Me sitting on a big red tractor.
Location: Minnesota, United States of America

I come from a small Australian town so I know what it’s like to grow up in a tight knit community. When I was five years old I moved away with my family to the big city, and even now it’s still one of my most saddest and traumatic memories because I really loved living in my small town. Siu On also spent his childhood in a small American town and, like me, moved away when he was older and so I could empathize with his memories and how much he missed that place. So when we stopped by his small town of Mankato in Minnesota, I was kind of expecting something similar to my memories of Karratha in the 1980s; only Mankato was nothing like Karratha.

What struck me first about Siu On’s small town was how big it actually was. Not only was there a Mankato but there was also a North Mankato, and they also have a mall, a university and a lot of different schools and facilities in town. The Karratha of my early years had no roundabouts or traffic lights, and numbered well under 10,000; in fact, I think they’ve only just hit the 16,000 residents mark now!

So when I imagined Mankato being a ‘small town’, I probably didn’t take in to account it being ‘small’ as in American proportions. Suddenly what I thought of as being apples and apples, was more like apples and oranges. Mankato and Karratha may be considered small in their respective countries, but to compare the two together just doesn’t do either much justice. However, what they do have is the same warm hospitality and genuine kindness which you don’t normally find in a big city.

The strong sense of community, pride and town identity is obvious in both Mankato and Karratha, and it’s this endearing quality that draws people back. Family, friends, employment and the opportunity to be around warm, genuine and like minded people are an idyllic mix; and we met up with many of Siu On’s friends who had left for college for a long period of time, only to return and settle into a quiet life and raise families of their own.

Apples and oranges.

Mankato and Karratha.

The glimmer of nostalgia in the eyes of Siu On showed me that once a small town boy, always a small town boy. Mankato or Karratha, who knows if we will settle back in one of our small towns, but if we do I know that we’ll at least be happy to be back.

 Photography by Auyeung Photography.