Saturday, December 13, 2008

Taking the waters in New England - Boomi

This is a story at two levels.

At one level, it illustrates the complexity of New England history. At a second level, it is the story of a village reinventing itself to fight downturn.

Growing up, I knew about Moree's mineral waters and artesian spars. However, this was something that was a little alien. I did not know that generations of European migrants came to Moree to take the waters. I also did not know that Moree was not alone.

The village of Boomi lies 85km north west of Moree, 92km south west of Goondiwindi in Queensland. Like Moree, but more quietly, Boomi is also a centre for artesian waters. Its artesian hot spa and cold pools were in fact built 1903 and have since been modernised.

In March 2008 the Boomi post office closed. Closures like this can be devastating to a small community. With a population of just 70 and its surrounding residents numbering around 250, Boomi fought back to reclaim its place.

The Boomi Community Co-operative, a group of 100 who basically exist for the good of the town, decided to offer free caravan sites on the primitive campground next door to the pool.

Along with opening up the campsites, the Co-operative opened up a small general store to sell basic groceries. The store is run entirely by volunteers and most recently is now serving light meals.

Prior to the general store opening, the nearest supermarket was either in Moree or Goondiwindi, both an hour’s drive away.

Word of mouth tends to be the strongest form of advertising among the grey nomads. Since March, the caravan park has seen around 30 vans per night parked there. The demand has allowed the Co-operative to now charge for the caravan sites, although the rate is an incredibly reasonable $5 per night.

Ruth Hickson, a local woman who volunteers her time to promote the town, said business at the campsite and pools is now growing steadily with some caravanners actually using Boomi as their base.

“One couple from South Australia, they set up here, then they go off touring for a few days and come back again,” said Ruth.

“The pool is as much of a draw-card for the locals as visitors but the decision to promote it to caravanners has really paid off.

“We’ve got a diesel fuel service just about ready to open up and we’re planning for an unleaded petrol station to happen soon as well.

“The strength of community support is fantastic and we’ve got a number of other projects planned to boost tourism here."

The pool itself is the closest thing to an oasis in these hot parts. Not only is pool Boomi there a 25 metre cold water pool, there’s a pool filled with hot, healing artesian water. Regular visitors to Moree’s artesian pools will rave about the healing powers of this water.

Artesian water is up to 2 million years old and is known in many cultures to have healing powers. The mineral rich water flows from nearly a mile underground from the great Artesian Basin.

The pool has become a terrific place to relax either in the water, on a poolside lounge or on the lush green lawn under the shade sails.

I really liked this story. To quote Ruth Hickson, “If we keep going this way then we’ll see more and more services coming back to Boomi.” And that's a bloody good thing.

For more information phone 02 6753 5336 or for interviews with Ruth herself phone 02 67 537 260.

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