HOW A WA TOWN FOUND HOPE AGAIN

The West Australian - - FRONT PAGE - Re­port Rhi­anna Mitchell Pic­tures Si­mon Santi

“A town loses its soul when it doesn’t have a pub,” Min­genew Ho­tel man­ager Trevor Samp­son says as he pulls a beer for the first of the post-work crowd to trickle into the front bar.

Mr Samp­son knows how im­por­tant pubs are to their towns — for 30 years he has worked in them all over Aus­tralia — pubs which have been around longer than the old­est res­i­dents, rid­den the highs and lows of ru­ral life and be­come em­blem­atic of their com­mu­nity.

None more so than this 109year-old rugged beauty, which re­opened un­der new own­ers Terry Bren­nan and Adrian Burns in Au­gust — 18 long, dry months af­ter its pre­vi­ous own­ers walked away.

The pub, ho­tel and restau­rant were packed ev­ery night in Au­gust and last month thanks to the best wild­flower sea­son in years, and with an an­tic­i­pated above-av­er­age re­turn from the loom­ing har­vest, hope has re­turned to the small farm­ing town, 380km north Perth, af­ter a tough cou­ple of years.

Part of that is thanks to lo­cals An­thony Smyth and Jar­rad Kup­sch, who are com­peti­tors in their roles at Land­mark and El­ders but teamed up 12 months ago to form the Min­genew Grin­gos.

It fol­lowed the death of a much-loved lo­cal farmer who took his own life, and the re­al­i­sa­tion that a num­ber of com­mu­nity mem­bers were fac­ing their own strug­gles.

The 40-odd mem­bers of the group, with the back­ing of the wider Mid West com­mu­nity,

raised an in­cred­i­ble $86,000 for the Movem­ber Foun­da­tion but by far the best out­come was en­cour­ag­ing a dis­cus­sion around men­tal health.

“There were a lot of peo­ple in the (Grin­gos) group who had lost peo­ple close to them through sui­cide as well, and we were also aware of mates within the group who had suf­fered from men­tal health is­sues,” Mr Smyth said.

“From some­thing that was very sad and neg­a­tive we wanted to turn it into a big pos­i­tive, so the rais­ing of money was one side of it to try and in­crease aware­ness but it was more about get­ting every­one to­gether.” wild­flow­ers at their most vi­brant. “There was a fair bit of ‘what’s go­ing to hap­pen here’ for a time,” Mr Kup­sch said. “But it feels like the town is on its feet again, the main street is pump­ing again, I can’t see it go­ing back from here.

“The pub open­ing was sen­sa­tional. It was a talk­ing point for six months lead­ing up to it. And the tourist sea­son has been one of the best we’ve had in years.”

Sara and Chris Gam­mon, who own the lo­cal bak­ery, have had their best year in 13 years.

“Two years ago was our big­gest year and we thought that was amaz­ing, but we’ve tripled it this year,” Mrs Gam­mon said. While the lo­cal sports club also catered to thirsty lo­cals, Mrs Gam­mon said it was great to see the re­turn of the pub.

“If you don’t have a pub, then what is there? It’s good see­ing peo­ple go along to so­cialise,” she said.

Farmer Peter Hor­wood grows wheat, lupin and canola on 5000ha and is look­ing at a great sea­son. While a de­cent rain late last month would have been the “ic­ing on the cake”, the sea­son is set to be a big im­prove­ment on last year, and re­turns will be boosted by higher-than-av­er­age grain prices. “It’s not only good for us, it helps the econ­omy,” he said. “The flow-on ef­fect to busi­nesses down the line is mas­sive.”

Mr Hor­wood said the sui­cide which rocked the town last year had made him not as scared to ask the “are you OK” ques­tion to oth­ers in the com­mu­nity.

“You’ve got noth­ing to lose by ask­ing the ques­tion,” he said.

Min­genew Shire chief ex­ec­u­tive Nils Hay, who has been in the role for just over two months, said it quickly be­came clear what a pas­sion­ate, tight-knit com­mu­nity he had joined.

Mr Hay said a shire-run mar­ket­ing cam­paign, “See you in Min­genew”, had been hugely suc­cess­ful and helped drive tourist num­bers. The next step was to en­cour­age peo­ple to move to the town, which in­clud­ing the wider farm com­mu­nity is home to about 450 peo­ple.

“This year has been fan­tas­tic, we’ve had good rain and the farm­ers are all do­ing re­ally well, the wild­flow­ers have been spec­tac­u­lar so the town has been full, which is in part be­cause of the cam­paign, and in part be­cause we have re­ally good nat­u­ral as­sets,” he said.

Mr Hay, who at 34 is one of the youngest shire chief ex­ec­u­tives in WA, is among the reg­u­lars at the Min­genew Ho­tel, tim­ing his ar­rival beau­ti­fully just a week ahead of its open­ing.

“It’s one of those in­tan­gi­bles — it’s al­most an Aus­tralian cul­ture thing, you can’t have a town with­out a pub,” he said.

Mr Bren­nan and Mr Burns, and their long-time mate Trevor Samp­son who they re­cruited as bar man­ager, spent seven months fix­ing up the run-down old pub. All three moved to town to take over the ho­tel and have been run off their feet since.

“It’s much bet­ter than we ex­pected,” Mr Bren­nan said.

“The restau­rant has been full most nights and it’s great to see those smil­ing faces com­ing through. The lo­cals have been fan­tas­tic. Coun­try peo­ple, they ap­pre­ci­ate their pub.”

Min­genew Grin­gos An­thony Smyth and Jar­rad Kup­sch.

Min­genew farmer Peter Hor­wood.

Min­genew pub own­ers Terry Bren­nan and Adrian Burns.

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