Cororooke’s Legendairy art focus invigorates local community

Cororooke’s Legendairy art focus invigorates local community

Cororooke, a small township 11km northwest of Colac in Victoria, with just under 400 residents, was once a major player in the Australian onion industry.  Today, it’s a centre for dairy.

Not many towns the size of Cororooke can boast a modern arts facility that would fit nicely in the swankier parts of central Melbourne, but Cororooke does, thanks to the initiative of local dairy farmers Andrew and Mary Beale and a dedicated volunteer committee.

Originally St David’s Presbyterian Church, The Red Rock Regional Theatre and Gallery (RRRTAG), which is the Beale’s brainchild, has had a big impact on the social fabric of the little community.

Despite the closure last year of the local Fonterra processing plant casting a shadow over the town, Andrew, and his family’s love of music and art, have created a thriving arts space that is bringing locals together for regular public performances, film nights, concerts and exhibitions.

The idea for the arts centre came about after a tragic accident which took the life of Andrew and Mary’s second youngest daughter, Carolyn.

“I wanted to pursue something that would take my mind off what had happened and also instil some positive vibes back into my life,” Andrew said.  “So in 2011 we bought the old church and hall, did some renovations and created the Carolyn Theatre.”

The 80-seat theatre caters for live performances, such as the recent production: ‘Shannon…come home”, an original musical by Jill Meehan about the desperate struggles, hopes and dreams of farmers during Australia’s longest drought. The show received sponsorship from Dairy Australia’s Legendairy communications initiative and the United Dairy Farmers of Victoria (UDV), underpinning the importance of dairying to the small town and its residents.

Andrew and Mary farm 1000 cows, mainly Holsteins with a few cross-breeds, on 2000 acres across four dairy sheds.

“I grew up on the farm,” Andrew said. “We moved there when I was about 11 years old. My father was a policeman; my mother a nurse. They weren’t farmers, but they slipped me into a pair of gumboots from a very early age and I just kept on farming. I’ve been farming for most of my life.”

When he first took over his parent’s farm it was 117 acres. Since then, Andrew and Mary have continued to grow the farm which now operates with seven to eight staff and additional family support.

“We had nine children and they’ve all had the gumboots on at some stage,” Andrew said.   “Two of my children are full-time on the farm and another two help out from time to time.”

With his trademark beard and pork-pie hat, Andrew’s a familiar figure in town and he’s also been making a contribution at the national level.

In 2015, he completed the ‘Developing Dairy Leaders Program’ in Canberra and has become increasingly involved with the broader Australian dairy industry.

According to Andrew, encouraging young people into dairying is important for the future and programs like Dairy Australia’s Legendairy communications platform help.

“Anything that encourages youth to stick with dairying, introduces them to dairying and shows them that it’s not all just hard slog - some of it is hard work of course - but there is certainly a lot of joy to be had in it.

“With dairy farming you are close to the cattle, you see them every day, it’s a good income stream and it has a great support network and industry,” Andrew said.

“If you look at the positives, for young people their time is much freer on the farm than the likes of working in a factory or a nine to five job. It’s more flexible. Sure you have to be at the dairy in the morning and afternoon, but you have the day, and you can be creative in lots of different ways in your work or in your own pursuits.”

For Andrew, those pursuits include keeping the RRRTAG ticking along.

In addition to its productions, the venue hosts exhibitions of local artists. A recent example is “Miniscule”, an amazing showcase on tiny canvases, which is the work of 350 artists of all ages.

And it’s truly a Cororooke community affair, with RRRTAG run by four separate community committees.

“The volunteers who work on these committees are fantastic people who put 100 per cent in and that’s what makes RRRTAG successful and an important venue for the town,” he said.

RRRTAG is open 11am – 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays and admission to the Gallery is free.