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Innovative thinking saves country towns struggling as locals head coastal

ABC News logo ABC News 17/04/2016 Caitlyn Gribbin

Charles Hanna at his Willow Tree Inn. © ABC News/Caitlyn Gribbin Charles Hanna at his Willow Tree Inn. Living in the country might sound idyllic, but many small Australian towns are struggling to survive as more people move to the coast.

But a couple of country towns in New South Wales are bucking that trend by combining agriculture, a great business idea and a healthy dose of fun.

Sydney businessman Charles Hanna's company Hannapak employs more than 220 people who manufacture folding cartons and cardboard packaging for Australia's largest liquor, food and pharmaceutical companies.

They include Fosters brewing, Lion Nathan, chocolate company Lindt and the manufacturers of Panadol, to name a few.

After success in that industry, Mr Hanna decided to pursue a lifelong dream by buying a cattle property near the small town of Willow Tree, 330 kilometres north-west of Sydney.

He also bought the local, once-run-down pub. "When I got to 60 I decided that if I didn't do it then I never would," Mr Hanna said.

"So I went out and went looking for a property and we came to Willow Tree."

Large crowds flock to Mr Hanna's Willow Tree Inn each night to sample beef grown at his nearby property, Colly Creek.

You would be forgiven for thinking the restaurant was located in the heart of Sydney, but a mere 200 people live in the thriving village of Willow Tree.

Locals like Ted Wilkinson said Mr Hanna's investment had increased tourism and morale in the town.

"The number of people who come from one, two, three, hours away, have a meal in Willow Tree and are a part of the tourist precinct is unreal," Mr Wilkinson said.

"I've got family in Gunnedah and they are regular visitors, not because I live here, but because of the hotel."

'Beer, meat, it goes hand in hand'

Butcher Dale Goodwin (L) and brewery owner Ben Rylands work together to boost their businesses. © ABC News/Caitlyn Gribbin Butcher Dale Goodwin (L) and brewery owner Ben Rylands work together to boost their businesses. Further north, the little town of Uralla is also buzzing, largely due to a few people making more than a few gambles.

With a town population of not quite 3,000, Uralla also sits on the New England Highway and is surrounded by productive farm land.

Ben Rylands started the New England Brewing Company in Uralla just over three years ago.

His investment has paid off and he is also helping another business in town survive, by partnering with Uralla butcher Dale Goodwin.

In a novel endeavour, Mr Goodwin recycles spent grain from Mr Rylands' brewery and feeds it to lambs that will be slaughtered then sold at his butcher shop.

"That's just stuff I'm passionate about. Beer, meat, it goes hand in hand," Mr Goodwin said.

But the B&B — beer and butcher — partnership doesn't stop there.

Mr Goodwin makes sausages using beer from the New England Brewing Company and the snags are working a treat.

"It's probably brought people that wouldn't normally come into our shop, out-of-towners more than anybody, to try that product," he said.

Mr Rylands said a unique idea can help country town businesses survive.

"The benefit of having people using products from different local businesses is that we can talk about each other's business," Mr Rylands said.

"It all snowballs the more that local businesses work with each other."

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