AS Newstead grows, so too does the need for space for its growing number of community groups.
The ever-increasing cost of living and rising house prices in Melbourne and regional cities is making more people consider small town living – and Newstead is proving a popular choice.
Its proximity to Castlemaine and the freeway, ample space for new residential development and low cost of housing has seen a relative influx in new residents.
But there’s one thing locals believe is their greatest pull factor – their 40 active community groups, a significant number for a town of under 800.
“The town seems to attract people from a wide range of professions. We have journalists, a previous head of seismology, the former Melbourne Grammar music director,” Genevieve Barlow said.
“The strength of the community is that we are able to achieve things.
“Having so many community groups and such an active community is very helpful.”
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With more people arriving, the need for space for people to express themselves grows greater by the year.
A plan to convert Newstead’s railway goods shed – made redundant when the railway line closed in 2004 – into a community hub for art and other classes has been in the works for years.
It was recently unsuccessful in its push for funding under the Pick My Project scheme, despite receiving funding for a restoration in 2014. Volunteers are now working on landscaping around the shed and have put in an application with the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal.
Newstead Arts Salon president Bob Clutterbuck said the space would allow the community’s creative side to flourish, and help new residents find ways to connect with others in Newstead.
“Apart from the hub – community centre – there is no capacity for anything that requires equipment,” he said.
“We want a fully equipped workshop, a space for classes of all varieties.
“Newstead is a very pluralist kind of town.”
Sam Hudson, the former national secretary of the Australian Democrats, could not resist relocating to Newstead after making numerous visits, enjoying the friendly nature and creative spirit of the locals.
She said it was important for people to be involved in their commuter, particularly as Newstead grows as people see it as an alternative to Castlemaine.
“Castlemaine is becoming more expensive, now people are moving here instead,” Ms Hudson said.
Locals also say the need for upgrades to, or a complete rebuild of, the Newstead Primary School is growing more imminent as the years pass and more families take up residence.
One place newcomers are often pointed to is the Newstead Community Garden – a unique feature of the town, built at the rear of a church.
The mandala shape of the garden allows for members to tend to their own “wedge”, each with a variety of vegetables. It also includes plantings designed to attract native wildlife, and an orchard.
The garden started in 2001 and was this year gifted its own gardener in residence, Janet Baker, who can often be found tending to the grounds and giving advice to those wanting to get the most out of their produce.
She said the garden had proven effective in building on the sense of community in Newstead.
“When people move to Newstead, the garden is one way for them to get to know the community that they live in,” Ms Baker said.
“We have farmers from out of town tend a section of the garden.
“They say it’s their connection to Newstead, otherwise it can be quite isolating living on the land.”
It was formed near the height of the Millennium Drought as a way of using nutrient-rich land to benefit those struggling with water shortages.
The cold winters and hot summers are ideal for tomatoes, rhubarb and garlic, while weeds – both good and bad – find no trouble taking root.
Ms Baker said the growth of Newstead in recent years was hard to ignore.
“We are seeing real population growth in this region because house prices are out of reach for a lot of people elsewhere in the state,” she said.
“They might not have lived in a small community before. If you want to have a service, then you kind of need to participate in the community.
“In a town like Newstead, having 10 extra families move in is quite big. But it wouldn’t be a blip in places like Castlemaine or Bendigo.”
While the Bendigo Advertiser was visiting the Newstead Community Garden, a man arrived to pick some flowers and garnish.
He was Anthony Santamaria, a chef who has run the Newstead Community Lunch every Wednesday at 12.30pm, school holidays excluded, since 2011.
About 40 people attend the lunch each week, enjoying meals made with seasonal ingredients and dozens of herbs and spices collected by Mr Santamaria.
He said it was a pleasure to cook for the town with a small group of volunteers.
“Everything is made from scratch and I cook for all dietary requirements,” Mr Santamaria said.
Gillian Frances recently moved back to the area and helps out in the kitchen ahead of the weekly lunch.
She said it was a fun way to connect with the community.
“It’s fun working in the kitchen. You pick up skills, especially because everything is homemade,” Ms Frances said.
“I’ve just moved back to the area so, for me, it’s a great way to get back into the community.”
They chatted and laughed freely as locals tucked into a lunch of pasta fagioli.
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