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Mid North barn transformed into thumping music venue

Regional

The Barn at Wombat Flat has had more than a few uses in its 150-odd-year life – its walls once stored hay and machinery and sheep were once sheared on its floor. Now, it’s home to a parade of country and folk musicians and is arguably one of South Australia’s most authentic country music venues.

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The Neales Flat barn – renovated by husband and wife pair Mike Roberts and Dianne Bills– is just 90 minutes north of Adelaide, or 30 minutes from the Barossa, and is in its second season after a string of successful shows in its inaugural year.

Country and folk artists including the John Flanagan Trio, the Hussy Hicks and Kristy Cox have performed at the venue, while award-winning folk outfit The Maes are set to play on June 15.

“I would have had to go to Adelaide to hear these high-profile musicians before and now local people, and particularly people that are facing the drought, can experience the music,” Mike says.

“People can hear this incredible music without having to travel and pay for accommodation and expensive meals, it provides some relief from the drought.”

A country musician himself, Mike says the idea to convert The Barn into a live music venue came around by chance, after a windstorm ripped through the region and nearly lifted the roof off the barn around four years ago.

“It was already leaking, but after that, you could have a shower in there when it rained. It’s a gorgeous building and we were upset to think we would lose a building like that on our watch,” he says.

“We didn’t have a grand plan for the venue, there was over 100 years of horse manure on the floor – you couldn’t even imagine having a show there.”

While renovating the property Mike and Dianne toyed with the idea of putting a stage in for open mic nights, but the plan for a music venue only eventuated when artist John Flanagan reached out to Mike and expressed interest in performing a show there.

“John is an incredible musician and he said ‘Mike, we need to do a show in the barn’, I told him he was out of his mind, no one would come,” Mike says.

After a similar conversation with Julz Parker of the Hussy Hicks, Mike was sold. He quickly began purchasing sound and lighting equipment and locking in dates with musicians.

The first show was a sell-out success and the venue has since averaged around 90 people to each performance, with fundraising efforts collectively raising $12,000 for cancer charities Mummy’s Wish and Dreams2live4.

Interest in the venue has seen the local council increase the venue’s capacity to 140 people and the upcoming 500 Miles of Music tour – which will see award-winning country artists tour through the SA outback – is set to kick off at The Barn on July 6 with a sold-out show.

“People come from Adelaide and they think they’ve gone to the middle of nowhere, but it only took them an hour to get here, they like that,” Mike says.

“They could spend the same on ticket prices and not have to travel but they want to come here, we even get a lot of people camping.”

The barn has seen patrons travel from interstate to visit the venue, with one couple travelling from Gippsland in Victoria after seeing it on TV and others from Western Australia also making the journey.

Mike says word-of-mouth from musicians has led to an influx of interest from touring artists looking to perform at an authentic country venue.

“The people who have played here, well, they fall in love with the place. They stay in our house, they become our family for the night and, of course, the sound in the barn is amazing,” he says.

“So they started telling other musicians and now we don’t need to ring anyone, we just wait for the phone to ring.”

This story was first published by Brand South Australia for the Regional Showcase.

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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