17 April 2024

Gerringong’s iconic dairy co-op to renew community ties with weddings, music gigs

| Kellie O'Brien
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old photo of a crowd at a dairy co-op

The former dairy co-op has been restored into a wedding, conference and music venue. Photo: Supplied.

Originally the hub for dairy farmers looking to secure a fair price for their milk and butter from 1888, today The Co-Op Gerringong has been beautifully restored into a luxury multipurpose space set to bring the community together once more with weddings, conferences and live music.

While it was renamed in 2004 to Dairy Farmers Limited (DFL), the Gerringong Co-operative Dairy Society became the oldest continually operating dairy co-operative in Australia until it finished in 2007.

As DFL, it had 1432 farms producing 1.2 billion litres of milk.

General manager Erica Warren said in 1908 it was moved from the present Uniting Mayflower Gerringong location to its current site because of its placement in relation to the railway line.

“If you go out onto the veranda and you look down that hill, all the original railroad tracks are there,” Erica said.

“The dairy farmers from the region used to deliver the milk and butter into the back of the building and then it would go through and directly onto the train, which is really cool.

“The butter used to go as far as the UK and milk used to go around Australia.”

The business was bought at auction by Melissa and Dean Matters, and another couple who are silent partners, with the goal for it to once again have a community focus.

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“One of the owners, Melissa Matters, she actually grew up as a kid around that – her father was a dairy farmer, so she was there all the time as a kid,” Erica said.

“So when she knew that it was coming up for sale, she and her husband were interested.

“They’ve all really put their heart and soul into it. It’s something that’s really close to their hearts.”

However, the path to restoration hasn’t been easy, with the property in disrepair when they bought it.

“Some of it’s still pretty rundown, because they’ve only just done stage one,” Erica said.

Stage one has included a new bathroom block with full wheelchair access and rail signage, a services building for the electrical board, bins and a workshop area, a 29-space sealed carpark, and the multipurpose function room.

“The function room we’re calling the Truck Room because that’s what it’s historically known as by local dairy farmers, and that’s had a refurbishment,” Erica said.

“The historical society were great in wanting the building to be kept in its original state, but adding modern elements.

“So you’ve got all those exposed steel beams, there’s a concrete floor, beautiful brickwork on the inside and outside, and then the modern elements of the lovely black windows and doors.”

Erica said it also included a beautiful fully licensed bar, coolrooms, and a lounge area with a floor-to-ceiling antique mirrored wall.

She said they had now started planning events and marketing for weddings, photo shoots and the conference market, with the venue expected to be operational by May.

“Stage two is going to be the renovation of the restaurant, building a deck off that restaurant, which is to the east of the restaurant, and then there’s this beautiful outdoor courtyard which will have a bar, additional bathrooms and an outdoor kitchen,” she said.

A 3.3-metre sound wall has been erected to curb any additional noise from neighbours, and part of it will form beautiful weather sheds with covered seating.

“I feel like it’s going to be very alfresco, very Italian style – we’ll be doing outdoor cooking with a big pizza oven, smokers, dry ages, that sort of stuff,” Erica said.

“We want to base it on an ever-changing menu, so for people that come all the time, there’s always going to be something different for them to eat.”

Erica said the event space would run in conjunction with the rest of the property, with the venue already having planned a distillery and live-music event on 8-9 June, which would include 14 mostly Illawarra-based musicians.

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She said there would be a Christmas in July by Candlelight event on 13 July, with Sydney Ensemble’s string quartet performing carols.

“We’re in the process of booking some great live music, so The Whitlams and Ben Lee,” she said.

“We want to get the live-music scene happening in Gerringong.”

She said “everybody just falls in love with it” when they walk through the venue, with Gerringong residents excited to see it open.

“We’ve already had quite a few walk-throughs with venue tours for weddings and it’s been very well received,” she said.

“The locals especially, because they’ve seen that buildings sit there for so long and unloved that it’s just nice to see such a lovely building resurrected and something that they’ll be able to experience as well.”

She said the bonus was the railway line.

“Being so close, only 50 meters from the train line, will be great for people to be able to get on and off,” she said.

“If they want to come for the day, they can get on the train from Berry, Nowra or Wollongong.”

To learn more, visit The Co-Op Gerringong website.

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