Wander into an otherwise inconspicuous alleyway adjoining the Lowe Street car park in Queanbeyan and you may find something surprising.
You’ll be met by a huge brightly-coloured, vivid mural painted by local artist Dai Cameron to honour one of the “fathers of Canberra”, John Gale.
Mr Gale, who died in 1929, was the founder of The Queanbeyan Age – the first newspaper to serve the district. He was also a major advocate for the Queanbeyan-Canberra area as the optimal site for the future national capital.
But the artwork isn’t all about the past.
The mural on the back wall of Queanbeyan restaurant Pronto by Trecento forms a small part of a broader Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council-wide strategy to invigorate the town’s street and outdoor dining.
Restaurant co-owner Josh Kosteski said the mural was intended to be bright and bold but also touch on Queanbeyan’s history.
“The outside was just mud when we took over this space, and it had been like that for 20 or so years. Since then we’ve had the idea to activate this back laneway and now it fits in with the council’s vision,” Mr Kosteski said.
As for choosing Mr Gale as the mural centrepiece, he said the decision was based on history – his own family history of living in the region for 65 years. Although brothers Jon and Josh opened their first restaurant, Trecento, in Manuka, they always wanted to “find their way back here”.
And they did.
A second mural – also to be painted by Mr Cameron – will shortly transform another blank wall of a similar size.
Mr Kosteski said the artwork would celebrate some of Queanbeyan’s old and celebrated food institutions from the town’s booming days.
He said Pronto would eventually work closely with the neighbouring Chinese restaurant, also owned by a long-time Queanbeyan family, to create a space where both cuisines could be shared and enjoyed.
“We want customers to come and have Chinese or Italian and it’s just a casual place for them to eat,” he said.
The team is also cooking up some other exciting projects which will have to stay under wraps for now. Mr Kosteski could only say it would be a “Queanbeyan first”.
Other upgrades including new toilets and plants have also helped contribute to the refreshed outdoor area. And it’s going down a treat with local residents and visitors.
“It’s quite eye-catching so people see it from the carpark, walk up and have a look, then ask immediately if they can be seated outside,” Mr Kosteski said.
It’s also attracted welcome attention through social media – even before the courtyard was fully complete.
He said the decision to invigorate outdoor dining was made at exactly the right time, and not only because of COVID-19 concerns.
“People in Queanbeyan have a real desire to do something different and a bit cool. I’m not just talking about young people either, but people of all ages.”
Mr Kosteski said while the town was renowned for its pub scene, there was definitely room for both kids on the block.