They have “a few moans” about the town but Michael and Colin are pretty happy with where Newstead is heading – with one very notable exception.
“We’ve got a good milk bar, a good bakery, the football-netball club is going strong, school attendance is going up, we’ve a good community hall for everything from weddings to funerals, our swimming pool was about the only one they didn’t try to close down,” Colin Lamport said.
“The Rural Transaction Centre is a great resource – there’s a bank, computers, they run people into Maryborough or Castlemaine to do their business… .”
But the two long-term locals – one retired, the other a self-employed builder – did identify one item essential to their daily lives which the town lacked.
“There’re no petrol stations here,” Michael Ruggles said, leaning against his white tradey’s ute as the two stood chatting outside the post office on a fresh winter’s morning.
“If you want petrol, you’ve got to drive to Maldon, if you use LPG it’s Castelmaine.”
Both trips are less than 20 kilometres but Narelle Rowland, teller at the nearby community bank branch, said her “old bomb” had conked out several times on the trip to refuel.
“I cursed that old thing more than once,” she said.
“Every time you want to mow the lawn, you’ve got to make the trip out of town!”
But a local councillor is among several resident motorists who can not only top up his vehicle in town – but can do so for free.
Three months ago a new business moved in, setting up shop on the site where the last of Newstead’s petrol stations switched off its fuel pumps several years ago.
A bowser has been reconverted – where once it pumped oil, now it is a charging station for electric cars.
We’re excited about taking this fossil fuel business from the past and creating a renewable energy hub for the future,”
Manager of the EnviroShop Frank Forster said practical factors drove him to relocate his store from Castlemaine – the old space was too small for his expanding business.
But it was the town’s vision to become the first in Victoria powered entirely by locally-generated, renewable energy which drew him to Newstead.
Earlier this year the community-run Newstead 2021 signed a memorandum of understanding with Powercor Australia to work on creating a renewable-energy based power supply for homes in Newstead.
“So we had a strong interest in what Newstead is doing as a community around renewable energy and we felt that, if we made the move out here, we could support, encourage and participate in the process of making Newstead a 100 per cent renewable community,” Mr Forster said.
“And the move out to the new site has proved particularly beneficial in the sense that we’re now right on the main highway, the Pyrenees Highway, and as people are seeing us for the first time, a lot are coming from other parts of central Victoria, from Hepburn Shire, Central Goldfields Shire, from Bendigo, from Kyneton.”
That would create a flow-on effect to the rest of the local economy, the store’s sustainability consultant Jane Knight said.
The driver of an electric vehicle going from Melbourne to, say, Bendigo, would detour off the Calder Highway to recharge at Newstead. That pit stop might also include a coffee at the cafe, a meal at the pub or a visit to the new art centre.
But it wasn’t just out-of-towners who would make use of one of central Victoria’s only electric vehicle charging station, she said.
“There’s a perception this is all coming from a blow-in, greenie crowd in this region,” Ms Knight said.
“But more and more you’re seeing the long-term residents moving towards what would’ve once been considered ‘alternative’ – and that’s simply because with an electric car you get high performance with very low running costs.
“The same is true with solar, it’s becoming more and more mainstream and being seen as less and less strange.”
Mr Forster said that, as locals looked to replace their vehicles over coming years, they would increasingly consider switching to the electric option.
”Up to this point, everyone has just assumed that when they update their car they’re just going to go to the local Nissan or Toyota dealer and buy the latest version of the Camry,” he said.
”That’s no longer the case.”
Originally from the United Kingdom, Ms Knight moved to central Victoria nearly two-decades ago and has recently built a sustainable home in Lyonville.
She said this kind of shift had put the region at the “practical end of the big-picture conversation”.
“People are moving to Newstead and to Castlemaine for this reason, because it represents an opportunity to create a sustainable life – these are seen as do-it-yourself communities where that is possible,” she said.
“I would suggest that a lot of those people are disillusioned with both sides of politics.”
But many of the younger generation, born and raised in Newstead, are engaging in the big-picture conversation too.
Seventeen-year-old Flynn Kelly recently went to Newcastle with a group of his high school friends from Casltemaine to take part in a climate change protest at Newcastle’s coal harbour.
About 1500 joined the demonstration, part of a global day of protests about fossil fuel use, in which several hundred took to the water in kayaks and canoes to impede access to the port.
“Coal is a really big issue,” Flynn said. ”I want to make a difference – it’s our future they’re talking about.”
The 800-odd residents of Newstead are concerned about the future of their children – but many young people in the central Victorian town aren’t waiting around for them to do anything about it.
For the better part of a decade, Steve Proposch has been spearheading a campaign for a skate, bike and activity park for local youth.
“We don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, in Newstead,” he said.
The project has had its ups and downs, most recently when the local council ruled out the proposed site – an abandoned court and patch of grass next to the town’s more conventional sporting facilities.
But the artist and founder of monthly magazine Trouble remains deeply committed to the plan.
“I knew early on my kids weren’t getting into footy or cricket and I saw they were by no means the only ones,” Mr Proposch said.
“There’s the perception that adults socialise, children play, old people get together, youth … loiter.
“Newstead doesn’t think like that, but if you’re not part of an organised sporting club, there’s not much to do.”
His is not a lone voice. The Maldon and District Community Bank recently ran a campaign to identify the main area toward which it should funnel grant money.
The community picked “building children’s resilience”.
But she stressed many weren’t waiting around to be helped, pointing to local twenty-somethings setting up their own businesses in everything from woodworking to fitness.
Parks Victoria project firefighter Joe Park, 27, said the politicians in Canberra could learn a thing or two from Newstead.
“I’m continually impressed by how community-minded people are here and how much time and energy they put back in,” he said.
“Nationally, one of my biggest things is being spoken to in buzzwords and slogans – it’s not a budget it’s a ‘future economic plan’ – the dialogue from our politicians at the moment, through the mainstream media, is perplexing and lacking detail.”
Extracted in full from the Bendigo Advertiser.