By Deb Cleland
SOLD UP. SOLD OFF. SOLD OUT.
The capital letters are painted on in contrasting white and blue on boarded up doorways to three identical cottage-like structures. Each cottage has an elongated smokestack across the centre of the roof. The stripes on the corrugated iron walls contrast sharply against the cloudless blue sky and dry grass that surrounds them.
The cottages are tobacco kilns but their chimneys are empty of the fragrant smoke of drying leaf. The scene, not live, but a photograph hung on the wall of a holiday rental studio on the main street of Myrtleford, in the Alpine Shire of rural Victoria. It is surrounded by other pictures that hint of the town (and tobacco’s) Italian heritage – approximately 1 in 5 people in the district identify as being of Italian descent.
I wonder how many visitors passing through this room know the story of the Australian tobacco industry and the particular strands of history that led to its closure in October 2006. Clues to its legacy are scattered throughout the area: the photo on my rented wall; an odd metallic commemorative sculpture next to the public toilets visible from my window; the ‘Golden Leaf Motel’ a short walk away, and the aforementioned tobacco kilns at intervals along the roads leading out of town. Some kilns are falling down, others have been repurposed for storage and other uses, including a fairly upmarket cafe along the recently completed bicycle ‘rail trail’. Just recently, a rogue young tobacco plant was spotted by the local vet, Andrew Colson, defiantly growing among pasture. It’s a lonely survivor of the pesticides applied to every legal tobacco field after all the licenses were bought out and cancelled overnight more than ten years ago…
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