A positive attitude, a local AFL team, an artistic bent and the all-important coalfields keep the small central Gippsland town of Yinnar alive.

Story By Patricia Maunder

Yinnar is like a lot of small Australian towns: the state school opened in 1879, the post office five years later and, in 1885, the first train steamed into the station – which then closed in 1974. That year, ironically the town’s centenary, also marked the milk factory’s demise.
Without the rattle of trains and milk canisters, things are a bit quieter in 2010. But Yinnar’s still on the map, about 150 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, because it’s in the middle of Victoria’s coalfields, the source of nearly all the state’s electricity. The power stations and open-cut mines up the road aren’t pretty, but they mean jobs.
Employment isn’t the only reason why, on an ordinary Saturday afternoon, a crowd almost the size of the town’s population of 585 descends on Yinnar. They’re here to watch the Magpies play for Mid Gippsland Football League glory. Another crowd, albeit smaller, is also gathering for an exhibition opening at the old milk factory, which has been home to the Art Resource Collective (ARC) since 1984.
Yinnar is alive and well 36 years after its bittersweet centenary because its residents believe in their town – and each other.
“The thing that really stands out for me about Yinnar is the way no one whinges,” resident Peter Linton says. “They just get about and do it; they don’t sit around and say, ‘Poor old us’.”
A lot of what gets done is thanks to volunteers such as Peter who, among other things, is a shareholder in the community’s co-operative pub. The co-op has not only enabled Yinnar’s hotel to stay open, but has also kept other community essentials thriving because it distributes money to the school, kindergarten and various sporting clubs.
Peter says about 20 years ago when the State Electricity Commission of Victoria was privatised, “a lot of people left the area and the footy club was getting beaten by 30, 40 goals every week. If it wasn’t for the pub, it would’ve folded”.
These days Yinnar is well known for its sporting facilities and success, but it’s also recognised for its creativity, particularly at the ARC, Victoria’s oldest artist-run space. The former milk factory is well utilised, according to volunteer Helen Coloe. “It could have been nothing,” she says. “It could have been a pile of rubble.”
Instead, this prominent building on Yinnar’s main street is a lively hive of well-equipped functional areas. Today’s exhibition opening is just one of many throughout the year in the ARC’s sleek gallery, and there are regular workshops in creative pursuits such as ceramics, painting and blacksmithing – people drive hours for those.

This story excerpt is from Issue #73

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2010