NSW town Braidwood outgrows nickname ‘Deadwood’ with small business boom
Local fashion inspires the clothes Jane Magnus (left) and Dena Pharaoh (right) sell in their store, Saloon Design House. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
Gold fever once gripped the historic town of Braidwood, but now there is a different rush.
With city-living costs skyrocketing, so too has the population of one of NSW’s fastest-growing inland towns, outside of Greater Sydney.
Braidwood’s population is booming, growing 2.3 per cent in just 12 months. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
It has transformed into an entrepreneur hot spot — attracting city-slickers looking to make a cost-efficient, rural switch while bringing along their creativity and a desire to work together.
At the same time, longtime residents have taken the innovative plunge into small business, selling everything from luxury fashion and Asian-fusion-inspired meals, to handmade jewellery and unusual indoor plants with a side of caffeine or cake.
The ABC spoke to seven families who have contributed to this trend within just two years, proving the town has outgrown its nickname “Deadwood”.
They each spruiked perks of the country lifestyle, such as closeness to capital cities and beaches, less traffic, cheaper housing and a close-knit community.
But most also treasured the country charm, and did not want Braidwood to become the next Bowral or Berry.
Country entrepreneurs looking to make a lifestyle, not make it big
A sense of safety and creative freedom were the big ones for Dena Pharaoh and Jane Magnus, who last year launched a studio selling their handmade one-off shirts, skirts and dresses in Liberty of London prints, Italian checked cotton and other natural luxury fabrics.
They stock vintage designer pieces alongside their women’s fashion label, described jokingly as ‘liberated prairie’ or prairie revival — and drew inspiration from local fashion.
“Whenever you are walking down the street there’s gorgeous girls dressed in crazy fabulous things,” Former Canberra social worker Jane Magnus said.
The young mother had called the town home for more than a decade and lived above the store.
She loved that Braidwood entrepreneurs were “not trying to make it big, just trying to make a lifestyle”.
“You can live in this town very cheaply and you can only have enough money in your pocket for a cup of coffee but you can look fabulous while you are doing it,” she joked.
“I just hope it stays that way!”
Ms Magnus noted a “naivety” that benefits innovative minds in small towns, as they’re away from “thousands of people all trying to do the same thing”.
Also a young mother, Ms Pharaoh moved from Newtown in Sydney’s inner-west a few years ago.
“It was the cool place to go and then I couldn’t afford to live there with my young family,” she said.
During Sky Mazurkiewicz’s childhood, her home was known as “a one-horse town”.
Seventh-generation Braidwood resident Sky Mazurkiewicz made the innovative switch from environmental science to handmade jewellery. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
“It was a very sleepy town when I was growing up and now it is full of energy,” she said.
The seventh-generation Braidwood resident recently branched out from environmental science to handmade silver jewellery.
She thinks the lively change was largely due to older and younger generations working together to bring fresh ideas into the town, while keeping its history alive.
“A whole range of unique businesses have come together and they have genuine collaboration,” Ms Mazurkiewicz said.
“There is a real strength that we have something to offer, but we are willing to support each other, instead of competition — and it is very community-orientated.”
Plunge into small-town business rewarding, but tough during lulls
Businesswoman Dee Gasnier had lived in Braidwood for nine years. She started her latest venture “Deadwood” a few months ago, selling unusual indoor plants alongside coffee and cake in an old stable block and coach-house.
Dee Gasnier took a literal meaning for her plant store ‘Deadwood,’ but not everyone knew that. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
“There was a little controversy … they [townsfolk] thought that we were having a go at the local town, but no we are not,” she said.
“We wanted to call it Deadwood because there was a long-term love affair with the name and there was a lot of dead wood in the building.”
“We are trying to bring it back to life.”
These Braidwood business owners are ecstatic about the many innovators who come with the town’s growing population. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
While Ms Gasnier loved the simple country life, she admitted it was not always easy.
“If you can get through the winter months then you are usually okay, but it is hard work,” Ms Gasnier said.
“I wasn’t confident at all [starting this business], I was very scared. I am still very scared.”
Fortunately she was now gearing up for the holiday rush that sees tens of thousands of commuters pass through the town on the way to the south coast.
And she had noticed many empty buildings filling up with “a lot of young blood coming into town and fresh ideas.”
“Hopefully we will continue to grow and get busier.”
Musicians and artists had also flushed to the region in the population boom, including singer Mikel Simic and his fiance Rose Riketson, who is a freelance producer and arts worker.
Mikel Smith and fiancee Rose Rikeston have been around the country-town block but say there’s no place like Braidwood. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
The couple met in Cooma.
They road-tested several small towns including Tathra and the Monaro, but made a home near Braidwood where they found “kindred spirits”.
Mr Simic said he had always found being in nature creatively stimulating.
“Braidwood has a history of that with [poet] Judith Wright and amazing writers and artists over the history,” he said.
“Perhaps we are tapping into something here specifically that has actually always been here — it always did attract bohemians or people who were maybe not mainstream.”