family’s history is described to me in terms of its cow occupancy.
People have been very generous with their time and hospitality and I have come away with new friends and rich resources for further perusal and research when I return to the UK. Books on local history, the school, and also the aboriginal tribes who lived in the area before European settlers ever arrived – and who wisely lived at the top of the hills rather than in the valleys where all the ‘new comers’ settled, and promptly got flooded. These along with family stories and anecdotes I shall keep safe until time allows that I can write and (I hope) do these precious stories justice on my return home.
One of the trips I made with Liz and Reece was to Protesters Falls, Nightcap National Park, just outside of Bexhill (and can be seen from the Open-Air Cathedral). This stunning site was preserved after what was the first organised protest in Australia to protect this beautiful place from the logging industry. The first organised protest and a successful one at that, as the area, now preserved for future generations as a National Park, it seems amazing that it would have ever been under threat. Lismore has seen a variety of incomers over the years, and this is one of the things that makes the area of Lismore and it’s surrounding villages (including Bexhill and Nimbin) such an interesting place. An area predominantly of cedar cutters and dairy farmers since the nineteenth century, the influx of people to multi occupancy residences following the Aquarius festival in 1973, has led to a more diverse population and cultural environment with a rich mix of attitudes and beliefs. It is widely agreed and accepted now that Protesters Falls is an area of beauty that should be preserved and looked after.
I am awoken, however, my first morning in Bexhill to travel to the Bentley site for a sunrise start to support protectors in what is the most recent threat to the local environment. Coal Seam Gas and the fracking industry it seems is the modern day equivalent of the logging industry. Bentley is the site that Metgasco plans to mine for gas with potential detrimental impact on the community and environment surrounding, including Bexhill water supply. Having left the UK not long after protests in West Sussex at Balcome, this becomes a new link that connects us across the world. Community is not so different and nor are local issues or concerns. The current one is CSG and as I write I understand that police involvement is getting ever closer. If Metgasco can be kept from Bentley there is chance that New South Wales can protect itself where Queensland could not, and they will provide hope that once again it is possible to protect the environment in ways that perhaps others can learn from, and which will in the future be seen as a generally good idea. This seems like a much better idea than using unconventional mining techniques that remain untested as to the potential they will have to undermine the foundation of local environment, leaving scars across the landscape, and (as I understand) all for a company to be able to quick freeze their yoghurt. It is possible to find out much more here in this recent local article. I have been particularly struck by the influence of the wonderful Knitting Nannas and local farmers who are taking a stand together and showing that this is not a protest of the ‘extremists’ or the ‘activists’, but a local community coming together to protect the land.
The ‘Lock the Gate’ campaign also has the support of the local Mayor, Jenny Dowell – which also goes to show the strength of community here. During our conversation over tea and custard creams, Jenny shared with me some of the stories and context within which I find Bexhill and Lismore today. The history of the festival, the cedar cutters and the way the community adapts to challenge and new comers was a fascinating insight that helped to put things into a more rounded perspective for me. This was not just a small village with pretty countryside, but something with more depth and contrast that could be easily overlooked on first sight.
I am now leaving Bexhill, New South Wales for Bexhill, Saskatchewan (Canada). Themes of humanity and community have been strong throughout my journey and to have spent more time in this small village has confirmed that our links and connections are far greater than the fact we share a name.
Before leaving Australia I returned to Bexhill, invited to spend a few days with one of the families in the village.
I have a little more to write shortly, but in the mean time, I wanted to say a big thank you to all the lovely people I have met, not all of whom are here (apologies, there are one or two escaped my camera). Everyone has been warm and welcoming, and generous of their time and stories and I have really appreciated and enjoyed you sharing them with me (I hope I can do them justice), thank you:
So nearly 50,000 km of train track and six months of travelling later, and I have arrived at Bexhill, New South Wales. Almost as far away from Bexhill, East Sussex as it is possible to get and yet not as foreign as the distance may dictate.
A small rural community, about forty minutes from the coast of Byron Bay. Sitting on the rail line from Lismore to Byron, the service is long since abandoned (although with some recent glimmer of hope that it may be resurrected as a cycle way and walking track). The train tracks still exist for the most part, although the station at Bexhill has been pulled down. I have spent time meeting with Tom, now living in what was the station masters house, and himself having worked on the railways for 44 years. Growing up his father was ‘in bridges and buildings’ on the railways, so it was only natural for him to continue to spend more time on the tracks as a child, drawn to the fixing and construction of the tracks themselves. Growing up himself, the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ he hails from Lismore, the dodgy side of town he laughs.
I have been welcomed by many in Bexhill, each person with their own story and connection to the village. Stumbling from one kindly soul to the next, across nugget of information and gem of discovery to another. I have visited the general store and it’s custodian and holder of all knowledge, George, who has directed me beautifully and kept me fed with tasty samosas. The ubiquitous Mrs G whose family dates back to original settlers from the UK. I have met Tom and walked the rail lines. I visited the brickworks, escorted by it’s foreman’s son, Col, another well of information and who’s family again have been generous of time and information discovering old maps and intrigue. I’ve met Bob with his wife and heard of their plans to visit Bexhill in the UK, enjoying lovely banana muffin and a nice cup of tea. Living on the Beck’s Hill itself, I had a 4WD ride to the top and marvelled at it’s views. And after many months of planning and several e-mails later, I have met Grant, synonymous with the village, his family having long established roots. Founder of the open air cathedral at Inspiration Point, among many other things Bexhill based, he also showed me around the church and told me stories of how entwined his family has been with Bexhill over the years.
One of the most exciting people to meet, however, was the author of the centenary celebrations of Bexhill. The book from which I have trailed from State library to State library from South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, ordering and studying. No longer actually living in Bexhill, Ian does still attend pizza nights and presented me my very own signed edition of his work (if a bit baffled by my enthusiasm).
A place brings people to it for many different reasons. For some it seemed a nice place to move to in retirement, for others their family is so enmeshed in the place it is without question the locality in which they will forever stay. For others it is simply a place where there is a house.
Another interesting thing I have learned about Bexhill, Australia is that it wasn’t meant to be, certainly not where it is if there at all. When surveyors were surveying and settlers settling, plans were drawn up at the place Bexhill now stands. Finding land with creeks proved to be good land to develop. It gave access to waterways for transporting timber, in what was cedar cutter country. This was to be Lismore. However, after a short while, and approximately 11 kilometres further in land, rivers were found. This was an even better spot. Lismore the first was abandoned and Lismore the second started, leaving what became Bexhill in its wake. Even more intriguing, Bexhill has never been finished. Early plans clearly show a number of roads which were never built. A place that was not meant to be, and that developers either became distracted from or changed their minds about. Either way, these curious tales make Bexhill all the more intriguing for me, something more intangible and ghostly.