It’s not always easy to express what it’s like to live in a rural town to an outsider. Bowral is one of three major towns located in the Southern Highlands, a catchment area for Sydney Water. Bowral is known for being the birthplace of Donald Bradman, Mary Poppins and the seasonal Tulip Time Festival, which doesn’t last long enough to truly justify the hype.
To those who come from out of town, Bowral may seem to be a quaint, upper class seat of rural suburbia. And they’re not wrong. But beneath the manicured facade of side streets lined with cherry blossoms lies a more sinister side to this country village setting. An underground drug trade blossoms behind schoolyards and in pub bathrooms. Everything from marijuana to PCP to crack cocaine can be bought and sold with no questions asked.
Sadly, this is the fate of most rural towns. Moss Vale is often referred to as “Pill Hill” by many young locals for the alarming number of drugs pushed on the streets. Despite being placed almost equidistant to a number of major cities along a major railway line, steadily rising youth unemployment have driven a majority of teenagers in the local area to attend house parties in the suburbs further from town so they can ‘experiment’ without prejudice.
I attended a party in the outer suburbs while collecting photos for this article, where partway through the night a young man, who we’ll call Sam, attempted to flip from the shed into the garden, resulting in a concussion. A fellow partygoer made the call to emergency services as Sam started to lose consciousness. Later, he confided in me that it wasn’t the first time he’d had to call an ambulance, though the circumstances had been far more severe. Four times before he had seen his mother overdose on drugs, each time with the same crushing sense of helplessness. On the night in question he had been quick to act, but as the adrenaline wore off he steadily grew more shaken over the course of events.
As terrible as these circumstances can be, many are left only with the option to grin and bear it, or worse, to partake in substance abuse themselves. All would agree that it’s worth the cost to spend a night free of anxiety and perpetual boredom, and enjoy being young.