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Maleny’s sophisticated simplicity

winter 11

DRIVING BETWEEN BRISBANE and the Sunshine Coast can be a tedious experience, but as I wind my car up steep hills towards Maleny, the view is an absolute joy.
When you’re steering alongside sheer cliff drops, you should probably keep your eyes on the road. But it’s hard not to take peeks at the scene unfolding right next to me: a vast panorama of valleys and diving hills, and lush scallops of forest.
For the last few days, this entire terrain has been bleak, grey and cold with rain. But today, it’s fecund and alive, and the sunshine makes it look as rich and saturated as an old technicolor movie. 
When I finally park in Maple Street—Maleny’s main strip of bookshops (three in one street), butchers, draperies, antique stores, florists, nurseries, and organic grocers and restaurants – the mountain air is crisp like a sheet, with morning sunlight cutting through it all.
In my book, that’s perfect weather. After a long drive, I realise what I desperately need is food.
Even from my car, I smell fried eggs, squeezed juice, steaming hot coffee, black tea and toast. It’s an intoxicating welcome for a newcomer. 
I perch myself at the Upfront Club, a co-operatively run music venue and restaurant-café, and one of Maleny’s most beloved institutions.
Like many Maleny eateries, the food offered here is eco-conscious. All the coffee and most of the tea is organic and so is the bread. 
Inside, the Upfront Club is furnished with beautifully mismatched, saved-from-the-dump timber furniture.
Outside, it’s the perfect spot for people watching, and the locals here stroll past like a morning parade.
There are grandmothers with dreadlocks, young paint-stained artists, teenagers on scooters, women with ribbons in their hair, bricklayers downing lattés and muffins, old hippies in rude health and white collar office workers in ties who don’t look half as rushed as their city equivalents. 
With his spectacles, beard and black cap, Danny Rose, 57, is a friendly, softly-spoken pirate of a man. He sips coffee with me, telling me how he’s been involved in the Upfront Club since its inception in the mid-90s.
Having been in Maleny since 1985, Danny now works as the music and events manager at the Upfront, and his love of the entire town is infectious.
It’s a shame, he says, that I’ve just missed out on the recent Maleny Wood Expo: the annual festival that showcases the furniture, toys and fittings made from the town’s most treasured timber, from red cedar to rainforest timber. 
Paul Veit, 62, who sits on the board of directors of the Maple St Co-Op, joins us for a while.
Paul moved here with his partner ten years ago, from what he called “the big ugly city of Johannesburg” and initially discovered Maleny by accident.
“We wanted to have a complete change,” he says. “We wanted a community with diverse people in it, and when we arrived, there were quite a lot of people on the fringe—people in the arts, people who have more hippie-type tendencies. It was a different culture, with different ideas on life.”
One of those different ideas central to Maleny is the co-op culture, which came to the town around the 1970s, when deeply community-minded people moved into the area.
As a result, Maleny is now home to one of the densest concentrations of co-operative ventures in the country.
As well as the Upfront Club, there is the Maple Street Co-Op – perhaps the best organic food shop I’ve ever visited – and the LEED Co-Op, a local trade organisation where members barter skills and services online, such as grass mowing or doing a tax return.
Danny points out a Maleny local sipping coffee inside the Upfront, saying she’s doing accounts for LEED as we speak. 

Including the surrounding region, there are roughly 7000 people, but in Maleny proper, it’s around 3000 to 3500 people.
“It’s quite a small community,” Paul says, “but it’s a very strong community. A lot of retirees live here now, and a lot of people with a higher education.” 
Maleny’s locals – like the town itself – continually surprise and subvert my expectations of what a small town should be. Maleny might be regional, but with strong broadband internet uptake, it’s very connected.
It might be rural, but locals are well-travelled.
Over breakfast, a table of old-timers introduce themselves to me as the Maleny mafia.
Seeing as I’m Asian-Australian, they happily try out a combination of Mandarin and Japanese words on me and we all share a laugh.
Heather Spring, the president of Maleny’s Community Centre, agrees that Maleny isn’t like other small towns.
“We’ve got a really interesting and diverse community,” she says. “It’s one of the most engaged communities, and that’s what I really like. A diverse and active community is a good thing. Plus, Maleny is dynamic and still growing, and a lot of rural towns aren’t – which I think is a huge plus for us.” 
For the past seven years, Heather has presided over Maleny’s throbbing heart.
The Maleny Community Centre is one of the few local halls in Queensland that is community-run, rather than council-owned.
In excess of 70,000 people come through its doors every year and participate in over 1000 events annually.
There are chainsaw courses and jewellery-making classes, taekwondo and dance.
The Maleny Film Society screens films the town wouldn’t otherwise see, such as The King’s Speech, The Social Network and foreign arthouse movies.
All you need to bring are cushions and blankets for added comfort. It’s safe to say that every citizen of Maleny has used the hall at some stage.
It’s that strong sense of community that keeps things alive here, including institutions that would be long-dead anywhere else.
Maleny’s main petrol station Watson’s is a beautiful and nearly-extinct, last-of-its-kind species: a wholly independently-run business. (Bonus: it also sells home brewery supplies.)
Maleny is also the town that  recently got Woolworths (near its independently-owned Supa IGA), but only after a long fight against it that got national news coverage.
People like to keep things community and family-owned. At every stop, you can open a fridge to find milk from local dairies, produced and processed only kilometres away.
It takes no effort to leave Maple Street and be immersed in nature again.
As soon as you start driving up an incline, you’re treated to ridiculously beautiful views of paddocks, endless herds of happy sheep, horses and cows, all chewing fat grass that has sprouted up after recent rains.
After I keep driving for 20 minutes, I find a yawning stretch of water, also known as Baroon Pocket Dam.
Here, hardcore cyclists cool down their muscles and tendons after a marathon ride.
The water is crystal clear and quiet, beautifully chilly to swim in and surrounded by gulfs and rolling ranges of green. 
On the way home, I make a stop at Mary Cairncross Park, a popular spot for sightseers and locals for its majestic view of the Glass House Mountains. Families love this spot, because the kids are happy to play in the clean and well-equipped park (perfect for barbecues).
However, there are also a few tables near the carpark’s entrance where you can be treated to the iconic Mount Tibrogargan, Beerwah and Coonowrin. On the day I was at Mary Cairncross, an elderly gentleman did nothing but sip ginger beer for ages, blinking at the view. After a while, I found myself doing exactly the same thing.

  • Make sure to bring your sporting gear. Whether it’s kicking a footy at Mary Cairncross Park, swimming at Baroon Pocket Dam (or driving out further to Kondalilla Falls at Montville) or cycling through the hilly ranges, Maleny is perfect for getting outdoors and clearing out city lungs with fresh mountain air. 
  • Come to Maleny early on Sundays, between 8am and 2pm, where you’ll find an excellent handicraft markets. Find local arts, crafts and collectibles showcased in the RSL hall.
  • The Maleny Film Society has a following as large as its library of foreign films. salt can’t decide whether its popularity is because of its delicious gourmet dinner   served before screening, the red wine that you can sip while watching the film or the carefully selected art house films that originate from Russia to France to Germany. The society screens films every fortnight in the community centre, in Maple Street. or  5494 2882.
  • The Upfront Club, positioned in the middle of Maple Street, is the throbbing heart for live music in the mountain town. On any given Friday or Saturday night there will be live music seeping onto the street and Monday nights are dedicated to the musicians’ blackboard. Budding musicians have centre stage for 15 minutes to peddle their artistic wares.
  • If you have small kids, a dog, or both, the Maleny Showgrounds boardwalk is a great spot. Starting at the showgrounds and finishing on Coral Street, the 20-minute stroll sticks to a path cocooned by Australian native plants. 

Maleny has a kaleidoscope of artisans from painters to potters to sculptors living in its fringes. 
  • Take the time to drive the ten-minute scenic valley drive along Stanley River Road and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts when you step into the Maleny Arts Retreat (5499 9801). Visitors are greeted with a warm smile and   brilliant art by not only owner Gary Myers, but also other accomplished artists, in an exceptional setting. And if you’re a creative soul sign up for one of the many workshops that are held throughout the winter months. 
  • Art on Cairncross (5429 6404) is a beautifully appointed art gallery at Cairncross Corner on the Landsborough-Maleny Road, offering a broad spectrum of mixed medium artists based locally and nationally. Together both     directors Jane Caraffi and Tony Gill have decades of experience within the art world and showcase a range of acclaimed artists on their walls including Rowley Drysdale, Nan Paterson and Tom McAulay. 

Make sure you explore Maple Street, the main street of Maleny, from top to tail, as it’s jam-packed with retail goodness. Vintage shops sit side-by-side to stylish fashion boutiques, uber cool eateries, cosy bookshops and oodles of real estate offices selling tree changes. A warning to drivers that aren’t adept at reverse parking: unlike the clever locals that reverse park in five seconds flat, opt for off-street parking behind the main shops.
salt favourites are:
  • Giddy and Grace (5494 3636) is a lifestyle shop where you could spend an afternoon devouring its shelves of European style homewares, elegant accessories for women, beautiful bed linens and a gorgeous baby range. Your arms will begin to ache with gifts for yourself, your home, friends and family. 
  • Simply Stylish (5499 9533), positioned in the bustling Riverside Centre, cleverly offers the latest seasonal fashion including well-loved labels like Meredith and Verge while offering a wide range of lingerie from well-known labels like Triumph to boutique lingerie.  
  • Also within the Riverside Centre is Maleny Menswear (5429 6466) dedicated to dressing the male form with both casual, formal and workwear clothing catered for. It stocks Ripcurl and Levis.
  • Piece of Me (5499 9224) is a great fashion boutique that is always teeming with the latest fashion including an impressive and extensive collection of Metalicus as well as Wyse. For the yoga devotees, they also offer an activity-specific clothing range. 
  •  Imagine a blissful night’s sleep where you’re swathed in 100 per cent organic, all natural products. Beginning with the mattress that you’re lying upon made from pure organic wool to the organic wool pillows and quilt right through to 100 per cent organic, fair trade manchester sourced from India to your sleep wear. Blessed Earth (5494 2189) sells all of these products, offering an all-natural sleeping experience.
  • For a wide selection of natural fibre fashion for both men and women including hemp clothing, swing past Rather Bizr (5494 3122) on Maple Street for a range of free-flowing fashion that caters for the fuller figure. 
  • Maleny Kitchen & Homewares (5494 2522) feeds the amateur chefs and cooks amongst us with a shop bursting with professional, functional kitchen products including well-loved brands like Scanpan and Neo-flan, as well as others. For lovers of Crabtree & Evelyn you’ll be thankful that you stopped by to stock up on their range of lotions, hand creams and soaps.   
  • Wrap your mouth around a towering Works Burger at Once a Willow Café on Maple Street (5494 2316). The beef patty is made on site and is accompanied by onion, bacon, egg, pineapple, cheese, lettuce, tomato, beetroot and carrot.
  • Mukti Botanicals (1300 306 554) is one of Australia’s few certified organic skin care ranges and it all began right in Maleny. Thankfully for local residents owner Mukti has kept her Maleny showroom on Coral Street, where lovers of the organic skincare can stock up on the world-class range of skin care products. The word Mukti means freedom and liberation in Sanskit, reflecting the ethos behind the brand. 

Maleny is spoilt for choice when it comes to bookshops. Owners happily open their doors to mooching book lovers who like to take their time when selecting their next read or adding to their literary library.  
  • Rosetta Books (5435 2134) has that intoxicating smell of ink and paper as soon as you walk through the doors. Layered in Persian rugs, worn leather couches and plenty of softly lit corners to curl up in, this bookshop is a sensory delight. There is an exceptional assortment of cards and a dedicated children’s section packed with books selling imaginary journeys.
  • Maleny Bookshop (5494 3666) is a book lover’s castle with floor to ceiling shelves of pre-loved and out-of-print books. Its known specialty is sourcing and stocking rare, hard to find books for curious readers. Owners Chris Francis and Fiona Hunter also run along with author Steven Lang, which is an extended literary festival inviting authors to visit Maleny.


  • Jill Jordan arrived in Maleny in August 1970, and became so central to Maleny’s history and community that ABC’s Australian Story dedicated an entire episode to her. Jill was one of the driving forces in establishing Maleny’s co-op culture, and she founded both the Maple Street Co-Operative and the local credit union. She was so involved in co-op culture that she even visited Japan to help a rural community in Okinawa develop its own  co-operatives. Jill died last year, and her memorial service was held to a packed house at the Maleny Community Centre.
  • Maleny was declared a town in 1891 and specialised in timber until the 1920s. Afterwards, dairy and fruit-growing became central to its economy. Nowadays, local produce, tourism and an abundance of small,  community-owned business is Maleny’s lifeblood.
  • Roughly a century ago, Thomas Dixon granted land to the local community, which they used to build a school of arts. That burned down more than 50 years ago, and the community then rallied for funds to build the current 50-year-old community hall, which has just completed major extensions and is currently undergoing major renovations.
words benjamin law photos anastasia kariofyllidis  

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