Have you ever heard of a town wherein, armed with various cleaning instruments, the residents band together to literally scrub the village clean?
Mirboo North village marks the halfway point of Grand Ridge Road, which snakes 132km through the Strzelecki Ranges in the southwest corner of Gippsland. When I visit Mirboo North, there is an almost tangible vitality, which I later credit to be the sum of the residents’ collective vision for their beautiful village.
Twelve years ago, when photographer Nicky Cawood and husband Andrew approached the town for the first time via Loves Lane, “The sun was shining, the Mirboo North Market was on. Locals were everywhere – it was bustling,” describes Nicky.
After feeling “done” with the city and wanting to lay down roots in a regional setting, they spent weekends scoping out small towns.
When they found Mirboo North, “We both just had this feeling of finding home,” Nicky says contently, "We moved there a month later”.
Today, Nicky, Andrew and their children, Billy and Heidi, live in a quiet street of Mirboo North, with quintessential ridge views and a plentiful veggie patch in the front garden.
During the intermittent lockdowns of the last 18 months, the resources of the village were increasingly relied upon by locals. Nicky explains, “We had no choice but to look at what was right in front of us.”
Amongst these adversities, a conversation sprouted between a small group of locals with the idea of lifting the town’s spirits, starting with a good old-fashioned working bee. “We wanted to get everyone back to feeling (and looking) good, and hopeful about their business,” Nicky shares.
So, a committee was formed, a grant was received from Business Victoria to kick things off and residents took to the streets. “There was no hesitation when we were handing out scrubbing brushes for lichen-ridden mosaics and paintbrushes for bollards.” Nicky laughs, “One night, we even de-cobwebbed the whole street. It’s kind of crazy looking back, but we were on a roll and we had a vision.”
Nicky is part of the small project team who have since formalised as a working group under Mirboo Country Development Inc. and received additional funding from South Gippsland Shire, Mirboo North & District Community Bank, Mirboo North & District Community Foundation, Mirboo North Times and Dulux.
It comes as no surprise that someone with this creative capacity has diverse experience in work and life. Describing herself as having “worn all the hats” professionally, Nicky is currently working as a photographer but has a background in, well, almost everything. Chef, travel agent, event organiser, workshop facilitator and social media management are some of the roles she’s tucked under her belt in both Australia and the UK. Perhaps it is the melding of these life experiences that form the adeptness to help recharge a town.
Nicky’s work as a photographer has forged a deeper connection and devotion to the region. With clients the likes of Destination Gippsland, she is able to travel to lesser-known towns just like Mirboo North to capture their stories. Nicky describes her project base as including, “Incredible small ventures, restaurants, cafes, Airbnbs, artists and fresh start-ups on the way.”
Many of the businesses are newly created, freshly rebranded or just recognising the value in quality photography of their product or service. “I get goosebumps hearing about their vision and dreams and love helping them tell their story with my pictures,” says Nicky.
Having fallen in love with her “little village in the hills” multiple times over, Nicky’s vision and dreams for her own place are inspiring. “There are so many new faces in Mirboo North over the past year or two. The potential this brings to a little village like ours – to this region – is thrilling.”
Nicky’s Mirboo North Hit List: