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Neoliberalism through a dreamcatcher: five signs your town has gentrified | Brigid Delaney

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Yoga classes instead of football clubs, cool cafes instead of fast food, shops selling beautiful, useless stuff. In country towns, those who control the economy control the culture

A few years ago I lived in a country town of some 3,000 people that had four award-winning restaurants and at least a dozen coffee shops but nowhere to buy light bulbs or milk after midday on a Saturday.

The town proudly boasted it didnt have McDonalds or pokie machines, but in the locals pub (a place that seemed deliberately ugly in order to repel the yuppie couples who come down for long weekends) they would complain that they had to drive 30km to get their KFC fix.

The locals those who count their residence in a town by the generations not the years arent always happy that there are multiple restaurants that offer degustation menus. They would rather an Aldi or a McDonalds than pay $100 to eat teeny-tiny carrots on a dehydrated piece of woodland mushroom.

But its not just the restaurants. The gentrifiers are pushing house prices up so that the young people who grew up in the town cant afford to live there. Good coffee is no consolation.

There are at least a dozen culture wars being fought in Australia at any one time, but the ground-level skirmishes where it gets personal are those being fought in areas that are being gentrified.

Australias cute country towns many within cooee of the city are the battlegrounds. We all know the ones. The towns filled with stone cottages and historic courthouses and the facade of a blacksmiths workshop. These towns languish for decades, undisturbed by development as the main industries slowly die.

The rot sets in. But then people come in from the city driven out by high prices in Melbourne and Sydney, or seeking a weekender. They are thrilled to discover these divine, intact little villages where, say, an 1860s miners cottage with an established garden can be bought for the price of one of those coffin-like apartments in the city.

The gentrifiers bring energy to the regions and more importantly money. But the money comes with strings attached.

And as has been proven time and time again, those who control the economy control the values and culture of a place or at least its aesthetics.

The dominant aesthetic of the gentrifying class might be described as neoliberalism through a dreamcatcher yoga classes instead of football clubs, cool cafes instead of Dominos pizza, homewares shops instead of the Reject Shop.

This specific aesthetic and value system signifies class and taste and so for example might deem fast food as bad, and veganism as good. Or farmers markets as great but commercial supermarkets as a scourge.

So what does gentrification look like on the ground in our country towns?

Shops selling beautiful, useless stuff

You cannot buy a pair of socks or a spanner in your town, but there are four shops in the main street selling $120 throw cushions. The shops are often housed in the facade of old shops. So you can go into a shop called General Store where only very specific items are sold like leather ottomans. And leather ottomans only.

Unusual yoga classes

Your village not only offers hot yoga, but niche offerings such as yoga accompanied by intuitive harp or yoga classes that only play the music of Tupac Shakur.

Newspapers

The local newspaper has folded. But in good news, the newsagent air freights Vanity Fair and stocks the Saturday Paper.

When the meat in sausage rolls changes

At the bakery a $3 pie used to be delicious but take off the lid and the meat is a sort of grey paste. Now the bakery has shut down, replaced by a shop selling similar products but at a 300% markup. The good news? In pies the meat is now recognisable as meat. In addition to real meat, the pies now also contain tofu, pumpkin and tarragon, while the sausage rolls come in flavours such as spring lamb and rosemary.

Performative farming

There are no real farmers anymore but a load of people walking around dressed as farmers, in flannel, beards with hay in them, cardigans and work boots. Highly prized is ownership of pre-industrial farming machinery like scythes. These pretend farmers can often be found at farmers markets drinking turmeric lattes.

The gentrifiers often move to the country not because of cheap houses (they would not be so gauche as to admit to that) but because the extra space means they can plant their own vegetable garden. The gentrifiers Facebook and Instagram their vege patch the way others document the growth of their children.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/24/neoliberalism-through-a-dream-catcher-five-signs-your-town-has-gentrified

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