After life as a woollen mill and carpet factory, a piece of Castlemaine history has a new lease on life. The Mill is ever-evolving with many creative entrepreneurs moving in to make their mark.
IT BEGAN life in 1870s as a woollen mill.
But now The Mill Castlemaine is evolving into a food and artisian tourist destination.
Since owner Phil McConachy and Ronnie Moule bought the site in 2013, creative entrepreneurs have flocked to the site.
Coffee roasters, brewers, furniture makers, metal workers, personal trainers, bakers, ice cream makers, winemakers, woodworkers and a vintage market have all moved into The Mill.
But a hub of creativity and production wasn’t on Phil’s mind when he took over the site.
“The initial idea was self-storage,” he said.
“I didn’t know the cafe people were planning on coming here. Once we realised there was going to be some interest in the site, that's when we changed how we thought about it.
It’s nice to bring the history of the building out and use it. It's an asset and we have utilised what here.Phil McConachy
“Since then it has grown organically. Almost like it has had its own idea of what it wants to be.”
Through Phil and Ronnie’s transitioning and renovation of The Mill, they have worked to maintain the heritage and history of the site.
“I started my working life in a factory and I like old buildings, so we have done very little demolition,” he said.
“It’s nice to bring the history of the building out and use it. It's an asset and we have utilised what here.
“Getting our brains around the regulatory stuff has been complicated. There was a whole raft of things we had to do for that.”
Since bringing the buildings up to regulations, the transformation has continue with most of the site being a home to some sort of business.
“About 80 percent of the site is spoken for or leased,” Phil said.
“Now it’s down to getting the works done and getting the people in.”
For Phil it’s not about filling the vacant spaces with just anyone.
“We have made sure everything fits together and is complimentary,” he said.
“We're really into cross promotion. The metal workers out the back have done work for the cafe and brewery.
When the Vintage Bazaar opened in May, The Mill saw about 3000 people visit over one weekend.
“We have worked to become a multifaceted site with trades down the back with tourism and food stuff (at the front),” Phil said.
“For us it is about getting people through the gate. People who are coming from Melbourne for a day trip or a weekend. Sure, go to Bendigo for the art and theatre then come back to Castlemaine.”
Phil eventually plans to have the whole site developed so people can explore every facet.
Jamie Burke is part of the Black Sheep trades collective out the back of The Mill.
He and some of the other trade workers were previously working out of their garages before finding more space to create at The Mill.
“I don’t know how I made the stuff I did in a garage,” he said.
“Before coming to The Mill I was looking at another shed but thought I’d rather be here because of what we thought it would be, which is exactly how it has turned out – we are connected to something rather than stand alone bunch of guys.
“We didn’t realise it was being curated so tightly. You see what’s here and see it’s designed to be a particular type of place.
“It’s not just for anyone who puts a hand up, it’s more thought out than that. The people who turn up are thrilled to be a part of it. The enthusiasm is something that hasn't been beaten here, yet.”
Hugh Makin of Makin Furniture is another who has expanded his talents, stock and shed space by arriving at The Mill.
Hugh’s custom furniture is sold out of Platform 5 next to the Vintage Bazaar.
“I’ve been here about a year and half and been able to expand, take on more work and get four big bits of machinery in,” he said.
“It’s amazing that so much has happened in the last year. This time last year we were finishing the cafe and since the more has opened and The Mill has become a thoroughfare.
“There so much going on and it’s a growing community.”
Edmund Schaerf and his wife Elna Schaerf-Trauner have seen The Mill’s potential for years.
The couple are long-time friends of Phil McConachy and have been roasting coffee in Castlemaine for 13 years.
On The Mill site they run Coffes Basics roasting and the onsite cafe Das Kaffeehaus.
“When we saw The Mill was for sale we got utterly excited but didn't realise how vast and big the site was. It's incredible,” Elna said.
“And then we saw the shed and I knew we could do a real coffee house, which has always my dream. I thought we would have to do it in Melbourne.
“It’s a very traditional style. A designer friend of ours from Salzburg did design work. She is a set and stage designer but also engineer.
“We tried to marry the roughness of The Mill with the opulance of coffee house.”
Out the back of the opulant industrial look of Das Kaffeehaus is where Edmund spends a lot of time roasting coffee.
Previously, Coffee Basics was run in an old hospital site that had been re-purposed.
“Phil and Ronnie had a vision for it to become a hub and unique component in Castlemaine’s eclectic spectrum,” Edmund said.
“It took us over a year after getting permits and going through the build to facilitate it from a seed to the finished product.
“We knew it would work but thankfully since day one the punters have embraced us.
“Castlemaine has now got a unique, re-purposed site. It could have easily been a carpark or raized to the ground to be something really pedestrian but as it is has maintained heritage and history value of the site.”
Edmund and Elna have been in Castlemaine for 19 years and are excited to see the town, as well as The Mill, continue to evolve.
“You see Castlemaine growing every day,” Elna said.
“Castlemaine is a beuatiful community that attracts all sorts of people. It's a rainbow society.”