Gone are the days of libraries being stuffy, silent book repositories. Today’s libraries, especially in rural and regional Australia, are vibrant community hubs.

Story Amanda Burdon  Photo Chloe Jarman

Her affection for Cunnamulla Library was writ large the day Beryl Walk was laid to rest in the western Queensland town last November. She’d attended Bingo there, as she did every Thursday, before collapsing 2 days shy of her 88th birthday. Buther family knew the kind of farewell Beryl wanted: the cortege left from her home of 56 years and passed by the library on its way to her funeral service. And Beryl’s dear friend, the town’s librarian of 12 years Tammy Hickey, was invited to join the motorcade and deliver a library eulogy.

“Beryl’s family understood that the library was at the centre of her life,” Tammy says. “We erected a sign for her out front and tied flowers to the railings, where library staff formed a guard of honour. Beryl relied on the library for much of her social interaction.”

Her story is not an isolated one. Jane Pike travels in from Eulo each fortnight for Bingo and computer lessons. “The activity is only part of it,” she says. “It’s the company, the humour, the news you get and the friendship. It’s where we learn what’s going on.” Newly retired Cunnamulla businessman Kenny ‘Karver’ Maddox also looks forward to the weekly tech lessons. “I now know how to send messages and jokes to my mates, but I love the company more than anything,” he says. “I don’t know what Cunnamulla would do without Tammy.”

From its early childhood literacy program to coding for teenagers, robotic cat Felix’s visits to aged care patients, Bingo and the weekly seniors’ morning tea, Cunnamulla Library is something of a one-stop shop. “We try to target every age group,” Tammy says. “Many kids don’t have computers at home, so they come in to use ours. The multi-touch hub and virtual reality goggles are popular and our good behaviour project encourages school attendance. When they achieve 85% for the year, we celebrate with glamour photographs. I got teary when some of the elders asked me to write up their stories, and I’m planning an Adopt-A-Grandparent project for those who don’t have family in town.”

Cunnamulla Library visitations average 1,000–1,500 a month and locals flock to its spring fair and Christmas parties. “Tammy is very passionate and always looking for new innovations to ensure that no person is left behind,” Cunnamulla Shire CEO Cassie White says. “That ensures the library is forever evolving.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #154

Outback Magazine: April/May 2024