This paper seeks to identify the key aspects of the evolution of Meeniyan Town Centre from 2000 through to February 2020. It explores particular events and activities that have occured and highlights the groups and individuals who were responsible for initiation and implementation.
The paper was prepared through analysis of information and studies and through a series of one-on-one interviews with members of the Meeniyan residential and business communities, from August 2019 through to February 2020.
The author has been a regular visitor to and part-time resident of South Gippsland over the past 30 years. Over this time, he has watched how Meeniyan has evolved into a successful, attractive and vibrant town with a reputation for quality goods and services, gourmet food and music. Meeniyan is a small township which in 2016 had a population of 771. It is located on the South Gippsland Highway, 135km south-east of Melbourne.
The South Gippsland Highway provides the main traffic route from Melbourne to South Gippsland and to Wilsons Promontory National Park, a major Victorian tourist destination. Meeniyan lies between the larger towns of Leongatha (population 5,119) to the west and Foster (population 1,164) to the east (see Figure 1). It is part of a chain of small, traditionally farming communities located along the former South Gippsland Railway line and the South Gippsland Highway. The railway closed in 1987 and has been transformed into the 78km Great Southern Rail Trail which now links the towns from Leongatha to Meeniyan and beyond.
This paper explores how the small rural community of Meeniyan has managed to create a thriving, attractive, inviting environment for itself, while also attracting visitors, investors, businesses and musical performers from across Australia and beyond. Importantly, how it has achieved this evolution while maintaining its essential character. Tractors, livestock lorries and tankers still trundle through the main street along with their rural odours and the mud and manure that they sometimes leave on the bitumen. The local community still has easy access to essential local supplies, be they groceries, nails, metal or hay, and can still visit the community hall, hotel, community shop or post office.
In particular the paper investigates:
- How the community has achieved this success without fast food chains or a major tourism attraction;
- How the community has embraced and, in the main, supported this evolution while maintaining the essence of Meeniyan as a rural township;
- Who or what has led the evolution;
- What lessons can be learnt from Meeniyan’s experiences.
It looks in detail at how Meeniyan has changed over the last 20 years, from 2000 to 2020. When commencing the preparation of the paper, the author had no idea of what dramatic local and world events were about to unfold and what a significant impact they would have on the town. Meeniyan was first affected, indirectly, by the Victorian bushfires of November 2019 (being considered as part of the broader Gippsland region) and five months later, along with the rest of Australia and the world, by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic basically closed down Meeniyan and all other towns in Australia in March 2020.
This paper looks at Meeniyan as it was in February 2020, that is, pre-COVID-19.
The ability to write this story is a testament to the local community’s and businesses’ love for and commitment to their town. Only where the community has such passion could a monthly community newsletter be accessed, passionately and voluntarily produced for the past 30 years. The Meeniyan Newsletter provided information about every event, activity, triumph and failure, the businesses that have operated in Meeniyan, an appreciation of the local personalities and the array of committees that exist. Beyond the newsletter, local residents, businesses and property owners provided great support. They supplied lists and verbal information on the who, how, when and where of Meeniyan. As I listened, read, researched and took notes, my admiration grew for the community and its commitment and desire to drive Meeniyan forward. It also made me, as an urban planner, rethink many of my beliefs about the ingredients of success for a town.
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