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York determined to bounce back

THE past five years have been difficult for the small community of York, but a series of new investments and local projects promises to cement the town’s future as one of WA’s premier tourist destinations.

When the farming town’s signature event, the York Jazz Festival, left town five years ago, others followed, including as the Flying Fifties vintage car race and the Daffodil Festival.

And so too did the valuable tourism dollars that many of the town’s businesses relied on.

“The York Jazz Festival grew from nothing to attracting 20,000 people, so even though the local businesses weren’t directly involved, it was still part of their annual budget,” said Alan Genoni, Shire of York councillor and local business owner.

“So when the tourism dropped off, it hurt everyone.”

Ever since, the community has had to work hard to re-establish York’s profile as an all-year-round tourism destination, no small feat considering the competition posed by destinations such as the ever-popular South West.

Just 97km from Perth, York was first surveyed by Ensign Robert Dale in 1831 and soon afterward became the first inland European settlement in WA.

During the gold rushes of the late 1800s, the small town hosted hundreds of hopeful prospectors, who would stop over in York before riding across the Wheatbelt to the Goldfields.

York’s history, and the community’s passion for it, has resulted in the preservation of many of the original buildings.

This has attracted thousands of day trippers and holiday makers, with the potential to significantly increase these numbers in the near future.

WA company Leisure Rail has recently revealed a multi-million dollar boutique rail proposal that would link tourism destinations in the Heartlands, the South West and the Great Southern.

And while many towns throughout the State stand to benefit, York will be the busiest stop, with five services a week running through the town plus a special Saturday night rail-restaurant taking diners on a return trip from York to Greenhills.

Leisure Rail now wants to open an office in York to manage the stop.

Recent redevelopments at the York Hotel mean that, when tourists do visit, there will be no shortage of accommodation.

Owner and proprietor John Hay renovated the historic building in 1999, but it was closed for the past year. This year he has re-opened the hotel and decided to add a further 20 rooms.

“It’s a five-star boutique hotel and it is really a smart looking old building,” Mr Hay said.

The York Hotel’s original refurbishment prompted Mr Hay to embark on a second project in the York area, the Tipperary Homestead.

Built in 1837, the property includes a homestead, stable, blacksmith’s quarters and granary.

“It was settled in 1837 by the Burgess family from Ireland and the Queen stayed there during her visit to WA in 1954,” Mr Hay said. “We acquired the homestead two years ago and we plan to refurbish it and develop it into a tourism park. And on the surrounding land we want to build 40 rooms which people will come and stay in on the weekends.

“Tourism numbers are always going up here.”

Mr Hay estimated it would cost $500,000 to refurbish the existing structures and a further $2.5 million to build the accom-modation.

But it is not just tourists who are taking a shine to York, according to local Ray White Real Estate principal, Craig Watson.

“There are a lot of people from up north moving down to York, or from the city to try and escape the rat race,” Mr Watson said.

“We have a lot of people come up from Perth for a day trip one weekend, and then they come back a few weeks later and then they keep coming back every weekend, so then they decide to buy a weekender house.

“Being out of the city, really decent three bedroom, one bathroom houses are sold for an average price of $115,000.”

York Chamber of Commerce president Simon Glossop said it also was the proximity to the metropolitan area and the town’s modern facilities that made York such an attractive option as a place to live.

“York is a very handy place to commute from. A lot of residents commute to places of work in the metropolitan area such as Midland or Kewdale or Canning Vale or further out into the Wheatbelt to Northam,” he said. “People don’t feel so out of touch in York.”

And while the importance of tourism to the town could not be overstated, Mr Glossop said York must be able to rely on more than one sector when the agricultural sector was hit by a bad spell.

“The Chamber believes it would be worthwhile to try and establish a light industrial area for York,” he said.

“If we attract more businesses to town it will provide us with more employment for our growing population and hopefully we can get some government assistance to do this.”

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