About half way to Mildura from here (Castlemaine) there is a town called Wycheproof. It has a significant, if confusing, claim to fame. Here is where you can scale the mighty heights of the worlds smallest (registered) mountain.
“The name is from the Wergaia1 language word witchi-poorp meaning rushes or grass on a hilltop.”2
On one of my journeys to Mildura in 2021 we passed through Wycheproof and stopped for a loo break and some shopping. We had just heard that Castlemaine was in the middle of a huge covid outbreak and felt it was better to stock up before we got back home. It felt very strange to be going home, but going into danger, it was a contradiction.
We pulled off the main road to where the public loos were. At this point in time I had heard about a development that was looking to get EV charging stations set up in towns between Mildura and Castlemaine, but I didn’t realise that they had been built! I was so excited to see them sitting there, next to a gorgeous green park (with public loos), right near the main road and shops. So pretty, so convenient.
Seeing these prompted me to contact Rob Law from the CVGA (who were coordinating it all) which lead to the episode Charging The Regions in which you can hear all about this. He told me that it would have been only a couple of days old when we were there.
So, anyway, I jumped out of the car and took a photo (above) and walked around as smugly as if I had an EV to charge or had built the charging infrastructure myself. I was so happy to see it there.
This was the future. This was our rural and regional towns starting to decouple from fossil fuels. This was exciting!
Now, let me give you a bit more context about this town.
The town was established in 1876 but the area had been farmed by white folk for 30 years before that, since 1846… Sadly, even though it’s name is indigenous, I couldn’t find much about what happened to the indigenous population.3
It has one main street called the Boulevard. There is a long row of shops and the two lanes of traffic are the highway that links Melbourne to Mildura, there is no ring road or bypass. Not only that but the train line runs along the main street between the two sides of the road. It is so crazy. There are massive freight trucks, local cars and long distance travellers all trundling along the same street as the train. Long, long, multi-carriage freight trains clatter through the town at strange hours.
“Since 1883 and the extension of the Kulwin railway line to Wycheproof, trains and the rhythm of the railway have been significant to the fabric of the town and community.”2
Off the main road they also have a hospital, a school and various sports grounds… and the world’s smallest mountain.
We did our shopping at the local IGA supermarket and it was one of those small town ones where the bottle shop is just an alcove to the left of the register, the isles are kind of tight, it isn’t blindingly bright, the things you don’t expect to be next to each other are, and there is only one or two brands to choose from, if you are lucky enough to have a choice at all. Shops like that must serve their local community first and foremost and then, if there is shelf space, maybe cater to the many who must pass through every day. Totally fair, if you ask me.
So why am I telling you all of this?
Something about this town and its EV charging station stuck with me long after we had left, driven through other towns without even a glance, gotten home, unpacked and even six months later, here I am writing about it. Something stuck… and it is this:
We face an immensely uncertain future. Climate change is coming and everyone, even the small towns of the world, need to get cracking and do something about it.
This is a frightening prospect and sometimes when we say things like ‘everything needs to change’ people imagine we mean that everyone has to ride a pushbike now, and use candles at night instead of flip a light switch. Some people absolutely embrace this idea and are wholeheartedly looking backwards in time for ideas on how to live. Other people hate this idea and look to a high tech future to ‘fix’ everything. Most people, I think, just feel confused, overwhelmed and weary.
The backwards lookers are those who want to return to some variation of what humans used to do before we got so fancy – mud brick houses, bicycles, growing food, baking your own bread, bottling and spinning and mending. In this mindset local economies are everything, that is; local food systems, local energy production, local waste management. I LOVE all of those things, and I love and respect so many people who are faithfully, curiously and courageously walking those paths.
The forward lookers are those who are seeking the next great tech advancement and are often pioneers or early adopters of said tech. This had lead to solar panels, wind turbines, LED lights, advances in battery functionality that will allow for renewable energy to succeed and has allowed for EVs to take off around the world. This stuff is so important. This mindset is often less local in focus and more global, looking to see what companies in the US, Europe and Asia are creating, developing and producing.
I think we all know it has to be a mix of each of these camps. And somehow Wycheproof crystallised in my mind as a beautiful, wholesome example of this balance of opposites, this paradox.
Wycheproof is being both things at once and it isn’t loosing it’s personality in the process.
We need to allow for the old to remain itself, for places to retain identity and people to still feel at home. But we need some things to change, not everything, but some really strategic and fundamental things. We need to allow for new technology to integrate and infiltrate, but not dominate. We don’t want our small towns to become shiny, modern, tech-everything towns. But LEDs in the street lights, renewable energy, circular economy, and EV charging? Yes, please. We need to allow some systems to fundamentally change (petrol cars and fossil fuel reliance generally) but the functionality to remain (people can still get around).
The EV charging station is all of this paradox in one. The technology and the manufacture are from far, far away but it allows for this local collaboration of councils to step their communities up to the future of transport. The renewable energy is also obtained through a local council collective purchase, a good old fashioned bulk buy, but relies on wind farms on the coast and modern technology to create those wind farms.
And all of this with the smallest mountain in the world sitting quietly in the background, barely visible from the road. That mountain and the all of the plant and animal life that exists around it are what is oldest. The indigenous ways of knowing, that is oldest. We should always be looking that far back, and around us in the present and far into the future.
So, the Wycheproof Method, as I’ve been calling it, is to not only accept two contradictory things at once, but embrace and even perhaps seek them. The world’s smallest mountain. Going home and heading into danger. Local and international. Aboriginal land, an historic town, electric vehicle chargers.
p.s. Did you know that the world’s smallest mountain also has a unique mineral? It is called Wycheproofite.
Image Description: two car parking spaces, painted green and signed: “electric vehicle only”. A lush green park can be seen behind the electric car charging station.
- I have also linked the name Wergaia which I really hope you will follow to read about the First People’s of this region. Understanding Australia’s indigenous and colonial history is so important. Every time I read about white settlers coming onto Country and seeing only it’s value for development even as they learn about indigenous knowledge systems like astrology and see the abundance of the land as managed by the aboriginal people… it just makes me so profoundly sad.
- Quote from the shire website.
- I couldn’t find much after a basic google search. The Wergaia were a large group of clans that spanned a huge distance across what is now known as Victoria. There will be many, many stories about what happened to them all – and many, many stories lost. We all know that not many of those stories would be anything but heartbreaking, right?