Funny you should mention Manangatang
Not many people know much about Manangatang, and on face value, there isn’t that much to know. It is a small town around 80km from Swan Hill in Victoria’s northwest, with one general store and one pub.
It was put on the map by two distinct catchcries. One surrounds the annual Manangatang Cup, a horserace that’s call of “They’re racing in Manangatang!” probably gained popularity due to the comical-sounding nature of the town’s name.
The second came from AFL legend Lou Richards, who used to claim that some players “wouldn’t get a game for the Manangatang Thirds” – probably choosing that particular town for the same reason.
That the town’s two famous anecdotes surround sport is no coincidence. As with many small Australian towns, sporting clubs are the hub at which residents congregate. Manangatang is far too small to have a cinema or a mall, so the footy and netball clubs have to make up for them.
Adam McNicol is a successful journalist with an impressive resume boasting stints at WIN TV and Channel Ten, and is currently writing for the AFL website. He also co-wrote David Schwarz’s harrowing story surrounding the former footballer’s battle with a gambling addiction, among other biographies.
Adam grew up in Manangatang. His mother, a Caulfield Jew of Hungarian parents, had left Melbourne to gain experience as a teacher, intending to return a few years later.
As it was, however, she never made it back. Despite the relatively long odds – “Manang” has just 300 residents these days – she found her one and only in the town, and settled there to raise a family on a farm in the town’s south. This farm would be Adam’s home for his first 18 years.
Growing up, there were only 140 students in the entire school, and just ten in his final year. Of those ten, nine have since left the town. This is fairly common, and accounts for the dwindling of Manangatang’s population, which was closer to 1000 half a century ago.
However, those who leave the town never lose their attachment to it. At Easter this year, Manangatang held a celebration to mark its centenary. Around 1500 former residents from all over returned to honour the town that raised them, a reunion dripping with nostalgia.
Adam’s dedication took the form of a book, which he has simply titled “Manangatang.” He combined his keen interest in history with the deep love for his home town to honour it in the best way he knew how.
Although he doesn’t practically engage with Judaism these days, Adam keeps in his heart a close connection to his heritage. From an early age, he was exposed to his roots through the Bar Mitzvah celebrations of family he had in Sydney, and he has made the pilgrimage to Hungary to experience the place his grandparents grew up.
Despite growing up in a vastly different culture to theirs – or perhaps because of it – Adam ensures he maintains a connection to his background. Combine that with a love and talent for writing, and it is likely, if not inevitable, that Adam will one day cover his grandparents’ story from Hungary to Melbourne.
With a side trip to Manangatang.