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Cafe provides vital buzz to drought-impacted Walgett locals and visitors

Sally Bryant, Tuesday August 20, 2019 - 09:22 EST
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Katie Murray says business is good in her expanded cafe and gift store in Walgett. - ABC

Katie Murray can not quite believe that her little business is bucking the trend of economic downturn due to drought, but she says the figures and the numbers speak for themselves.

Her cafe in the north-west New South Wales town of Walgett is going gangbusters despite the ongoing dry weather.

She is so busy she has expanded the business to include fresh food and is increasing the table space available.

"We have quadrupled in size and we are really busy," she said.

"We had to make room for more giftware, but the main impetus for the expansion was the food — for casual lunchtime takeaway foods like sandwiches and wraps.

"Walgett was crying out for that food."



Place for community to get together and 'have a yarn'

As a farmer's wife, Ms Murray is acutely aware of the impact of the drought on farming and business communities.

So, how daunting was it to expand her business when everyone around her is constricting and when rural communities are in stress?

Ms Murray said it could look like a pretty rash move but it had been justified by the overwhelming response.



"To be honest, I started the smaller business in the last drought, and it worked," she said.

"I guess people always need coffee, people always need food and they need somewhere to go, somewhere they can rally together and talk.

"Its really good for morale; it's important for people to be able to get together and have a coffee and a yarn when things are tough."

Welcoming stopover for travellers

The cafe is busy, with queues for coffees and food at the counter, and the crowd is a mixture of locals taking a break from work and travellers looking for sustenance on the road.



Drought-affected towns tend to be quiet, almost lifeless places as the locals hunker down to weather the reduced income.

For a visitor driving through it can be an uninviting prospect as a place to pull over.

But at the Stone's Throw, tables on the footpath are filled with customers enjoying their lunch and coffees, a tribute to the meals available inside and as familiar as any inner-city eatery.

Janelle Sullivan, who has lived in the Walgett district for 78 years, says she loves the opportunity to catch up with the locals at the cafe.

Police officers Detective Sergeant Tom Aylett and Inspector Trent Swinton, like many government employees, have moved to the north-west to do their jobs and say the cafe is a friendly face for newcomers.

"I'm originally from Newcastle and this is as good as anything there or in Leichhardt, so it's a familiar feel for police who get posted out here," Detective Sergeant Aylett said.

"And it's a great place to mix with the locals. It breaks down an lot of the barriers to have a place where people can sit together and talk."

Hanging together to stay positive

Jordan Fenwick, at the cafe with her baby daughter Lottie, grew up at Walgett but has lived away from the district for much of her life.

She said the town had a bright future, even despite the current drought, and pointed to the energy and optimism evident in expanding a business in a very tough season.



"You have to be positive, you can't live out here if you develop a negative attitude, you may as well just pack up and go," she said.

"It will turn around and we will come out on top in the end."

Ms Fenwick's family are local farmers and have been doing it tough.

The last harvest they had was in 2016 — the year before she and her husband returned from living and working in the Northern Territory.

She said she did not regret the decision to "come home" to the farm, but it could be hard.

"We came home at the end of a good season and of course, we were thinking it would keep going," Ms Fenwick said.

"But you push through, you push the negative thoughts aside and keep going."

When you have somewhere to go for coffee, or to buy a beanie for your baby, where you can have a yarn with locals and tourists passing through, it helps keep spirits up.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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