FOR many it’s hard to remember Bellingen without the Yellow Shed.
It’s been an eye catching landmark at the eastern end of town for 30 years and owner Gillian White is proud if its longevity.
The phoenix that rose out of the ashes of the highly controversial demolition of the old community centre, the building was originally the old Doepel Entertainment Hall built at the Old Butter Factory and hauled into town by three bullocks in the 1920s.
“The place was crumbling and dilapidated but we managed to raise and restore it and opened our doors in 1981 as a space for potters and weavers and jewellers to establish themselves and their crafts.”
Back then it was The Yellow Shed Cottage Industries and Workshops and painted a heritage ‘ochre yellow’.
“But no-one stopped to have a look at an ochre-yellow shed, so when it came time to repaint we decided to go with something more vibrant.”
In those days the space was full of trestle tables with a massive 17-cubic-foot kiln out the back.
“We ran pottery classes for kids on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons plus Saturday mornings – 45 children a week – making all their dragons and castles.”
As artists found their own studios, the space morphed into The Yellow Shed Bellingen Craftworks, stocking an increasing cornucopia of goodies for visitors to browse.
In 1997, while celebrating her 60th birthday, Mrs White opened the Yellow Shed Garden Centre “to help foster the planting of rainforest and native plants in gardens around the shire”.
“Over the years the markets have become a strong outlet for selling plants but I have kept it going nonetheless ... it has really become an extension of my own garden.”
Mrs White admits absolute dedication and love of what she does is certainly what has kept her going all these years. “I guess I am married to my shop – my customers are like personal visitors, many are friends and are now bringing their children to meet me.”
And don’t use the “t” word – tourists – with Mrs White.
“Tourism is a service industry – these people are visitors,” she exclaims.
“I like to describe Bellingen as the little town with the big heart that turns tourists into visitors overnight.”
Drifting through the shop one comes across all manner of goodies – from cards to candles to jewellery, to home decorations, hats and wind chimes ... the list is long.
Most importantly, however, Mrs White stocks an amazing range of books, many on esoteric topics such as feng shui, home-birthing, herbal medicines and DIY funerals.
“I have been establishing this collection for the last 15 years – I think of it as covering “womb to tomb”,” she laughs.
“There are more than 3000 titles – it’s like a mini Aydar Bookshop (Sydney’s long established alternative and metaphysical bookshop).”
At 74, retirement is still a long way off for Mrs White.
“While I’m healthy, I’ll keep doing this – it’s my life and I believe that as long as I don’t stop, then I won’t have to.”
She added that if her friend Gillian Helfgott could keep getting her high-profile pianist husband David around the world for his packed performance schedule, then she could keep doing her shop.
At the conclusion of the interview Mrs White gave special thanks to her long-time employee Aleisha Cook, who arrived for work experience at 16 and is still there 16 years later.
She also paid tribute to legendary Sydney bookseller and left-wing activist Bob Gould, who died at the weekend.