When someone asks me where I come from, I always reply: “I come from a small town in the North-West of France”. I usually pause and then add: “but nowhere near as small as Margaret River!”.
As a young woman, I was so eager to leave my small town.
I found it did not offer sufficient opportunities. I needed novelty. It was always the same people, the same places.
I thought living in the same place my whole life meant failing to be open-minded.
Although my grandparents lived overseas, we had many aunts and uncles around us.
I went to a relatively small school, which had a strong family and community feel.
But I wanted more. I wanted more of something but really, I was missing the point.
Later, although I lived in Paris, I was always lucky enough to live meters away from my workplaces, meaning I could enjoy the “vie de quartier”.
A “quartier” is made of a few streets.
A few streets where everyone knows each other.
Familiarity started feeling comfortable. I had escaped small for large, only to recreate the same local feels.
However, what large towns were offering was a possible escape, at any moment in time.
Sometimes, when anonymity and privacy was needed, all you had to do was catch the subway and escape to the next suburb.
This had its perks, particularly in health and help seeking.
Three years ago, my little family moved to Margaret River, which happens to be my partner’s hometown.
Despite Margaret river’s top-notch reputation as far as community life goes, I initially felt very bitter to be here.
It took a while for me to feel comfortable, because, while I had found that Perthian and Parisian experiences ticked all the boxes I needed – familiarity, comfort and possible escape – the latter could not easily be offered by Margaret River.
Now, and many of you will relate, a trip to the local supermarket turns into a succession of encounters with friends, family members, or other familiar faces.
I absolutely love these random interactions.
They make me feel at home.
Walking down the street and recognising local faces, store owners or workers or neighbours, has never felt more important to me than now that I am far away from family and long-time friends.
Wherever I go, I know I will see someone I know and these daily interactions undoubtedly fill my cup.
They make me feel at home.
The Margaret River community is tight.
Tight like I have never witnessed before.
The acts of solidarity are overwhelming and truly beautiful.
We have seen such acts of kindness and support during a number of difficult events this year. When a tragedy occurs, the community rallies to assist and take over the logistics for the affected families.
Sometimes privacy can be challenging in such a tight community, where everyone knows everyone.
Supermarket runs can become tricky when we are in a rush, or simply not having a good day.
But most importantly, what happens when privacy is needed in other critical areas of life?
When someone feels like they do not wish for something to be known.
Of course, health professionals are bound to respect confidentiality, but how many times have you sat in the waiting room at a GP practice and seen someone you knew?
Does being in a small community affect your likelihood of reaching out for help or joining a support group?
It might feel hard to talk about some difficult topics without the fear of being judged by others who may know you or your family and friends.
Sometimes venturing outside of your community for help might feel more comfortable and increase your confidence to disclose information and ask for help.
I think there are benefits of both options and one should do whatever works best for them!
As a young woman, I was missing the point of living in a small community, but now I see the benefits and I hope others can too.
A small community may sometimes lack anonymity and privacy, but instead of seeing it as a curse, particularly in help-seeking behaviour, it can be seen as a blessing.
When we experience physical or mental ill health, which most of us do at some point, the community can come together to support and help you heal, whatever your journey is.
Judith Maechler is a French Australian mother of two boys. Dispensing optician by trade, she currently studies for a Bachelor of Psychology and social science while working at a local kids store in the main street.
She is a board member of Mindful Margaret River and actively involved in the women’s wellbeing team, particularly in perinatal mental health support.
MINDFUL Margaret River is an alliance of professionals, agencies and community members working to promote health & wellbeing. It is funded by Lotterywest and supported by the Augusta Margaret River Shire. Find out more at mindfulmargarteriver.org.au and follow us on Facebook.
First published in the Margaret River Mail 23 November 2021