Mirboo North – Closed For Business?

When economic times aren’t at their best, it’s often small towns that suffer the most as businesses close and employment opportunities fall, which in turn tends to create a snowball effect on other businesses. So you generally find that small towns will embrace anyone that is prepared to open a business that will, even if only in a small way, add to the growth and potential of the township and its community. And if someone looks to start something significant in or near the town and genuinely add to the economic growth of the area, most towns will do everything in their power to make sure that the business is welcomed and supported by the community, as well as encouraging the local council to make the development as painless as possible. Sadly, based on recent experience, that doesn’t seem to be the case when it involves Mirboo North and, as much as some would like to believe fairy tales and the like, we are not Hobbiton and those that want to start businesses in town are not Orcs.

Mirboo North is not Hobbiton - (source: Media New Zealand)

Mirboo North is not Hobbiton – (source: Media New Zealand)

When VicForests proposed to log an area of nearby forest that had always been listed for logging, the protests began almost immediately, with every possible excuse listed as to why it shouldn’t be allowed. No effort was spared in trying to block the proposal and one strident message was that it would ruin Mirboo North, devastate business and tourism (oh the irony, as will unfold) and make Mirboo North a ghost town. Never mind that it’s doubtful that any tourist driving south along the Strzelecki Hwy to Mirboo North would even notice the area concerned, given that you have to keep a vigilant eye on the road ahead. It’s also nothing more than a typical forest of gum trees, criss-crossed with trail-bike tracks and ever increasing undergrowth just waiting for the right time to come alive and give the township another frightful bushfire scare. This happened in an area within nearby Lyrebird Walk that was deliberately lit, not that many years ago. And, without realising the irony, there are far more highly visible and obvious logging areas locally; indeed along the entire length of the Strzelecki Hwy that no one seems to complain about.

Logging Coupe along Strzelecki Hwy Mirboo North

Logging Coupe along Strzelecki Hwy Mirboo North

And when an entrepreneur submitted a plan to develop a nearby vodka distillery and restaurant (this being potato country), the usual suspects started protesting, attempting to get the council to ban the development. Once again they raised specious and spurious arguments about such things as the site being on a narrow, dangerous, road; ignoring the obvious fact that the same road was used daily by school buses, earth moving trucks, logging trucks and all manner of heavy farm machinery. Nope, that didn’t factor into the argument when a bunch of wowsers decided that such a facility was not what they deemed appropriate for Mirboo North. Never mind that not that many kilometres away in a once sleepy little township called Loch, which was bypassed by the freeway, another entrepreneur started a whisky distillery and now also brews beer and the township has come alive. More businesses have moved in and others are following as Loch becomes a wayside stop for many travellers and others that simply travel there to visit the distillery. If the Grand Ridge Brewery tried to start up today, I’ll bet the same wowsers would be out in force fighting to stop it begin built.

Grand Ridge Brewery - Mirboo North Victoria

Grand Ridge Brewery – Mirboo North Victoria

Grand Ridge Brewery - Mirboo North Victoria

Grand Ridge Brewery – Mirboo North Victoria

Also, when a major event commenced in Mirboo North in 2014, which brought thousands of visitors to the township and customers to the local businesses, that being the annual Blessing of the Bikes, there were once again the same vocal minority making a lot of noise to get rid of the event. And got rid of it they did, making life as difficult and unpleasant for the business owners that organised the event as they possibly could, until the former were effectively run out of town. And when all and sundry were notified that the event was now cancelled for good, the wailing and moaning commenced, notably when it came to light that the Bass Shire had jumped in and gleefully taken up the event. The latter knew how much of a financial boon it would be for the shire and local businesses and that’s been proven from just the first Blessing of the Bikes at San Remo last year. For some in Mirboo North, a one day event that brought thousands of motorcycle riders to the township, and lots of dollars to businesses, was clearly inappropriate.

Blessing of the Bikes 2017 - San Remo Victoria

Blessing of the Bikes 2017 – San Remo Victoria

Blessing of the Bikes 2017 - San Remo Victoria

Blessing of the Bikes 2017 – San Remo Victoria

Now we have another protest underway, following an application by United Fuel to build a service station in town on a vacant block, which I understand was once a service station. Once again, every possible excuse as to why it shouldn’t be approved by council has been put forward. The site is  opposite an aged care centre and kindergarten (think of the children, while tourist traffic, trucks and farm machinery already rumble daily right past the site and the two facilities all year round). Others were crying that it wouldn’t provide local employment and would be run by Indians (love that one). The township already has one service station (maybe a second one will provide some competition and better fuel prices and support the traffic that goes through town all year round, especially tourism). Thankfully there was also support from others, especially the point about competition. But I think one argument against the venture tops the lot, given that there are three mechanics, five earthmoving services, several builders, electricians, plumbers etc, more than half a dozen coffee shops and several real estate agents in Mirboo North. From the Mirboo North Times:

One shopkeeper referred to something told to them by a former real Estate Agent in town, namely that Mirboo North was only big enough for one of everything.

And I almost forgot that there’s a proposal to build a car wash on what will soon become a vacant block and this too has been met with immediate protestations. It’s inappropriate for the town, it’s too close to a residence (someone bought an old shop or whatever in the main street and turned it into a home/studio or something), it will destroy the township’s centrepiece park (mostly used for the monthly market and skateboarding). Every possible excuse under the sun (or cloud) is given as to why this should not be approved. Again from the Mirboo North Times:

 [council] Refusal will lead to the recognition of the people’s needs… [who are these people and what are their needs?] I am sure that the residents can imagine many more ways of destroying the character, culture and habitability of the town…[keep imagining]

The ever present argument against anything and everything new, as if the township was in some way heritage listed in its entirety, does a disservice to residents and tourists. If you look at historical photographs, Mirboo North isn’t what it used to be. I truly love Mirboo North and the area, but it’s these sorts of things that makes you wonder about some people, their concept of what makes a community and who actually rules the roost. And it should also be noted that some of these complaints arise from people who admit that they don’t even live in the township. It seems as if they want Mirboo North to stagnate and be known as a township invested in protests against any form of progress to meet the growing demand for services as the population grows. And the population is growing; just about every week I meet a new couple or family that’s moved or moving to Mirboo North into either an existing home, a new estate, or building on an existing vacant block. Should we eschew everything and revert the township to what it was in 1908 or perhaps 1925 (when the town’s so-called centrepiece was a railroad)?

Mirboo North 1908 - (source: Aussie-mobs)

Mirboo North 1908 – (source: Aussie-mobs)

Mirboo North circa 1926 - (source: Museums Victoria)

Mirboo North circa 1926 – (source: Museums Victoria)

Train turntable at Mirboo North Station, circa 1925 - (source: Museum Victoria)

Train turntable at Mirboo North Station, circa 1925 – (source: Museum Victoria)

The irony is that while Mirboo North seems to be hell bent on chasing away any business that doesn’t accord with some individuals’ sensibilities, other townships welcome similar newcomers with open arms. Loch is thriving due to being more open minded about businesses and nearby Nyora is doing much the same, thriving because of activities that happen there like the Working Horse & Tractor Rally, The Hills are Alive music festival, this year’s Renaissance Festival. Nyora even has a raceway that attracts events from all over Victoria, if not Australia. Meanwhile Mirboo North runs events out of town, which are immediately and eagerly snapped up by others. Mind you, Mirboo North seems to be all for ‘proper’ businesses that reflect the ‘artistic’ character of the township (whatever that means).

Update 1. It’s kind of ironic that those who protest new businesses and chase out existing ones, suddenly become concerned about business losses when it suits their agenda. Though what’s new? In a recent article in the Mirboo North Times (Volume 23, Number 37), the group protesting the proposed logging presented the results of a survey of local businesses stating that over 40 business responded (anonymously) and indicated that they would collectively lose $1.8 million/annum in revenue into the foreseeable future and a possible loss of nine jobs (not 7 or 10, but exactly nine) due to the proposed logging. There was no information as to the categories of business that responded, what questions were asked or how the businesses came to calculate their losses. Given that the survey was conducted by the group protesting the logging, some questions about its veracity do arise. There is evidence that similar protests over proposed business development have been supported by people that live no where near Mirboo North, but add to the numbers. Funny about that.

Update 2. The latest edition of the local paper (Volume 23, Number 38) now reports that the estimated loss will be $2.87 million/annum (why not round it off to $5 million or $10 million?), and this is considered a ‘reasonable’ estimate. It all seems to be based on tourism, suggesting that ‘visitors demonstrated a high use of local nature-based environmental opportunities as their reason to visit’. Now I know the areas proposed for logging very well as I go there often enough looking for firewood, as do many locals, and there is no way that tourists would be going to these areas as a reason for coming to Mirboo North. I doubt any tourist would even know of these areas, as you pass them in an eye blink coming into Mirboo North. Yes, people will visit Lyrebird Walk and the Rail Trail, but these are quite distant from the proposed logging areas. However, most tourists will be passing through Mirboo North on their way to the coast. Mirboo North doesn’t have an RV park and is a reason noted by tourists passing through for not stopping at Mirboo North. Has anyone calculated the financial loss that this imposes?

Update 3. The complete lack of irony of what passes around here can become quite comical at times. In the latest edition of the local paper (Volume 23, Number 39), there’s a story about a couple opening a new business in town and the article starts with ‘It’s always pleasing to see a new business in town,…’ Now I have no objection the business whatsoever, only that I find the lead-in sentence of the article quite disingenuous, given recent events. You know, I’d love to see a list of ‘approved’ businesses that are welcome in Mirboo North. I suspect that there would be a very common flavour throughout that list. Hair shirts and basket weaving anyone?

Update 4. And it appears that United Fuel has thrown in the towel and decided not to go ahead with the service station, caving in to the protests. I guess the BP service station decided to have a victory lap on hearing this by raising the fuel prices significantly just after the announcement. Why not? When you have a monopoly, you can do what you want.

Update 5. This so clearly demonstrates the difference in attitudes that I alluded to earlier, ‘It’s put Meeniyan on the map’: Garlic festival revives country town‘.

The annual Meeniyan Garlic Festival is in its third year and the small town of 780 people will attract more than 8000 garlic lovers on February 15 for garlic plaiting, smoking and fermenting workshops and cooking shows.

“It’s put Meeniyan on the map,” says Dinsbergs.

Since the first festival, new businesses which have opened include Pandesal Bakery, Meeniyan Square, Meeniyan Pantry, Allforms of Design, Outer Space Sculpture Gallery, Hana’s Studio and Meen Feedz.