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Town holds special appeal for residents

AT first glance Wiluna may not appear as much more than a small dot on the map at the edge of the desert, but despite its isolation, the town is attracting new residents at a steady rate.

While many are motivated by the search for elusive gold, others are driven by entirely different factors.

One such couple is Stewart and Marian Edgecombe, who 18 months ago followed their two daughters (already living in Wiluna) to manage the Wiluna General Store, owned and controlled by the Marruwayura Aboriginal Community.

In the process they turned their backs on the family vineyard in Perth’s Swan Valley, which has been run by the family since 1925, leaving the management of Edgecombe Brothers in the hands of other family members.

Mr Edgecombe describes it as a major seachange.

“We just wanted a break from Perth,” he said.

“It [Edgecombe Brothers] is a family business so we stepped aside to let some of the young blood in. It was quite a change for us.”  

Mr Edgecombe said discretion was one of the most important lessons to learn about living in a small town.

“We keep to ourselves and don’t repeat anything that we hear,” he said.

The Edgecombes took over operation of the general store from David Betteridge, who left last October to open Gunbarrel Groceries, in opposition to the community store.

Mr Betteridge, with the backing of a local consortium, has invested $1 million in establishing the store, which he hopes will provide the locals with more competitive prices than the Aboriginal Corporation store was offering.

And in what has been somewhat of a baptism of fire, Tony Doust recently moved from Bridgetown to take up the challenge as CEO of the Wiluna shire. Mr Doust has spent 20 years as CEO of various local government operations, including stints at Boyup Brook, Wongan-Ballidu and four years at Peppermint Grove.

Tempted by an attractive salary package and a huge challenge – Wiluna shire had been the subject of a Department of Local Government internal investigation – Mr Doust said one of the things he missed most about being away from Perth and the South West was the ability to get away from work. He said the isolation made it difficult to get away “somewhere nice” on days off. Besides the isolation, the distance from family and friends was another problem associated with living an isolated existence, he said.

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