Travel

We Talked to One of the Three Residents of Australia's Smallest Town

I called Cooladdi's only listed phone number and talked to Roxanne Muller, who is part of the family that makes up 100 percent of the tiny town.

by Emma Do
Apr 20 2015, 7:00pm

From left to right: Laurel Seymour-Smith (gran), Christie Muller, Roxanne Muller, Gavin Muller.

Australia's smallest town boasts a total population of three. Somewhere in the endless farmland of central Queensland, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) inland from Brisbane, sits the remote township of Cooladdi. One does not simply walk into the bush, put up a sign, and call the surrounding area a town, but Cooladdi is able to qualify as one because its general store sells enough products for the town to retain its original postcode. During its peak as a railway town in the early 20th century, Cooladdi was home to 270 people. But the last train left long ago, taking almost all of the residents with it.

Only a few stayed, and the general store—now also a restaurant, motel, pub, and post office called the Fox Trap—was subsequently passed through a number of hands before it reached Cooladdi's current inhabitants. The Fox Trap is now run by a family of three who have no qualms about spending 365 days of the year together. To be fair, the Muller family do socialize with tourists and other Queenslanders passing through town. But life at the Fox Trap is mostly pretty simple: There's one landline and no mobile reception—just a great expanse of land.

I called up Cooladdi's single listed phone number and reached Roxanne Muller, one of the three residents keeping the town alive. The other two are her husband, Gavin, and her mother, Laurel Seymour-Smith. Roxanne told me she can't stay on the line for too long (she has a shop to run), but we ended up chatting for a good 40 minutes about life in the middle of nowhere. Hearing Roxanne speak, you get the sense the isolation has only served to bring the family closer together. The strength of their family unit would be unsettling if it wasn't so heartwarming.

VICE: What made you pack up and move to Cooladdi?
Roxanne Muller: My husband wanted to move out this way because he reckons it's God's country. We moved from Moura, which has a population of around 2,000.

You work seven days a week with your family. Do you ever want to take a holiday or go away somewhere?
To tell you the truth, it doesn't worry me to go on a holiday. It sounds crazy but I'm a person who has never wanted anything. I just love spending time with my family. My ambition in life was to see my children grow up enough to support and take care of themselves. I never drank, I never smoked, I raised my children, gave them nothing but the best.

That's really beautiful.
Holidays and that material stuff doesn't matter at all. Money doesn't worry me. You can't take it with you. You just take things as they come day by day and thank the Lord, not that I'm Christian, but thank God I'm alive and I can breathe air. There's always someone out there that's got it worse than me. I'm just lucky I've got healthy children and they've got children who are going to have children of their own.

Do you and your husband have romantic nights or days off to spend time with just each other?
No not really, not since we've been here. My husband does a lot of holidays by himself. I go kangaroo shooting with my husband a few nights a week.

What do you do with a kangaroo once you've shot it?
My husband has to dress it out properly for human consumption then put it in a cold room and then every week it gets transported to a factory. I don't eat it. It goes to Brisbane and then they do the processing of it from there.

What would you say is the best thing about living in Cooladdi?
Quietness, laidback lifestyle. It's stress-free. It's probably done my health really good, moving from where I was to here.

And the worst?
The worst is probably that you have to travel a long way to see a specialist. My husband has to see three next week and we have to travel all the way to Brisbane. And mobile reception coverage—there's none here. Also internet and TV are all satellite. I've had no internet service for four weeks. People don't realize how lucky they are in the city. Here's it's not cheap and if someone has an accident and there's no mobile coverage they can die.

What do you do if there is an emergency?
The nearest police station is 88 kilometers from here. If we got held up or something you'd try and do as best as you do like city people. Try and prevent it from happening. If we get sick or someone gets hurt, you can ring the doctor and ask for a consultation over the phone. So if it's an emergency, the doctor on the other end will guide me through. If somebody needs help quick then they'll probably get a helicopter out here in a hurry.

How does gossip spread in a town of three?
Just from people passing through. It's funny, everyone knew my children, saying, "Oh yeah, I saw Christie at a party on the weekend," you know. It's like neighborhood watch. Kids then think they can't step outside the boundaries because they know they'll get caught. There's always someone out there that'll dob you in.

Do you think you'll stay in Cooladdi for the rest of your life?
I'd like to stay here but it's up to my husband. I just go with the flow. My kids hope we keep the business until we die.

Christie Muller outside the Fox Trap.

Cooladdi was a town of four up until very recently, when Roxanne's 20-year-old daughter Christie moved out to Quilpie, a nearby town of 574 (according to the 2011 census). Christie is now living and working in Quilpie but makes regular trips back to the Fox Trap to visit her family.

One thing that stuck out to me was how strange it would be for a teenager living here. Hanging out with your parents every Friday night seems like adolescent hell. I called up Christie to see if her memories were as warm as her mum's.

Hey Christie, how long did you live in Cooladdi for?
Christie Muller: Four years, from year ten to year 12.

How did you feel when your family bought the place and they told you you'd be moving to a town where no one else lived?
It didn't bother me because I'm a country person. I did have to drive about 35 kilometers down the road to the bus stop to catch the bus to school [in Charleville, 100 kilometers away] but I enjoyed living there and I still go out there.

Did you ever get sick of seeing your family?
No. We'd do different things like go pigging and shooting with my dad.

What's pigging?
We had dogs and there's wild pigs and you chase them. Then we sell the pigs which go on to be made pet food and things like that.

What else did you do for fun in Cooladdi?
Go fishing, horse riding, camping. We had little camp ovens out the back and we'd make a little fire and that and do a camp oven. We had property neighbors that lived around one kilometers away that we'd see sometimes.

When you're a teenager you want to do things like date, hang out with friends, party. Was it possible to do that when you were living in Cooladdi?
Yeah, I had a boyfriend from school when I was living there and he'd come out to the Fox Trap on the school bus.

What did you guys do on your dates?
Go pigging. Pretty much everyone out this way does it. We'd do clay targets as well—these targets that get flown out of a machine and you have a gun to shoot them.

What was your favorite thing about living in Cooladdi?
The isolation, no phone service, peace and quiet. You don't have to worry about being around anyone else because it's only your family. You can do your own thing. Kind of, like, you can't do what you want, but you can, if that makes sense.

It's relaxing living there. When I'm in the city, I miss the freedom of being in a small town, being secure and not having any traffic. I don't think I'd ever be able to live in a city like Brisbane.

Having gone to big cities, do you feel like you missed out on any experiences living in Cooladdi then?
No, not at all.

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