Western Emporium a drought art starter

Longreach, Ilfracombe artisans find outlet for talent in drought

Life & Style
The Eagle Street, Longreach window of the Western Emporium. Photos supplied.

The Eagle Street, Longreach window of the Western Emporium. Photos supplied.

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Who starts an arts-based business in the middle of a drought? Four women in the Longreach-Ilfracombe district of central west Queensland, that's who.

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Who starts an arts-based business in the middle of a drought? Four women in the Longreach-Ilfracombe district of central west Queensland, that's who.

Spokeswoman Kirsten Forrest, who crafts hide fashion accessories and homewares through her JF Hides brand, said that with destocked properties just being somewhere to live at the moment, having a cooperative outlet in Longreach to sell goods was lifting contributors' spirits immeasurably.

The Western Emporium began as a pop-up shop in the central western Queensland town and was received really well, by tourists as well as locals.

Around two-and-a-half years ago the opportunity came up for a main street shop front, which the cooperative moved into, and it hasn't looked back.

Ilfracombe's Jo Naumann, who sells hand-poured soy candles among other items via her Essence of Soy brand, has taken the wheel of the co-op along with Ms Forrest, while fellow Ilfracombe entrepreneur Julie Brown and her Coola Cozzies, and Longreach's Fiona Tindall and her custom jewellery business, Outback Jack Designs, are also on board.

Related: Coola Cozzies born out of drought

The shop is filled with a colourful array of goods from around a dozen contributors in total who love having the outlet for the creative talent that still flourishes while grass withers.

Ms Forrest said tourists had been good customers in the winter months but they had a good local following all year round, because the items were generally handmade by people they knew, and because they knew purchases would have a beneficial effect on the community.

Some of the range of handcrafted items for sale, made by local women looking for an outlet as the drought goes on.

Some of the range of handcrafted items for sale, made by local women looking for an outlet as the drought goes on.

"What we're selling isn't very expensive either, which is good in times like this," Ms Forrest said.

In the run-up to Christmas, they were happy to report they were struggling to keep up with demand.

Ms Forrest and her husband Colin are graziers on a property just to the north of Longreach.

They sold their stud cattle four years ago and Mr Forrest currently drives trucks for a living while Ms Forrest works as a government drought funding officer.

"The property is just somewhere to live at the moment," she said. "That's why the Western Emporium is so good. It lifts our spirits and gives us a purpose."

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