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Border town rallies

Saturday, 10th October, 2020

(From left) President of the Progress Association Iris Williams, her son Ryan Esam, owner of the hotel, and daughter Sanchia Treloar. PICTURE: Annette Northey (From left) President of the Progress Association Iris Williams, her son Ryan Esam, owner of the hotel, and daughter Sanchia Treloar. PICTURE: Annette Northey

By Annette Northey

The community of Cockburn is rallying once again to stay viable, but a public meeting held at the Coburn Hotel on Sunday proved that it would take more than a drought and a global pandemic to bring it to its knees.

Three years ago this month, pub-owner Ryan Esam handed it over to the town’s Progress Association to use, and it has since served as hotel, post office and community hub. The now community-run hotel is a not-for-profit concern and is leased to the Progress Association for the cost of the building insurance only.

Since a few key members of the association are ageing, the town is now rallying for an injection of new blood to carry on the good fight and see that the town is viable into the future.

With a population of not much more than 50, Cockburn is nestled on the SA-NSW border where you can stand in the two states at the same time on the border line.

Established in 1886, and with a rich railway, mining and pastoralist history, the township has endured its share of struggles, but the spirit and tenacity of its residents and their belief in the town has ensured its survival when other small towns have disappeared off the map.

Long-term resident, volunteer, and president of the Progress Association Iris Williams has called for someone to take over from her when she goes to Adelaide for surgery.

“I have to have a serious operation and I would like to have an interim chairman, that’s what has to happen,” she said.

Another long-term resident, Secretary Jan Allison is ready to make way for new blood too. 

“And Jan wants to go too, she’s had enough. She’s tired and she wants a holiday. She’s 71 and she wants to go,” Ms Williams said.

Ms Williams’ son Mr Esam expressed concern for their health and welfare.

“Our two main workers that keep it all going are post-70, they’re in the high-risk category for COVID - we don’t want them front of house now,” he said.

“If they get too sick before any of this happens it would just shut Cockburn down and it would be gone. The pub would close, and in a couple of months these buildings would just start falling down.”

Mr Esam suggested looking at a paid manager to come in and manage the complex - the post office, the pub, with staff.

He also proposed that the progress association put a call out for expressions of interest for ideas on the best way forward for the town, through marketing to a broader audience over a period of time.

“You’ve got to make money to spend money,” Mr Esam said.

The community voted unanimously for the Progress Association to fund a marketing campaign and put in paid managers (hotel and post office) for three to six months.

At the meeting, community members also agreed to look into improvements to help attract people to the town, such as: connection to the NBN; installation of a Tesler (electric car) charging station; and installation of an IOR Pod to be able to offer fuel 24 hours a day.

The Progress Association will hold its AGM in six months’ time to vote in new officers, discuss any ideas put forward through expressions of interest, and recognise those outgoing committee members who have worked hard for decades, voluntarily, to keep the town alive.

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