“Would you like some more milk in that tea, dears?” she asked, her voice laced with sugar, hobbling ever so slowly towards us, hands trembling as she balanced two cups in their saucers. “No, that’s quite all right, thanks,” I hastily jumped up to take the cups from her. “So where you two from?” she asked, as she settled down in her chair. I gulped. How were we supposed to tell this kindly lady from the 1900s, sitting across us in her pouter pigeon blouse and trumpet skirt about the bustling modern city of Mumbai, India. Maybe she did know, after all as an early Australian settler, she’d already travelled a long way to get to Old Tailem Town, hadn’t she?
This is a story about time travel, but no, it isn’t a sci-fi fiction piece. This, happened. There we were, minding our own business, singing along to our Australia Road Trip playlist, driving towards the tiny town of Keith, on our way from the Great Ocean Road towards the Barossa Valley, when suddenly, the barren landscape was peppered with bright signboards. “Visit Australia’s Oldest and Largest Pioneer Town” they screamed. We looked at each other, at our watches, and shrugged. We’ve got time, let’s take a gander.
Welcome to Old Tailem Town
We pulled into the deserted driveway of Old Tailem Town. We’d definitely landed in some sort of ghost town. There were rows of rusty pick-ups, trucks and even railway carriages all over, a tiny shop in front of us, and not a soul in sight. We stepped into the store, gingerly, and stopped in our tracks at what we saw inside. A group of four elderly men and women around a table, who had been talking in hushed tones stopped, and stared at us. A warm welcome, ticket and printed handout of a map later, we’d been let through the back door into 1900. Into a real settler’s town. Peter, the owner, has over the years amassed a staggering 110 buildings and placed them across 20 acres of his property. That probably meant transporting some of them as is, or dismantling, transporting and then assembling them all over again. I can’t imagine the sort of passion it would take to support a “hobby” like this.
Walking in, we realised we wouldn’t have the time to see all of it, so we scanned the map, choosing the streets that seemed to have the most interesting buildings. Pretty soon we realised, everything around was curious and intriguing. We walked around, looking at buildings and rooms laid out as if they’d just frozen one fine day, and remained like that ever since. The butcher’s, the drafting office, the church, the beauty parlour, the mechanic’s garage, a boat-maker’s workshop, the bank, the grocer’s, a movie office lined with posters of unheard films (some incredibly and I’m sure extremely expensive antique film equipment and cameras in here that had Charles transfixed and wondering if he should settle down here) and loads of other shops. Through speakers installed here and there, we heard the old ditty that would have once been sung about this town – “Take me back to Tailem Bend, where the river’s flowin, where the air is fresh n clear and the willow trees are growin’…”
After dragging ourselves away, we sat in the shop, for a quick chat and some tea with the lady who I presume was a relative of the owner, Peter. Later, we also discovered that this place is on the map as one of Australia’s most haunted regions, and has ghost tours that run nights. Now we’re cynics, but we’re still glad nothing drifted past or touched us. We recently wrote Reasons to take a road trip through Australia, and this is one of them. You never know what you’ll chance upon, and it’s incredible what you may discover. We’re so thrilled we found Old Tailem Town, and hope you get a chance to see it for yourself someday.
Old Tailem Town is on the South Eastern Freeway 5km north of Tailem Bend and approximately 90kms from Adelaide. Open 10 am- 5 pm daily and the admission fee is nominal.