Our story is one of survival in a geographically isolated, low socio-economic town with 55% indigenous population, 49.46% not in the workforce and only 26.03% in fulltime employment. Gulargambone is primarily an agricultural area; it was once a thriving community. When the banks left town and commodity prices dropped, many businesses closed, and services declined. Persistent drought and a downturn in the rural economy exacerbated the problem. Many small towns right across Australia have faced similar circumstances and many have never recovered. But Gulargambone is different. In 1999, when told our post office was also going to close, the community mobilised. After purchasing and renovating the post office (reinstating banking and other business facilities – the first community-owned post office in Australia!) and painting murals in the empty shop windows; the community drew up a strategic plan for the town and quickly recognised the need to diversify its economic base. We thought tourism was our best option.
Nearby attractions include the annual Coonamble Rodeo and Campdraft, Outback Arts, the beautiful Warrumbungles, Macquarie Marshes, Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo and the opal fields at Lightning Ridge.
As farming families have sold up and left the district, neighbouring farmers have bought and expanded their holdings. The flow on effect of this downsizing in the community is a decline in student numbers at the local Central School. Numbers have seemed to stabilise around 75 in primary, approximately 75% Indigenous, while secondary students number 10 and are 100% indigenous.
In 2016, Gulargambone Central School had 5 students engaged in 2-year traineeships. Two students were with two eight two eight doing hospitality and the other three students doing agricultural traineeships.
These traineeships are the best opportunity students must learn new skills and explore career opportunities. It is very important that we continue to try and break the generational unemployment cycle which occurs in many families within our community.
In 2001, the Gulargambone community looked for a venue to set up a tourist information centre. A local resident offered his plumbing business (located in the former community hall) and adjacent three-acre block to us for $5,000. Coonamble Council gave us $2,500 and we fundraised the rest. We felt that, despite being very dilapidated, the hall was a perfect venue: situated in the main street of town and located on the Castlereagh Highway midway between Gilgandra (50 kms to the south) and Coonamble (50 kms north). Witnessing an increasing number of caravans from the southern states going through to Queensland; our goal was to encourage them to stop – and call in.
Built in the 1920s, the hall, which had also once been home to The Majestic picture theatre, needed some serious renovations. We organised several working bees and the building was repaired, renovated and painted. The Tuscan-influenced colours brought a new lease of life to the main street and the adjoining block has been transformed into an attractive courtyard.
Our first Strategic Plan was developed in 2003 where we acknowledged the importance of becoming ‘more than just a tourist information centre’. We are part of a community and we had to cater for the community as well as for tourists – otherwise we would fail. So, with generous financial help from the owner of Vittoria Coffee, we set up a cafe and began trading for three days a week in July 2004.
two eight two eight has just celebrated its fifteenth anniversary with a gala black-tie Dinner under the Stars for 380 guests; a significant milestone for a community run organisation.
Over the past fifteen years we have had many highlights which include: employment of a part-time Executive Officer (2007); installation of a commercial kitchen (2008); accreditation as Level 3 Visitor Information Centre (2009); the engagement of two Indigenous Student Traineeships in Hospitality and Tourism (2009 & 2011); an adult hospitality trainee (Sept 2011) who continued on in part-time employment in the café; two Indigenous Student Traineeships (2015) and currently another Student Traineeship commencing March 2017.
two eight two eight are committed to providing job opportunities to our local youth with hospitality and tourism experience; an ideal stepping stone to employment options after schooling.
Our most recent milestone is the engagement of a lessee for the café and catering operations which will continue to operate under the two eight two eight branding. Our lessee is local business woman Dianne Harland who has historical ties to the two eight two eight building with the Ferguson family owning it as a picture theatre.
Now that the café is leased, two eight two eight now have several objectives to keep us challenged and focused. Primarily, we want to continue to provide school students with trainee opportunities. It is important to note that our current trainee Tahlia Newton will be paid by two eight two eight for the duration of her traineeship, 100 days which will be completed in March 2018.
two eight two eight will continue to facilitate movie nights bi-monthly as an opportunity for community social interaction. The committee are now able to consider staging annual community events. A number of options have been considered including community markets, large scale concerts on the back block of two eight two eight, and an arts festival focusing on the beautification of Bourbah Street and other key building profiles along the highway (in conjunction with Gulargambone Enterprises Co-op).