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Voice of Real Australia: How one town pedalled its way through the pandemic

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Chloe Chick of Ride Dungog helped build mountain bike trails on the town's common. PHOTO: Marina Neil

Chloe Chick of Ride Dungog helped build mountain bike trails on the town's common. PHOTO: Marina Neil

In the most attractive way, the people of Dungog live in the past.

The main street of this beautiful Hunter Valley town is like a time tunnel, which takes you back through the history of architecture in Australia. From Victorian Gothic to the Spanish mission stucco facade of a service station, the range of building styles is both eye-opening and mind-boggling.

The fine shop fronts along Dowling Street also tell you that this was once a place where money poured in from the surrounding farmlands and down the steeply sloped hills. Dungog was an agricultural hub, with flourishing timber and dairy industries.

Dungog Shire Mayor John Connors hopes mountain biking will become something the town is known for "not just in Newcastle and Maitland, not just on the East Coast here, but throughout Australia." PHOTO: Marina Neil

Dungog Shire Mayor John Connors hopes mountain biking will become something the town is known for "not just in Newcastle and Maitland, not just on the East Coast here, but throughout Australia." PHOTO: Marina Neil

Yet through the years, those industries shrank, and so did the prospects of many Dungog businesses. 'For Lease' signs went up in the dust-mottled display windows of a few buildings. In more recent times, Mother Nature has thrown up more challenges, including drought and the impact of bushfires, and a massive storm that killed three in 2015. Then came COVID-19.

But the wheel is turning for Dungog. The community is enjoying a mountain biking revolution, as I discovered when I visited the town of 2000 for this story for the Voice of Real Australia podcast.

On the fringe of town is a reserve known as Dungog Common. For many years, people have gone there to relax, including cycling the cross-country trails that wind through the bush. But the common's managers and a volunteer group called Ride Dungog decided to build a couple of flow trails down a hill at the reserve.

In building those trails, Dungog has created a local phenomenon. While so many communities are slowing down, and businesses are even shutting, due to COVID-19, the pace in Dungog has been picking up.

The picturesque Hunter Valley town of Dungog has been through a lot in recent years. PHOTO: Marina Neil

The picturesque Hunter Valley town of Dungog has been through a lot in recent years. PHOTO: Marina Neil

Hundreds of riders have been turning up each week from far and wide, seeking respite from coronavirus restrictions by hitting the tracks.

By enjoying a burst of adrenaline on the trails, the riders are also injecting money and optimism into town at a time when both are sorely needed.

Local businesses have reported an increase in trade, and new ventures are opening in shops that were previously vacant. Dungog even has its own bike shop now, Tempest Bicycles, which opened its doors at the start of spring.

As the Mayor of Dungog Shire, Cr John Connors, says, mountain bike riding has brought an air of confidence into the community.

Like so many regional centres, Dungog has been searching for ways forward.

While it cherishes its past, and the heritage buildings will continue to attract visitors, this Hunter community believes that in mountain biking it has found a new track to ride along towards its future. And the bumps and berms on that track will just make the journey all the more exciting.

Find out more about the people I spoke to in Dungog in Episode 3 of Voice of Real Australia podcast. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts. Tell us what you think on our Facebook page. Everyone has a story to share, get in touch at voice@austcommunitymedia.com.au

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