On a recent visit to Old Tailem Town, located on the South Eastern Freeway 5km north of Tailem Bend and approximately 90kms from Adelaide, we had the opportunity to take the children on a trip back in time. It’s one thing to look at history in pictures and books, but at Old Tailem Town history comes alive when you can walk about and touch it! There are over a hundred buildings, all furnished within their periods, placed along the ‘streets’ of the created historical town. Some of them we were able to go inside, and all housed authentic collections of memorabilia suited to the period and type of shop, home or business that they were portraying. The buildings have been moved to the site from all over South Australia. Many of them were transported in one piece from their original locations, while others were taken apart and rebuilt in Old Tailem Town. Entry to Old Tailem Town was $50 for two adults and two children, our friends paid $22 per adult, and their toddler was free. Note, that there is no EFTPOS facilities at the entry, so cash was required, (we had to pool ours together to have enough!). We spent a couple of hours exploring the ‘town’ in the afternoon and this is all that would be required. Unfortunately there were no guided tours available, which is a shame, because I think that if someone who is passionate about the history, and a good story teller, was a part of the experience, then we would have got a lot more out of it. Our kids really enjoyed the afternoon, but they were relying on hubby and me explaining the artifacts and and so on, so that they knew what they were looking at, (thank goodness we both know a bit about Australian history, but I can’t imagine how some of the international visitors get by). The collections within the building are almost overwhelming, think hoarding in overdrive, but definitely the most comprehensive I’ve seen. I particularly liked the original food tins and boxes in the general store, but the hospital instruments did freak me out a little!
The Old Tailem Town website states that “Most of the buildings are over one hundred years old and are the same in appearance as they were when they were first built”. This is true, the building are clearly very old, but sadly they are lacking any kind of maintenance, and I doubt that they will be still standing in another twenty years if they continue to be left this way. Which lead to a very interesting conversation among the adults, should the buildings be left in their old rustic (code for almost falling down) state, or should they be restored to how they actually would have looked a hundred years ago, when they were in fact ‘new’? The dilapidated state of Old Tailem Town did not bother our children at all, because of course they think ‘the olden days’ is all about things that look old, but Simon nearly developed a tick walking about the town as he hates to see things in disrepair, and thinks everything should be restored. Me, I kind of sit in the middle, I wouldn’t like the historic town to look brand new, but I was saddened to see that some buildings looked as if they’d be lucky to see out the winter, and I was fearful that someone would fall through a floorboard or trip on the uneven surfaces.
On the day that we went to Old Tailem Town (a Saturday afternoon) there were few other visitors wandering about with us, so unless there is an event happening, or a busload of schoolkids field-tripping, then I doubt that crowds would be a problem here. Perhaps because it was so quiet, there were only two staff members that we noticed. This is not very many for such a large place, so they definitely were not available to answer any of the children’s questions or provide any historical information. Some of the buildings were also inaccessible, the lights were off in the cinema so we had to use our phones as flashlight, and some doors just wouldn’t budge because they were rotting. One of the gentlemen we encountered out in one of the sheds was quite friendly, but the lady at reception had an almost OCD attitude to washing the floor. She washed it twice during the time that we were there! Once at arrival at 2.30pm and again at departure at 4.30pm we were slipping on the freshly washed lino which reeked of floor cleaner! Even the kids were wondering why she didn’t just wash it at 5pm when the town closed? Having said all that, would I recommend that others visit? The short answer is ‘Yes’. If you are after a unique, historical experience, and you happen to be passing by, then it is worth a visit with the kiddies. But, would I recommend that you make a detour for Old Tailem Town, and set aside a day for a visit? Honestly, probably not. Old Tailem Town has a LOT of potential. It could be a real historical draw card for the state, perhaps even all of Australia. The collections of memorabilia alone are fascinating, but unfortunately the lack of maintenance or customer service does mean that Old Tailem Town may find itself left in the past forever before too long.