Of the excellent ideas Lyn Diskon has had while travelling to and from Canberra, two stand out. The first lit up in 2012 when she bought a tiny, one-bedroom sandstone cottage in Boorowa. Later, enjoying the country lifestyle in a village of about 1600 people, the second idea blossomed with Boorowa Rotary Club – to open an op-shop.
“Some years ago, the only op-shop in Boorowa had closed down, three or four years before we thought about opening one,” Lyn says.
“Boorowa is on the Lachlan Valley Way, and a lot of people travel between Canberra and Orange, Bathurst and Dubbo or Queensland, and Rotary felt the community was losing out on a lot not having one. I personally travel a lot, stop at op shops and notice many other people do, too,” she says.
Taking on her proposal, her colleagues in Rotary helped work out a plan that has been so well embraced by the community that almost $50,000 in net surpluses has been shared among local charities since the venture opened two years ago.
The amount received by each charity is actually decided by the volunteers who each nominate a charity. The hours they volunteer, as a percentage of total hours, are divided into the funds raised and distributed accordingly.
Opening Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the shop sells clothes, shoes, kitchenware, craft and toys, and books.
In fact, the shop took in so many books that the shop next door has been leased, which now stocks abundant publications, vinyl records, CDs, DVDs, games and jigsaw puzzles.
Often when a bus-load of tourists or special travellers in cars are coming through Boorowa, a volunteer will open the shop outside the usual opening hours. “For example, there is a lady from Canowindra who loves the book section. She comes through on a Wednesday. She rings, we organise a volunteer to go down, and she spends $200 to $300 on books,” Lyn says. “It is pretty awesome. We are quite excited that that’s how we do it. It is different, but it works for Boorowa.”
There are a few volunteers who do not staff the counter in the shop but do valuable work behind the scenes. One woman washes knitted garments, un-picks them and returns them as balls of yarn.
“This shop has become a whole-of-community project with community ownership,” Lyn says.
Unsold items are either bagged up and dispatched to remote, outback communities, other op shops or Lyn takes them with her to Canberra and leaves them at the Green Shed outlets in Mitchell or Mugga Lane. Some clothes are torn into rags and distributed. Little finds its way into landfill.
Despite now being a Boorowa local and making a great contribution to the community, it wasn’t the plan.
Lyn was living on King Island in the middle of Bass Strait when she decided to look for work in Canberra to be closer to one of her sons.
Her plan was to continue her career in the community sector in the ACT, but Canberra house prices put an end to that idea. Lyn unfolded a map and drew a line between the places her children lived: a son in Canberra, a son in Grafton, a daughter in Mudgee and a daughter in Adelaide. After her pen had landed on the closest central point at Cowra, she set off in search of a home there.
That plan didn’t stick either. Especially after she saw the sandstone cottage in Boorowa. She found everything she needed near Canberra, which had services like an airport and railway station.
“Boorowa is a lovely, warm, friendly community. Country living with city proximity, without the hassles,” she says. “I like the freedom of living in Boorowa; I like the people, it’s a nice place to be.
“My kids and their families were always so widespread but now are much closer. There is still one in Canberra, the one in Adelaide went to Townsville, then Boorowa and is in Tasmania, the Mudgee one is living in Canberra and the Grafton one is living around the corner from me in Boorowa. So, my family seems to have migrated towards me, which is fine,” she says.
Getting involved in the community, especially Rotary, seeing the Op Shop encourage shopping locally rather than money leaving town, and sharing pride in Doctor Kelf Memorial Park, the Old Court House which is now a CWA craft shop and tourist office, the gorgeous bluestone St Patrick’s Catholic Church and restored War Memorial Clock Tower, leave her contented. “It’s one of those towns, you drive through and immediately feel at home,’’ Lyn says.