Helen Proud was one of the first people I met when we arrived in Dorrigo, fresh out of the city and quite ignorant of everything about living in a country town. She was the first of many locals who made us feel so very welcome. As I got to know her I realised what an amazing person she is, and also while her experience is quite unique, there are plenty of others like her who push the boundaries in the wider world. This is her story of leaving Dorrigo and heading for another small community and a new life.
Having come to Dorrigo to find some peace, some rainforest and the possibility of setting up a little home-based business some 17 years ago, and having just returned from an 18-month backpacking trip to some 50 countries – I started backpacking at age 50 – I was in for some major life changes.
Did I find Dorrigo, or did Dorrigo find me I often asked myself. I got in my car at Sydney and kept driving north till I found the place that fitted the above three criteria. On a quiet road 6 km from town on the way to the Never Never picnic area, enticed by a tunnel of rainforest trees, I found a little two-storied cottage overlooking a peaceful valley of grazing cattle flanked by the forested Dome Mountain. The cottage proved perfect for a Bed and Breakfast and in ten weeks I had my first customers.
That was then. Now I am 17 years older, and having had many thousands of people bedded and breakfasted in that little home which expanded, was repainted twice, and the place where I wrote my book, started my university course, shared meals with friends, had family visits and where I happily became part of a vibrant, inclusive community, I realised it was time to move on.
Breaking the chains of community life was a challenge but the call of grandmothering, supporting my own family as they take up the struggle of early family life, was a shift in the mind and heart as well as packing up the old life.
I’ve made a new life now in the foothills of the Barrington Tops – another world heritage rainforest area, this time 20 km from the nearest town and closer to my children and grandchildren. But how much do I feel I have “left” Dorrigo. All that I was involved in, the many friends who enriched my life, the myriad of walks with my dogs, the hikes in the National Parks, picnics and swims in the plateau’s rivers and waterfalls, are as close as my brain! I remember it daily as I take up the challenges of a new home and garden, new friends to make, new possibilities to further expand my life as I look to turning 70 next year. But if I am honest, Dorrigo is in me, always will be and what I gained in Dorrigo as a human being I bring with me and give to this next life.
The journey of life for us in this very lucky country is a thing to be treasured as long as we walk carefully to preserve it. With an ever-increasing number of countries in the world descending into chaos I hope none of the horrific scenes of disruption, killing, fear, hunger and oppression ever touches our shores. I hope to choose a wise path as I make my journey, however long or short it may be from now.