Great Eastern Highway is the main arterial road that runs from the city of Perth all of the way out to the famous gold mining town of Kalgoorlie – some 550kms. Midland is the last “big” stop before you hit the Darling Escarpment, the hills, and then out to farming country, before the vegetation thins down and you are at the 1890’s gold rush towns of Kalgoorlie, Boulder and Coolgardie. These were the epicentre of WA’s first mining boom, way back before iron ore was ever dug up and shipped off to China from the state’s North West.
Midland was always the first stop for anyone coming in from the Wheatbelt. That’s why it’s got pretty much everything you need; farm shops, gun shops, food shops, auto dealerships, engineering workshops, plant and equipment, grain silos and cattle sales yards. And with burgeoning suburbs infilling all of the old farmland around the established houses, Midland is a DIYers dream. The Bunnings hardware store can be seen from space, (surely not! – Ed), whilst there is a plethora of garden centres, pet suppliers, soft-furnishings and lighting centres and not one, (yes that’s right folks – two! – Salesman Ed) but two 24/7 fitness centres. The mining boom workers – many of whom have traditionally grown up and lived in the Shire of Swan for many years, can spend up big in Midland these days. And what, with the gentrification of the centre of Midland, and the reacquisition of the railway workshops for funky apartment housing and allied health practices, the place is not the tired old outlier it once was.
Now you would be forgiven for thinking that all of that spending power has dribbled its way through the area. In fact driving past the shiny Nissan, Holden, Ford and Hyundai dealerships you realise that people still actually buy NEW cars! Having never bought a new car I can’t quite fathom why you would spend that much on something that deprecates so quickly. However the gloss of this section of Great Eastern Highway is more like that of a used car – only surface deep.
The past two days of door-knocking in Midland has sobered me up. The boom may have had an effect on Great Eastern Highway’s tilt-panel superstores, but it thins out pretty quickly behind them. The effect is like a movie set for a Western – all street front facades made out of plywood, with nothing substantial behind. Damon and I parked our cars in the Bunnings carpark above (that’s Damo’s smooth ride in the foreground), crossed the highway and started walking up and down Mathoura Street. Immediately a different Midland emerged.
Mathoura Street is a mix of old rundown houses populated by old rundown people, new units populated by new arrivals, and older, tired units well on their way to being run down. Midland can be a blast furnace in summer, but precious few houses have the air conditioners ubiquitous to the well-designed, high-ceilinged coastal McMansions in Perth. Generally the gardens and yards haven’t seen a lot of Bunnings products lately either. Weeds abound. Grass is straggly. The few houses that care are often well-gated with shutters on the windows.
But it’s about the people, and we get some good conversations going. There is Mandy, all yellowed tombstone teeth, ex-drug addict whose kids live over east, but who has a sharp mind and a winsome way. The Mormons got to her first, but Joseph Smith just doesn’t do it for her and she wants to hear about Jesus. And then there is Simon, a Guildford Grammar School Boy back in the fifties, but who somehow fell through the cracks, failing to be the lawyer/doctor/accountant his farmer father wished. He’ll never be the school’s poster boy or get an invite to the Old Boy’s Reunion. But boy did he know how to swear! And Darren – a thirity-something with a degree or two, but who lives with mum when he isn’t living inside the “net”, hoping for technology to solve the world’s problems. The new Asian migrants are interested to know about Jesus, but the old Balkans migrants – witnesses of the 20th centuries worst atrocities – are crusty and bitter. Too much violence in the name of religion they say.
The grime is well hidden behind the shiny shop fronts in that part of Midland, but it is there all right. Oh, but there was one diamond – the last house of the day. A lovely earth-mother Christian lady with a double-barrel first name and flaming red hair and freckles to match. Two kids were running around giggling, and another is due in a fortnight. She and her hubby are economic refugees from an ailing New Zealand economy. They don’t have much, but their rental is an old cute cottage with a neat garden. They haven’t found a church to attend yet, but she’s already praying for the women in her local mum’s group and for the school mums too. She and her husband have their missional xray-specs on as they seek out opportunities to serve the area. She prayed for us and we for her, then we were off with her blessing and her reminder to pray for “favour” as we meet people.
Jesus may not buy a new Nissan Dualis (finance over 48 months) or recommend Harvey Norman furniture, but he cares deeply for Mathoura Street. Please pray that gospel seeds take root and grow in Mathoura St and in the dozens of streets like it that we walk; streets that live so close to the lifestyle products of the boom, but who have been bypassed by it and who only ever seem to experience “bust”.