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Comboyne locals rally to revitalise their mountain-top town after trifecta of drought, bushfires, floods

Friday October 8, 2021 - 23:04 EDT
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Anne-Marie and Peter Newman have restored a century-old police station and adjoining timber gaol for their new business. - ABC

In a scenic, mountain-top village, a slice of history is being brought back to life, as locals rally to revitalise their town.

Like many country communities, Comboyne, in the New South Wales Mid North Coast hinterland, has faced a string of challenges in recent years, including drought, bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite that, new ventures are emerging in the small and vibrant community.

One of the latest is Larrikins Lock-up, a retail business set in the town's 1905 police station and adjoining slab timber gaol, more than 100 years since Constable Walter Bond first served there.

It is owned and operated by Anne-Marie and Peter Newman, who have been in the region for more than 25 years, and say restoring the property has been a labour of love.

"We have tried to capture the full history. We have restored the building faithfully as best we can," Mr Newman said.

"We have used all the timbers that were available to us in the premises, and we have made it very rustic.

"The property runs along the Thone River, which runs down to the Hastings, and it's just a gorgeous area with beautiful, mature trees."

It is hoped the business, which sells local woodwork and garden supplies, will help draw more visitors to the town.

After coming through the drought and severe bushfires, the town's only sealed, mountain access road was damaged during severe rain and flooding earlier this year, staying closed for nearly two months.

The road has reopened, but it will be some time before it is fully repaired.

"The last couple of years have been pretty rugged," Mr Newman said.

"The more we have in terms of business opportunity for people, the more they will come and enjoy the place.

"Comboyne is a village and villages work together to support each other.

"That's why we support people and refer people to other businesses, and they refer people to us ? it's just lovely."

'We are pretty tough'

One of those other businesses is a small, chemical-free farm on the plateau just outside the village centre.

Rebecca Armstrong runs the Grazed and Grown farm with her husband Pete, directly selling eggs and other produce.

"We are a regenerative egg-farming business; we also have pork and beef as well. We are only an early starter ourselves, we are building up," Ms Armstrong said.

"There?s a lot of interest ? people really want to know, especially in COVID times, where their food comes from.

"They want to know a bit more about their farmer and where things are grown and produced."

Ms Armstrong said it had been a challenging time, but the small town was rallying. 

"We are pretty tough, like all farmers; we have gone through some hard times but we all come together as a great community, and we can rebuild and grow and support each other." 

Connecting people

A community group, Creative Comboyne, has also been working to draw visitors to the town through events including open gardens and unique "botanical couture".

"It's a group that wants to bring a lot of vibrancy to the community ? we want to attract people from all walks of life, including the artists' community," Creative Comboyne's Georgia Connell said.

"It?s a fantastic thing to have for a small community that?s been through difficult economic and climactic periods and you can just feel the groundswell of support."

The group's Tim Connell said it was a chance to focus on positive events.

"It?s just been one thing after another and that's why we are so keen to do things that are basically fun, that people are interested in," he said.

"Getting a few more people here, getting tourists in to support the local shops, makes a huge difference. We're tree changers ourselves and there's great opportunity here."  

Creative Comboyne's Robyn Lyon has put her time to good use during COVID-19 lockdowns, piecing together elaborate botanical couture.

The striking clothing, made from plant and fibre materials, will feature in a fashion parade planned for late this year.

"We are looking at having botanical couture, which is fairly unique because it has to be wearable," Ms Lyon said.

"So that's very challenging to get the right materials that will stay together.

"I think it will create a lot of interest ? it will bring people up here and make them aware of what we have and hopefully they will visit more often." 

'Best-kept secret'

Mr Connell said ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns had been having an impact on the town, but locals remained focussed on the future and other local businesses were also starting up.

"I think Comboyne is one of the best-kept secrets, it's absolutely stunningly beautiful," Mr Connell said.

"It's just not very well known, it's a plateau with subtropical rainforest all round it. It's really a very special area." 


© ABC 2021

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