Tharwa struggles to keep its souls
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Tharwa struggles to keep its souls

Karim Haddad says in 18 hours he can teach someone to make a knife that will last for 100 years.

Yet he's at a loss to know how to mend the village of Tharwa, which he says has been gutted by two crucial decisions by the ACT Government.

Closing the primary school in 2006 and leaving the historic Tharwa Bridge closed for years discouraged people from visiting the village for so long it never recovered.

Mr Haddad moved to Tharwa in the early 1990s with Outbound Australia, where he was an instructor and then chief executive, before opening his knife-making enterprise in 2003.

He says people join his small classes of four to learn knife making drawn by the opportunity to work with their hands in an old craft.

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Professionals, public servants and others from all walks of life, from all over Australia learn to make a durable instrument that feels and looks good and does the job for which it was designed.

He also makes custom-made knives. His full-time job in Canberra is running a national leadership program.

Over the years he has become embedded in the community through the fire brigade, save-the-school campaign, and restoring the heritage-listed bridge which closed in 2005 and was later reopened and upgraded. Mr Haddad said the campaigns did not galvanise the community.

''The loss of the school and bridge have really broken the community up. My feeling is it is a lot less close than it was 10 years ago. It has been gutted, basically,'' he said.

''Not having a school, and the recent renovations in the pre-school mean there's not people hanging around in the village after school like there use to be.

''You'd have people there till 4.30, 5 o'clock after school finished, talking and engaging with other people. Now it is like a ghost town.''

He said people had run out of puff in the campaign to reopen the school.

''That is probably the single biggest thing you could do to revitalise this community.

''We've gone through the drought, we've gone through the bushfires, all kinds of stuff, those things didn't affect us as much as losing the school that we had for over 100 years.''

Young families had no incentive to move to Tharwa and renew the community.

''It's a real challenge keeping motivated when there are so few of you and you are up against a Government particularly determined not to change or shift from their own particular agenda.''

Tharwa's other major setback was the closure of historic Cuppacumbalong homestead to the public.

A steady stream of 100 visitors a weekend had since reduced to about four.

''I think one of the really sad things is places like Tharwa and Hall and other rural settlements existed long before Canberra and they are part of the charm of the bush capital.

''We are heading towards our centenary and there will be all this carry-on about how wonderful Canberra is and what we've done and there will be an ignoring of what was there before.'' Tharwa was a vital crossing point for the Murrumbidgee River to highland grazing leases.

''Before that there was a low level crossing and before that a shallow, where people could drive their cows across and that's what made these areas viable for grazing.''

Tharwa was half an hour from the city, where you could come and sit by the river and see cows and sheep, but such a notion was too difficult for townsfolk because it did not fit into their suburban model.

The Government's view that Tharwa did not have enough people to justify any investment failed to realise the cultural impact.

People still need ready access to open spaces, otherwise unwanted social issues will arise.

Canberrans in search of a semi-rural lifestyle chose to move across the border to Wamboin, Braidwood, Bungendore or Murrumbateman.