In a scenic, mountain-top village, a slice of history is being brought back to life, as locals rally to revitalise their town.

Like many country communities, Comboyne, in the New South Wales Mid North Coast hinterland, has faced a string of challenges in recent years, including drought, bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite that, new ventures are emerging in the small and vibrant community.

One of the latest is Larrikins Lock-up, a retail business set in the town’s 1905 police station and adjoining slab timber gaol, more than 100 years since Constable Walter Bond first served there.

It is owned and operated by Anne-Marie and Peter Newman, who have been in the region for more than 25 years, and say restoring the property has been a labour of love.

An old timber building, with a pitched roof, surrounded by large trees.

It’s hoped the Newmans’ business in the 1905 lock-up will draw more visitors to the town.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

A black and white image showing an older timber building with an outside verandah and a family in 1900s style clothing.

The original Comboyne police station, pictured here around 1914.(Supplied: Peter Newman)

A black and white image showing a police constable sitting on a horse in around 1916.

The first Comboyne Constable Walter Bond and his police horse around 1916.(Supplied: Peter Newman)

“We have used all the timbers that were available to us in the premises, and we have made it very rustic.

“The property runs along the Thone River, which runs down to the Hastings, and it’s just a gorgeous area with beautiful, mature trees.”

It is hoped the business, which sells local woodwork and garden supplies, will help draw more visitors to the town.

After coming through the drought and severe bushfires, the town’s only sealed, mountain access road was damaged during severe rain and flooding earlier this year, staying closed for nearly two months.

The road has reopened, but it will be some time before it is fully repaired.

“The more we have in terms of business opportunity for people, the more they will come and enjoy the place.

A timber sign outside a timber building, saying '1905 Comboyne Gaol'.

The owners of Larrikins Lock-up say they have tried to preserve a part of the town’s heritage.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

“That’s why we support people and refer people to other businesses, and they refer people to us … it’s just lovely.”

A river running between green hills and farmland.

The converted Comboyne lock-up property backs onto the Thone River.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

‘We are pretty tough’

A young woman with short red hair, wearing a jacket and scarf, stands smiling outside a wooden building.

Rebecca Armstrong and her family run a chemical-free farm.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

One of those other businesses is a small, chemical-free farm on the plateau just outside the village centre.

Rebecca Armstrong runs the Grazed and Grown farm with her husband Pete, directly selling eggs and other produce.

“We are a regenerative egg-farming business; we also have pork and beef as well. We are only an early starter ourselves, we are building up,” Ms Armstrong said.

Two large dogs stand in a paddock with chickens around them grazing on the grass and mountains in the distance.

From Comboyne, which sits on a plateau, the Grazed and Grown farm offers expansive views.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

“They want to know a bit more about their farmer and where things are grown and produced.”

A man wearing a wide brimmed hat, jeans and shirt, crouches down next to a dog and some chickens in a paddock.

Pete and Rebecca Armstrong directly sell eggs and other produce.(Supplied: the Armstrongs)

Ms Armstrong said it had been a challenging time, but the small town was rallying. 

Connecting people

A woman stands next to a mannequin with a blue and green garment made from plant materials.

Robyn Lyon has designed “botanical couture” for a planned fashion parade.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

A community group, Creative Comboyne, has also been working to draw visitors to the town through events including open gardens and unique “botanical couture”.

“It’s a group that wants to bring a lot of vibrancy to the community … we want to attract people from all walks of life, including the artists’ community,” Creative Comboyne’s Georgia Connell said.

The group’s Tim Connell said it was a chance to focus on positive events.

A man with short grey hair and glasses wearing a jumper sits on a seat outside, smiling.

Tim Connell says the town is one of the “best-kept secrets” in NSW.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

“It’s just been one thing after another and that’s why we are so keen to do things that are basically fun, that people are interested in,” he said.

Creative Comboyne’s Robyn Lyon has put her time to good use during COVID-19 lockdowns, piecing together elaborate botanical couture.

The striking clothing, made from plant and fibre materials, will feature in a fashion parade planned for late this year.

Two dresses, one in cream colours and the other in blue tones, made from plant materials, sit on a display inside a home.

The botanic couture features wearable clothing made from plant materials.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

“So that’s very challenging to get the right materials that will stay together.

“I think it will create a lot of interest … it will bring people up here and make them aware of what we have and hopefully they will visit more often.” 

‘Best-kept secret’

View from a high paddock, looking over mountain ranges.

Comboyne sits on a plateau surrounded by mountains and sub-tropical rainforest.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

Mr Connell said ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns had been having an impact on the town, but locals remained focussed on the future and other local businesses were also starting up.

“It’s just not very well known, it’s a plateau with subtropical rainforest all round it. It’s really a very special area.” 

After a ‘pretty rugged’ couple of years, this mountain-top town is rallying
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