Cittaslow Goolwa: Life in the slow lane


From the Spanish steps in Rome to the South Australian river port town of Goolwa, people are learning to appreciate living at a more relaxed pace.

It’s the kind of day that makes you want to be outside, surrounded by greenery, blue sky stretching out above you. At the Goolwa Community Garden, there are plenty of tasks to complete, and lots of hands to help.

There are no leaders — everyone pitches in as instructions are called out every so often by someone who spots a chore that needs to be done.

Today, pruning, watering and planting are on the list, but there’s time to stop for a break when the call for morning tea comes.

Some of the volunteers are long-time residents of Goolwa, but many are not. The garden is a way for them to connect to a community that hasn’t always been theirs.

Angela Nesci, a former social worker, has been part of the garden for as long as she’s lived in the town — nearly three years. “I feel like I’ve landed on my feet. It’s everything that’s important to me; community, environment and food. It’s all here,” Angela says.

The benefits of gardening are well-known, but those benefits double when you throw into the mix a sense of belonging.

Most importantly, what the group gives each member is the ability to slow down. The opportunity to appreciate the process of planting something in the earth, watering and nourishing it and gradually seeing it come to life.

They also have the chance to take a breath. Listen to the birds in the trees, feel the soil in their hands and admire the literal fruits of their labours.

Everyone has a different background and story to tell, but the thread that runs between each of them is Cittaslow — they are all members of the organisation that promotes better living.

The movement swept through Goolwa at a time it was needed most. It was the early 2000s and the drought had taken its toll on the river and the town. Resident Lyn Clark led a small group who were looking for a community model they could transfer to their town to lift spirits. She heard about a movement that was sweeping across Europe: Cittaslow — literally “slow city”.

The idea was born in Italy, a country that famously revels in the slowness of life, when protests were made about a McDonald’s proposed at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. In the end, the fast food chain won and to this day still stands, but it prompted a re-think of the way people were living their lives.

The Mayor of Greve in Tuscany organised a meeting to develop a charter that would promote the traditional ways of growing, preparing and enjoying food; a way of life that doesn’t appear over the counter in two minutes.