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Cooroy boasts gentle pace, open space

spring 10

   


IN COOROY AND ITS SURROUNDS, beauty in man-made and natural forms are savoured, enjoyed and celebrated.

For example, I’m sitting on a wooden bench that juts into Lake Macdonald from its northwest bank. The platform doubles as a low jetty that must be ideal for fishing off and I’m sure is large enough to host a picnic for a party of 10. 

Not a single cloud sullies the crisp cornflower blue sky and a soft breeze licks at the water’s surface, pushing gentle ripples to the shore. I’ve somehow snatched this prime sunny spot all to myself, even though it’s a Saturday and I’m only a two-minute drive from pretty Cooroy.

I can see gentle activity on the other side of the lake: a group of canoers glide through the still water past a team of ducks. Fishermen variously bob about in silver tinnies with fishing rods at the ready to catch saratoga, yellowbelly, bass and Mary River cod that stock these waters. And on the nearby shore, families are preparing for lunchtime picnics and barbeques. In the distance watching over the humming country scene is Cooroy Mountain, its gradual peak like a quizzical raised eyebrow.

I’ve visited Lake Macdonald on the recommendation of a number of Cooroy residents who all claim this as one of their favourite natural spots. I can see why. It’s living proof that man, like nature, is capable of great beauty. The lake was constructed on farmland in 1965 to supply the area with water. It’s only 20 kilometres inland from Noosa and the arty market town of Eumundi is a zippy 10 kilometres south along the Bruce Highway. 

Cast an eye over the Lake Macdonald brochure and you get the false impression you’d never find a spot on your own. The map is a blur of variously coloured dotted and dashed lines zigzagging in, over and around the lake. Each line signifies a different track to explore, whether by canoe, horseback, mountain bike or foot. 

Before I nod asleep in this serene spot I decide to jump in my car and head for Cooroy. I drive south along Lake Macdonald Drive, passing Noosa Botanic Gardens on my left; it sprawls across eight fertile hectares. I later learn it was once an informal rubbish tip but since 1987 has grown to support native plants and wildlife, including 94 native species of birds. Mid-year it plays host to the annual Noosa Festival of Water with boat tours, wildlife displays and music concerts in its open-air amphitheatre. 

I soon arrive at the eastern side of Cooroy at Elm Street (the railway bisects the town). This is where Cooroy was technically born because it was a rail station for timber logging and tourism long before it was a town. From the 1880s, the sawmilling company Dath and Henderson privately owned the 5000 hectares surrounding Cooroy. Timber was sent from Cooroy to be milled in Brisbane when the new railway linked the towns in 1891. 

The railway also boosted tourism to the Sunshine Coast as there wasn’t a decent road north from Brisbane until the Bruce Highway was built in the 1930s. In the meantime, holidaymakers used Cooroy as the station to access Tewantin via horse-drawn carriage or motorcar, where they could then continue to Noosa via motorboat. 

It wasn’t until 1908 that Cooroy welcomed its first townsfolk when the government took ownership of the area and opened it up to settlement. This was also the year the first sawmill, Fenwick’s, opened on Mary River Road.

As settlement grew, so too did the timber milling industry with up to 30 mills operating in the area at times. In 1944 Straker’s and Sons Mill was established and grew to become the largest hardwood mill in Queensland. It closed in 2000 so I’m here to see the new Mill Place precinct that has taken its place.

I drive to the western side of town and enter the town’s main artery, Maple Street. It is stacked with history as it was also the high street in Cooroy’s early days so the blacksmith, bakehouse, Victory Hotel, Cooroy Private Hospital and Bank of NSW were all erected here in the early 1900s. The Cooroy-Noosa Genealogical and Historical Research group has plotted a heritage walk of Cooroy to take in the sights.  

Many historical buildings still stand, for example, I visit the Cooroy Butter Factory at 10 Maple Street. Its red bricks almost glow in the soft sunlight. The building was built in 1930, taking the place of the original timber factory constructed in 1915. It is now refurbished as a gallery for local and touring exhibitions. 

A fixed exhibition celebrates the colourful retro labels emblazoned on the Wimmers Soft Drinks glass bottles. Franz Wimmer established the Wimmers factory in Garnet Street in 1910 and the company is still going strong – it celebrates its 100th birthday this year. In 2007, Wimmers was put up for sale and another of Cooroy’s small business gems – Cooroy Mountain Spring Water – sealed the deal.  

After taking in all the exhibitions indoors, I head for the Butter Factory’s backyard, which houses a studio for local artisans. In the patio area a children’s workshop is about to start and paints and water bowls are laid out neatly as parents drop their kids off. 

I leave the kids to their fun and walk next door to the state-of-the-art $9.7 million Cooroy Library, which is part of the new Mill Place precinct – a major development project to keep the town’s culture, history and trade alive after the Straker’s sawmill closed in 2000. From all accounts the project has worked wonders because it has included residents and community groups in its decision-making, planning and vision throughout the life of the project. 

The library opened in May this year and still sparkles. You can see residents’ chests puff with pride as they depart its sliding doors. It’s closing time – a sensible noon on Saturdays – and a little girl dashes from the kerb to drop off a book with seconds to spare. The librarian meets the girl at the door. “Thanks sweetie,” she says, tucking the book under her arm as she heads back indoors to end her shift. 

People laze about comfortably in the library’s gardens, including the rooftop garden (which is a sustainability measure to control temperatures inside), as if it were their own yard. A mum and her two girls read books under the newly-planted trees while a group of people tap away on their laptops in the shade of four large steel sculptures. The art installation is titled Bunya and was designed by local artists Glen Manning and Kathy Daly as an ode to Cooroy’s rich timber history. Across the street the skate bowl and playground draw littlies and teenagers like bees to honey. 

I follow the landscaped path that links the library to the Cooroora Woodworkers Club a few hundred metres away. Along the way I cross Cooroy Creek, which has been rehabilitated with 8000 native species planted by the local Landcare group as part of the Mill Place development. The new woodworkers’ set up includes the refurbished and heritage-listed kilns and boiler house, as well as a gallery and workspace that is open to woodworkers of all levels. The club also offers free self-guided tours and there’s even a resident ghost to welcome everyone to the space.

That’s the thing about Cooroy – it seems its doors are always open to everyone. 

WHAT TO DO IN COOROY
  • Climb Cooroy Mountain in the beautiful Noosa hinterland. It’s a two-hour return walk departing from Cooroy Mountain Spring Water’s private property so for your safety be sure to let the good folk at reception know you’re on your way up the mountain. Phone: 07 5447 7577
  • Celebrate Christmas in Cooroy – this free family fun event is held on December 4. 
  • Join Cooroy library’s free workshop program, including author talks and sessions on how to keep chooks in your backyard and home cheese making.
  • Walk, mountain bike or horse ride along one of the four Noosa trails that link to Cooroy. It’s a great way to be fit and healthy while taking in the natural beauty and history of Cooroy and its surrounding country. 
  • Visit the Cooroora Woodworkers Club at Mill Place and take a tour. 
  • Visit an exhibition at the Cooroy Butter Factory Arts Centre at 10 Maple Street.
  • Fancy a spot of golf? Enjoy the picturesque lush country setting while you tackle 18 holes at the Cooroy Golf Club. 
words frances frangenheim photos anastasia kariofyllidis 
 

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