Small towns are renowned for being friendly, but when representatives of the townsfolk of Tallangatta gathered in the Memorial Hall for a discussion on ways of improving the town, just before Christmas in 2013, they felt the welcome could be a bit better planned.
Recognising the challenge for newcomers of finding networks and establishing a new life in a small town, Carmyl Winkler collaborated with some other community members to create a welcome pack, which could be distributed to new residents.
Coordinated and printed with the help of the local health service, the pack contains information about community activities, contact details for services within the town, a map, a little bit of local history and a coffee voucher sponsored by a local church.
Creating the pack was the easy part, but tracking down new residents proves difficult, even in a town of just under 1,000.
“Nobody is allowed to tell you when someone new comes to town, because of privacy legislation,” Carmyl says.
“The Shire, Police, Schools and other groups all get some indication when there is a new resident, but they can’t pass on any information and they aren’t resourced to hand out the pack, so we had to find other ways.
“It’s really important to not just get the pack, but also to see someone arrive at your doorstep in person – so you can see the town is providing a genuine welcome.
“Most people have loved it, and there has been lots of positive feedback. Sometimes people are a bit doubtful about answering the door, but they can read ‘Welcome to Tallangatta’ on the front of the pack and that usually helps them to understand pretty quickly why I have arrived on their doorstep.”
To overcome the privacy issue, Carmyl has a network of scouts across the town who let her know if someone moves into a house in their area, and she keeps a close eye out when the ‘For Sale’ signs come down.
“I very rarely go into someone’s house. Mostly the visit is about saying welcome and handing over the pack,” Carmyl says.
“Even if I have to go back three or four times, I try to see them in person, just so they can meet someone local. Sometimes I ask if they are a singer, or do they cook, or do they want to join a group, when we have special activities coming up that people might be interested in, but the most common response is that people really love that we are shouting them a coffee.”
Effa, who recently moved to the town, was astonished when Carmyl arrived and started communicating with her in her native tongue.
“We used to live in Tamworth, but I was very lonely at times and I didn’t have many friends,” Effa says.
“When we moved to Tallangatta, within a month Carmyl comes to me and started talking to me in my language and I was amazed. We call people like Carmyl a wisdom lady and I thought who is this wisdom lady who knows my language?
“From that day everything changed when I came to the town, and I love it here and have found some great friends. Carmyl has brought us together.”
Carmyl has meticulously logged the details of 118 welcome packs handed out over the years and is about to reprint more packs, with the help of the health service.
“It’s an ongoing project and while it would be nice if there was an easy way to find out who is newly-arrived in town, we’re happy to just be able to welcome whoever we can,” Carmyl says.
“There have been lots of occasions where it has connected new people to the town much more quickly and they seem to settle in better. If we are to keep attracting people to town, it is really important to make those who do choose Tallangatta feel like they belong, so they want to stay and be part of the community.”