Voyage of discovery in Shepp

By Shepparton News

As far back as I can cast my memory, I remember Shepparton.

I was never here long, a weekend stay or a school holiday soiree was all I ever had.

When I arrived here for an internship at The News, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d find here.

I’d come and gone with the wind for the past 15 years, and now I found myself wondering how I would catch wind of stories.

I had to be spoon-fed stories every morning, given something to chase or else I’d end up running in circles all the way down the Twitter rabbit hole.

Finally, the fateful day came when the spoon was licked clean, and #Shepparton wasn’t offering anything but locals musing about their breakfast muesli.

I wasn’t at the end of my tether so much as I didn’t have any rope to begin with.

So out onto the streets I went, with a couple of hot tips about where people might be hanging out in the middle of the day on a Thursday, and an instruction to listen to whatever people had to tell me.

People were friendly, as they tend to be in Shepparton, but suspicious.

‘‘Slow news day?’’ asked one lady.

After an hour, I still had no good stories.

Hell, I didn’t even have any bad stories.

I ended cradling my ego on the sidewalk, feeling more than a little deflated by the whole experience.

Just as I was about to send an SOS to the office for a pick-up, I noticed a stranger trying to make eye contact with me.

With a thick accent he asked me where he could find the library.

If I hadn’t walked past it a few minutes prior I probably wouldn’t have even have known which direction to point him in.

But, I had some time so I walked him over.

Afterwards we sat down on a bench in front of the war memorial — the only dry seat we could find after a spot of rain.

Before he had even told me his name he pulled a packet of cigarettes out of his inside jacket pocket and offered me one.

His name was Nakuta, he came from Fiji to visit his sister.

He joined the army in 1986, and returned from his most recent posting in Lebanon just six months ago.

He worked in private security in Iraq, and he was thinking about signing another security contract in the Middle East.

But he wanted to move his family to Australia first.

He thought his son, an avid rugby player, should finish school here.

His wife, well, he wasn’t sure if she’ll want to leave her business in Suva.

He must have smoked half a pack by the time he finished telling me about how his fellow soldiers sold and drank the kava they smuggled into Beirut.

He also told me about how it really felt in Iraq’s red zones, and how the war memorial right here in Shepparton reminded him of it all.

You never know who you’ll meet in Shepparton.

I certainly didn’t.

Alex Linton is an undergraduate studying journalism at RMIT. He has just completed a three-week internship at The News.