John and Alex O'Halloran first fell under Dimboola's charms 30 years ago, but it was a family wedding that convinced them to move there and open one of two new businesses to bring a renaissance to the town's main street.
The O'Halloran's have opened the Dimboola Store and the Uoys the Dimboola Imaginarium - both couples have brought their enthusiasm and expertise to bear on projects which are helping to bring in tourists from around the region.
The businesses have also provided some extra benefits for the locals - such as daily coffee and quirky toys - and the families have been welcomed with open arms.
Dimboola Town Committee secretary Jo Donnelly said in December that the new businesses had brought a "good vibe" to the town.
"There's lots of people travelling through and Dimboola is sparking their attention," she said.
"There has been good economic activity too. It has been a breath of fresh air."
Coffee and change
The O'Halloran's first visited Dimboola on a road trip with their children about 20 years ago.
"This town had a butcher with free sausage sizzle and there was an old pub on the corner," he said.
"I came back in 2010 and that pub had burnt down, there was no butcher and there was empty shops but it's got beautiful natural features."
They later got to know the town better when Mr O'Halloran taught at Dimboola Memorial Secondary College in 2010.
But it was the country wedding of Mrs O'Halloran's sister that inspired the pair to split their time between their house in Ocean Grove near Geelong and somewhere inland.
"So we started looking and we found an old hospital that become a residential home and bought that in 2017," he said. "Then this business came up for sale that was purely selling coffee, no food."
After some family discussion, Mr O'Halloran who has a hospitality background decided "Dimboola could do with something" and opened the store in April 2019.
"The rationale was to survive it had to be multi-faceted. So it's food, coffee, ice cream to target the kids and milkshakes old-fashioned and also homewares as well and regional produce," he said.
The pair said they initially started with five days of trading before extending it to daily open hours.
"Coffee people don't want it five days out of seven, they want it seven days. So you've got your base group of people who support you." Mr O'Halloran said.
Mrs O'Halloran who also runs a store in Barwon Heads near Geelong, said she took charge of the marketing elements of the business while her husband has handled the legal and financial side.
"I just think I've got a good eye but I would probably like to know a lot more," she said.
"I get our staff sending in stories for me to use about customers, as well as doing posts about products in the store."
Mr O'Halloran said the local response had been great, while the store got plenty of customers from word of mouth referrals and social media.
"Because Dimboola isn't on the Highway, we thought how do you get people to deviate off. But it's not that far off. The staff feedback is that a lot of people come in because they have seen it on social media."
Mrs O'Halloran said the store had become a social space for groups in the Wimmera. "Up here people will drive an hour just for coffee, which is different from where we come from.
"A lot of local girls are often looking for somewhere to go with friends, and also mother's groups meet."
Mr O'Halloran said they had just received their liquor licence from Hindmarsh Shire Council and were in the process of getting staff accredited with Responsible Service of Alcohol.
"We're going to be running functions and our licence goes until 11pm but it would probably be used more for something like sunset drinks until 9pm on a Friday," he said.
Mr O'Halloran said it was important their business was sustainable and supported the local economy. One aspect of that has been employing people from Dimboola, particularly secondary school students, another was finding ways to be eco-friendly.
"We've bought a block of land next to the IGA and we've planted vegetables there to supply the cafe. Our plan in the longer run is to actually get some produce from our block such as squashes and herbs.
"We're also planning to offer hire bikes because Dimboola is such a flat town so people could go out and explore the surrounding areas like Little Desert."
Mr O'Halloran said the couple would continue to split their time between the sea and "Dimmy" and believed the future was bright for the town.
"We got a Christmas card from a girl who works for us who is a long term resident of the town and basically the tenor of her card was 'It's been lovely working here, thanks for opening it, thanks so much for giving us a job. Looking forward to coming back and you've helped brighten up the town.
"It was not actually our aim to brighten up the town. We basically wanted to open up something because we saw a need and wondered whether we had latent skills we could use and if we could devote our time to do it.
"Dimboola has a lot of natural features and great architecture," he said. "I don't see why it couldn't become like Dunkeld."
Bank of dreams
Jamie Uoy and Chan Uoy who own the Dimboola Imaginarium, set tongues wagging when they purchased the former National Bank of Australia building.
"When we moved in the real estate agent said everyone wanted to know who bought it and we said 'tell them it's a couple of gay guys from Melbourne.'
"We weren't too worried but we did check to see what percentage voted yes (in the marriage postal survey). It's all been very positive."
Jamie said they had bad luck initially when Chan broke his wrist two days before they got the keys in April 2019.
"Eight weeks in plaster made things quite stressful right at the start," he said.
"But we were lucky his mum came and helped cook while I did some renovations to make it liveable."
Jamie said they decided the place was too big for two and have created a seamless space of work and play.
"The museum-like front room is also our lounge room. The manager's room is now a games and kids room," he said.
"We had the bookshelf made by a man from across the road who is a carpenter. He made it from Tasmanian Oak. It has both coffee table books for sale and books from our own collection."
"We're trying to do things locally and have asked people if they know anyone who wants to put their products into the shop to approach us," he said.
Jamie said Chan's background as one of the first Australian refugees from Cambodia as well as his love of history has had a clear imprint on the store.
The old bank safe is open to visitors, complete with newspaper clippings and fake gold bars, and the couple recently worked with the Dimboola Historical Society to reenact an old photo of the bank for its 110th anniversary, which involved over 200 people.
Jamie said they actually planned to purchase a place in Stawell, but after the deal fell through they found something far more special further west.
"We just saw the building and it was the sentiments of the loss from the old (Dimboola) Hotel that were a big factor in buying here," Jamie said.
"People are still grieving and when we read some of the comments about what people felt and what they wanted in the future we just sort of said 'we'd like to be around people like that'."
Dimboola is where Jamie said the Uoy's hope to retire.
"This is the end," he said. "Jokingly I told Chan 'Well it's got IGA, it's got a hospital and it's got a cemetery, what more could you want?
"It's got a swimming pool, it's got tennis courts, it's got lawn bowls, it's got a golf course and it's got the river which you can access from so many different points.
"And then there's Pink Lake which everyone wants to see, with or without water."
Before they go off and retire into the Wimmera sunset the couple's more immediate plans for the Imaginairum include turning the cupboard under the stairs into a Harry Potter room.
"It's amazing the things you could do in a place like this with a little imagination," he said.
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