THE once bustling centre of commerce is refusing to give up, writes SANDRA GODWIN
Pride will keep small towns such as Culgoa alive, according to the mayor of Buloke Shire.
Reid Mather might be biased - he went to school there and farms nearby - but he's convinced there is a bright future for Culgoa.
This is despite the continuing loss of people and services from the once-thriving town.
Originally gazetted Kaneira in 1892, it was renamed Culgoa in 1920.
In its day, Culgoa was a bustling centre of commerce, boasting a three-room hospital, a resident doctor, a railway station, post office, school, butcher, baker, blacksmith, saddler's shop, two general stores, three greengrocers, two garages, two stock agents and two golf courses.
Then the rural-urban population drift began to gain momentum as farms grew bigger, roads improved and mechanisation meant fewer labourers were required.
The Culgoa and Berriwillock football clubs merged in 1975 and merged again in 2002 with Sea Lake-Nandaly to form the Sea Lake-Nandaly Tigers.
The community united in 2003 to establish a co-operative store offering a rural transaction centre, newsagency, grocery store and post office, which remains in a precarious financial position.
The Catholic Church holds weekly services, but the Uniting Church offers them only once a month.
Last month the Culgoa branch of the Country Women's Association closed.
And the future of the historic two-storey red-brick Kaneira Hotel is under a cloud since the death of popular publican Trevor Wright.
Despite changes over the years, which Mr Mather says are neither good nor bad, "the town has a vibrant heart".
"You've only got to go around to the other small towns and often the smaller the town the harder they fight," he said. "I don't think for one moment that Culgoa will fade away. I think Culgoa people are very proud of being Culgoa people."
Mr Mather certainly is. The second of three generations to attend school at Culgoa, he recalls enrolments were about 90 or 100 children. This fell to eight by the time the school closed in 2008 after 113 years.
"Since the school's closed, economically things are better than they were," he said.
"The reality is machinery gets bigger and it's been this way since the land was settled.
"People are slowly taking over more and more land in all sorts of different forms. It certainly doesn't mean the economics has gone, but when you have less people there, the economies of scale for businesses to stay there diminish. It also puts an extra strain on the volunteers we need to make the fabric of these small towns."
At the 2006 census, the population of Culgoa was 101.
Changes to the collection of statistics have made it impossible to tell how many people live there now.
Longtime resident and former CWA branch president Val Sewell estimates as many as 70 people have left or died in the past nine years.
But people have also moved into the area, including Sue and Robert Ince who left Kilsyth five years ago.
Mrs Ince is a partner with her sister, Wendy Hall, in one of Main St's bright spots: Culgoa Scarecrows Etcetera, which is a treasure trove of giftware and collectables.
"We've sold a few scarecrows to the locals for their gardens and people from away have pulled in and bought some, it's been fun," she said.
"We love the way of life, we've met some lovely people coming in here and having a look around."
Demographer Bernard Salt said the Australian Bureau of Statistics considered towns with a population of less than 200 as a farming locality, rather than "urban local centres".
"Most people who live in the district would still relate to the town, so it's technical and doesn't impact the town practically," he said.
"A functioning town requires a post office, church, general store and petrol, school, bank branch and pub."
Mr Salt said Culgoa's location, on the Calder Highway midway between Sea Lake and Wycheproof, meant some of its services were kept afloat by passing traffic.
"For small towns in the wheatbelt that are off the beaten track, not on a road to anywhere particular, they're the ones that are at risk of falling apart," he said.
"This is not an unusual pattern - you find it right across the midwest in the US and in the prairie provinces of Canada, in the Wimmera, Mallee, Riverina, Eyre Peninsula and upper and lower Great Southern regions of WA.
"It especially applies in areas where there has been soldier settlement programs.
"Over decades, it's really death by a thousand cuts.
"There does come a point where you have to concede there was a requirement for a town in this area, probably from 1920 to 1990, but it's no longer required because farming practices have changed.
"Really, urban development and new town creation has popped up in other areas, such as the Pilbara or the Gold Coast."