I HAD the opportunity to visit our Citizen of the Year Kevin Cail in his home stomping ground of Kamarooka this week.

I remember distinctly how when I first met Kev earlier this year, when we’d both found out about our citizen awards, he asked me two questions straight up – first, did I know where Kamarooka was, and then, had I ever been there before.

I was ashamed that I had to respond no to both, but wanted to make it a mission this year to learn more about the place Kev came from, and the work his community was doing.

Visiting on Monday for my piece in today’s Weekly, I took away a lot – not only about Kev and the Kamarooka Recreation Reserve where he’s volunteered for 45 years, but also about how important such places are for community, especially those in rural areas.

Kamarooka lies at the tip of the City of Greater Bendigo past Huntly, and its name derives from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘wait until I return’.

It’s surrounded by vast open country – green at the moment thanks to recent rains.

There is a rich community feel once you pass the welcome sign, today connected through the reserve that Kev and the committee maintains, providing a special place for gathering.

Kev describes it as the place where the community holds a town family reunion once a year, where they get together for meetings, and where they have monthly barbecues.

It’s the hub of the area.

They’ve put in hot water  and repainted the hall, received funding to put in a new access ramp, and ensure the grounds are in top shape, all to keep it usable and flourishing.

I spoke with Helen O’Donoghue, president of the reserve and Kev’s boss, and she said the same thing – that the reserve brings people together.

The school in the area has closed, and the footy club no longer plays there, meaning for people in the district, the ground is the  only social space to chat and to reminisce as a town.

This reserve is just one example of the plethora that exist throughout our region, for communities to connect with one another, join together, and share in conversation.

Whether it’s the local park, halls or community gardens, they’re the places where people can go, give back, and feel a purpose.

And, like it was described to me out in Kamarooka, these places are good for people’s mental health and the overall fabric of society – that individuals feel they have a place they can talk, meet new people and forget about their own lives for just a while, contributing to something bigger.

The reason, Kev said, that the committee and the community fight so hard to keep their reserve on the fringes of our city alive is so the next generation, the young people of today, also have a place to return to.

But it’s also for something bigger – to simply keep it going, because without such spaces, there’ll be nowhere for individuals to meet and grow in harmony together.