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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Hitting the Retro Trail for regional tourism in the Hunter Valley

An old bank safe in the middle of a café in town, a pet shop that locals refer to as ‘the zoo’, and a 1930s horse trough in the main street.

These are just a few of the historic idiosyncrasies that make Branxton a ‘must-see’ place, according to Retro Trail Hunter Valley creator Kim Barnes.

Formed in May 2020, the Retrotrail team, as they are known, is a collection of locals who are passionate about promoting the townships of Branxton and Greta.

Located just 15 minutes from the Hunter Valley vineyards, the towns’ combined 5,000 residents have decided to share their stories in a bid to draw more visitors to the towns post-lockdown.

“We just wanted people to have a place to travel to in their mind,” Ms Barnes said.

“A place to look forward to seeing once lockdown was over. We hadn’t thought much further than that at that point.”

The group’s social media sites soon flourished, clocking up almost 40,000 views, Ms Barnes said.

Posting images of the businesses that stretch the main streets of Branxton and Greta, the group’s focus is reminding people of what community feels like.

“Our main street is the focus,” Ms Barnes said. “You can sit and watch the world go by without the shopping mall feeling.

“It’s community, that old-fashioned feeling of belonging, where everyone knows your name and says hello.

“Those little touches that are missing in big cities.”

The introduction of the Hunter Expressway in 2016 meant Branxton’s Main Street was no longer a regular thoroughfare, a path well-worn by mining traffic since the 1900s.

“This is where they came to shop,” Ms Barnes said. “And that is still the case now.

“Our idea is to feature the heritage aspects of the town but with modern ideas.”

The adage about everything old being new again forms part of the group’s ethos.

“People from Sydney and Newcastle are becoming more interested in the area as a renewed love for regional tourism with authentic heritage is emerging,” Ms Barnes said.

“It’s like people are seeking another time and finding it here in Branxton and Greta.

“Maybe that feel for nostalgia is quite comforting for people in these uncertain times.”

Through ongoing support from the Cessnock City Council, Retro Trail Hunter Valley has been maintaining a constant flow of professional imagery across its Instagram and Facebook sites.

With Christmas fast approaching, Ms Barnes said the group had turned its attention to creating a festive feel within the dual townships.

Through its ‘Light up our Streets’ campaign, launched earlier this month, the group has welcomed the adornment of Christmas lights across many of its 1930s heritage-listed building.

“We wanted something that once again made us all feel connected,” Ms Barnes said.

“And I think this demonstrates the strength of the Retrotrail team, it’s not just us, it’s the businesses embracing and supporting this idea, and we love them for it.”

Richardson and Wrench Branxton real estate agent and Retrotrail member Andrew Thomas is the fourth generation in his family to call the township home.

Born and raised in the area, he has seen its many changes over time, but says Branxton’s true beauty lies in its authenticity.

“There’s development taking place but we’re making sure to keep the town’s heritage, which is what I think people are being drawn to,” he said.

“We have a new estate nearby, The Huntlee, combined with the older towns of Branxton and Greta, it’s a great mix and its attracting new families and people wanting to leave the bustle of cities behind.

“I’ve lived here all my life and didn’t realise how special this place was.

“Our main street is one of the best I’ve seen in a country town anywhere.”