First a little history: Having not called by Gundagai for many years, in 2015 we called in to check out the well-known Niagara Café. It was a disappointment.
The café food was very ordinary. The whole street sent a message, that this town and its famous café had a glorious past – but for now everything about the place was in decline.
Then came the pleasant surprise of May this year.
Coming back from Victoria, we took a chance and drove up the main street. Thanks to the initiative of the council, Gundagai is a shining example of how to reinvigorate a main street with welcoming urban design features. According to later research, the upgrades along Sheridan Street were based on community engagement, a well thought through planning strategy as well as a street tree master plan.
The main street now is very welcoming and includes new road pavement, improved curbing and guttering – and very welcoming wide footpath, landscaping and street furniture. The shop fronts have been revamped, making it an enjoyable experience to wander up and down the street.
The comparison from that first visit is stark. This is a council that has recognised the heritage and value of what they had for a main street, and have spent millions making sure that they delivered back a much-enhanced version of the same – a great looking country town.
As for the Niagara Café – the change is unbelievable. The former owners had closed and put it on the market where it sat unused and likely to be forgotten for 18 months. Then along came an energetic pair who took over in mid 2021 and spent the next year doing a fabulous makeover. It opened in June 2022 and is a total success locally and with visitors off the highway.
The rejuvenated Niagara Café is a new version of the old with many of the 1930s features restored and the whole place freshened up very seriously. And the food and coffee are spot on. The menu has many temptations – including wonderful sandwiches and salads.
What has happened in Gundagai is an excellent example of a township assessing what they cherished and then committing serious funds to bring it back to life – while respecting its heritage and not trying to modernize so that it lost that township character that attracts people to visit.
I can think of a certain ACT chief minister and his Greenslabor cohort who could learn a thing or two from this local council’s intelligent approach to working with (not against) the residents and caring for the urban character, heritage and culture of their town.
It is highly recommended to travellers going north or south, that the Niagara Café be on your list of options to be considered when it is time to take a break and have a good coffee and yummy food.
The other recommendation about 45 minutes north of Albury has to be J & B’s Gourmet Café in Holbrook. Always delicious choices and good coffee.
Above is a photo of the humour of the Gundagai local butcher – with his nod to that other dog on the tucker box out on the highway.