Warrnambool has been dubbed the 10-minute city. Within 10 minutes you can get from one side to the other, and, if you feel like a break, you can stop at our pristine beach along the way.
The city’s employment figures have risen by 25 per cent over the past five years, and the region has topped recent liveability surveys.
Modern cafes, bars, barber shops, social initiatives, a blooming arts and music community and coastal living are drawing folk to our city, and an influx of young people are staying, returning or choosing to move to Warrnambool for big opportunities.
Dave de Carteret is one example.
He owns and runs the Dart and Marlin bar and Standard Dave pizza on Timor Street.
The two businesses are side-by-side and on weekends are packed with a younger, alternative crowd looking for something different to an evening at a traditional night club or pub.
Mr de Carteret originally grew up in Apollo Bay and has always worked in hospitality.
“A friend of mine set up a business in Port Fairy and I helped get him off the ground in the beginning,” he said.
“Then I was looking for somewhere to do a hospitality venture that was on the coast, but not in a seasonal town. I didn’t enjoy the pressures that came with working in a seasonal town over summer. It’s really hard to staff and hard to provide a good service, then winter months are pretty lean.”
Mr de Carteret said Warrnambool offered “a decent size population and plenty of opportunities”.
“Since opening we have focused on trying to engage a local crowd,” he said.
“That’s because there are advantages to that compared to a tourist crowd. That’s why it feels like a bit of a haven here. We have made a really concerted attempt to engage with the local community.”
He said staff had been instrumental in making suggestions for the bar.
“I didn’t know most of them before we started,” he said. “Having that communication with those guys and girls has driven the place and the events we are hosting.”
In January the bar hosted a festival in its rear garden area, with live music and food drawing a crowd of locals and Melbourne visitors.
“When those guys come down they are always pleasantly engaged with the amount of things that are on offer in Warrnambool,” he said.
The Dart and Marlin are hosting a satellite event for the Apollo Bay Seafood festival on Saturday, February 17.
Local seafood will be showcased, with a banquet to be cooked on a hot coal barbecue. The James Morrison Academy jazz ensemble will provide tunes and there will also be special cocktails on the menu.
Mia Nicolson is another local investor.
The hairdresser owns Biba and barber shop Grizzly Adams, located off the Ozone walk.
Ms Nicolson is originally from Warrnambool but moved to the big smoke to complete her training.
“Warrnambool had an opening in the market for a different kind of hairdressing salon,” she said.
“I knew there wasn’t anything like this in Warrnambool. I knew I could do it and stand out. It’s a much bigger pond in Melbourne.”
The salon features a stunning pink, white and grey mural on its side wall by artist Kitt Bennett. Inside, a ladder features underneath a glass table top and the well-lit space is filled with plants.
Biba was originally located on Timor Street, before moving to its current site, adjacent to Grizzly Adams.
“Timor Street just got a bit small in the end,” Ms Nicolson said. “It was a great start. It wasn’t like moving to another suburb and losing clientele. My customers are very loyal.”
She said there was “definitely always things to do” in Warrnambool.
“I think even more so than in Melbourne,” she said.
“I like that in Warrnambool you can go somewhere with one other friend and you know that there is going to be heaps of other people there that you know. I love that. It becomes a really nice community type of feel. In Melbourne you can get lost a bit or you have to organise it, which can be hard to orchestrate.”
She encourages young people with ideas to not “be scared to have a go”.
“If you are moving back from Melbourne I think the preconceived ideas about Warrnambool have changed,” she said. They are not applicable anymore. It’s not dull and boring, there is stuff happening and people want to get out and support it.”
Ms Nicolson says she is here for the long term and has just purchased a house.
Another young go-getter is graphic designer Sinead Murphy, who instigated Beers and Ideas Warrnambool, a placemaking project to help ideas come to life.
She has hosted two Beers and Ideas nights, where people pitch their concepts to activate the central business district.
Placemaking is the process of creating vibrant, authentic and memorable public spaces that are valued by the community and visitors. It inspires people to re-imagine and reinvent the public spaces they share.
She also owns Super Kawaii Studio, a co-working space in Warrnambool, where people can rent a desk to work in the city.
Lucy Bar in the Ozone Walk has gone from strength-to-strength over the past year.
The kooky venue, located under the stairs up to Ms Murphy’s Super Kawaii Studio, offers lo-fi, organic and natural wines as well as a diverse range of cocktails.
Owner Will Shepherd hosted a massive New Year’s Eve party in the laneway, with two stages hosting seven bands and six DJs. The crowd was a mix of locals and Melbourne party-goers, with Mr Shepherd calling it the “best New Year’s Eve party ever”.
Young people are flocking to other Warrnambool institutions, finding friends of their own ilk. Rough Diamond offered a relaxing Sunday afternoon session throughout January, with its event dubbed ‘Diamond Days’.
Local musicians played and beer and tacos were served at the Koroit Street cafe.
The F Project in Timor Street also fosters south-west artists, giving them a central space to showcase their works.
It runs artist markets, open studio days, art workshops and community events from film screenings to poetry readings. A workshop program covers creative pursuits from writing to weaving, print-making to performance and meditation to mixed media.
Vegan cafe Day Kitty always has a busy lunch time rush, with meat eaters often opting for a tasty vegetarian pancake or a nourish bowl, made from organic produce.
Top notch cafe Brightbird Espresso also draws an eclectic crowd from mums and bubs, students, CBD workers, Zumba devotees and tourists on the lookout for a good brew.
The business transforms into a hip burger bar during the evening, offering a swag of up-to-the minute on trend cocktails and mouth-watering burgers.
The message is clear. Our city has plenty to offer, and it’s not hard to see why young people are choosing Warrnambool as an alternative home to Melbourne.