A town built on mountain bikes
Yet something was in his favour. In the dense bush all around town there were logging trails and motorbike tracks, which Matt and his mates would tackle on their mountain bikes. The World Trail gurus visited and saw their potential, a summer fire crew with no fires to fight went to work with shovels and hoes, and Forrest now hosts several major mountain-bike events each year with 16 trails to test weekend warriors of all standards.
Their natural hangout from breakfast and coffee through to dinner and drinks is Forrest Brewery, the once ramshackle building in the heart of town where Matt and his sister Sharon have grown their business to the point that it’s bursting through the iron roof. In April they received a State Government grant of $1.49 million towards the redevelopment of the old sawmill, which will swell their workforce from eight to 23, house an 80-seat restaurant, 120-person conference centre, 20 eco-units sleeping up to six people each, and new brewing facilities where they’ll be producing a million litres annually within five years.
“The bike riders were definitely the catalyst for starting, they took away a lot of the risk to begin with,” Sharon Bradshaw says, estimating they accounted for 60 to 70 per cent of clientele in the early years, and still around 40 since their other markets have grown. “We know what’s happening each weekend. We know there’ll be 30 or 40 or 50 or 500 of them, and we know they’ll come and eat and get their coffee and buy their takeaway beer and hang out at the camping ground.”
Forrest has always boasted a vibrant community, now it again has a town to match. The rebuilt pub welcomes campers from the busy caravan park, there’s a bike hire shop, a restaurant committed to local produce complementing the guesthouse, and the tired old milk bar has become an inviting general store. A chocolate factory is on the way, and there’s now 23 accommodation options with 130 beds in total.
The Bradshaws reckon Forrest Brewery wouldn’t fall over if mountain biking ended tomorrow, but as a devotee who’s decorated the place with old bikes hanging from the ceiling, that’s a scenario Matt couldn’t contemplate.
Back in Beechworth, Ben Kraus is similarly confident about how Bridge Road Brewery would fare if the High Country were suddenly hit by a bike-riding Armageddon.
“We’d still survive without bikes,” he says, “but it would be pretty sad.”
Photos: Shannon Morris