(l-r) Steve, Justin, Chris and Shane Henwood – Mel and Kelly were indisposed at the time the picture was taken – are working towards reinventing their business as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, their employees are retained on the Jobkeeper allowance. Shane takes pride in highlighting that several of his former employees are now running their own businesses around the town. Justin said the hostel accommodated about 50 people a night – 20 to 30 in the off season and 70 to 80 during peak seasons. Various agencies and interest groups estimate backpackers spend between $80 and $110 a day, which equates to between $28,000 and $38,500 a week contributed to the local economy. Image Geoff Helisma

Mum’s the word: evolve or dissolve

While many businesses are struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to still be viable after the pandemic passes, some businesses, like the family-owned Yamba YHA Backpacker Beach Resort, are making it into an opportunity to reinvent themselves as a family-orientated venue.

About 11 years ago the Henwood family – Chris and Steve (Chook), Justin and Kellie, and Shane and Mel – sold up everything they could to pursue their dream of building a backpacker hostel in Yamba.

The development was somewhat controversial at the time, due to its seeking a liquor licence (the licence was the first in the state to be granted to serve alcohol in a small bar without a meal), and drew objections fearing civil disobedience among other issues.

Chris’s experience over the past 11 years was somewhat different to the fears expressed by objectors.

Since the forced close down, Shane says his mum is “missing it the most”.

“I’m just going to miss all of the kids,” Chris says. “I lived there for nearly 12 years and I never had one bit of trouble with any of them … and most of them called me ‘mum’, as well.”

Kelly says the family business has a new motto: “We can either evolve or dissolve, so evolve is what we need to do.

“We are going to come back bigger and better than before.

“Over the years, we have received so much support from our guests, patrons and the Yamba community that we just can’t put our tail between our legs and run away.”

The aim now is to reinvent what the building has to offer its guests and who those guests will be.

Shane says that “we’ve had the idea of brewing craft beer for a few years”, and with international travel looking unlikely to pick up any time soon, “we decided to change because of what is happening with COVID,” Chris adds.

“We’ve got to make a living for the next couple of years so we decided to do the brewery, which we’d been thinking about for the future.

“So, with the COVID thing and having to close up stairs, it gave us the kick along to do something.”

“We’re going to have a nice family vibe, a restaurant, a bigger play area for the kids and live music [soloists or duos] that families can enjoy,” says Shane.

“That’s why we thought we’d do family rooms upstairs,” says Chris.

Over the years, Shane has looked after the backpackers with his guided tours and surfing school – these things will be missed, he says.

“It’s quit sad to be honest, but I’m nervous and excited at the same time.

“I’m going to miss the internationals coming here and hanging out and doing all of my tours.

“I’ve actually got messages from backpackers saying things like: ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry’, ‘What about Shane’s tours?’

“We’ve even had weddings through our hostel, where people who have met backpackers have married locals and things like that.

“Another guy made a video of Australia and New Zealand and 80 per cent of it was Yamba.”

Justin, who is the craft beer aficionado, says the “big thing” about their beer will be its Yamba branding.

“We want to make it a local Yamba beer,” he says, using Yamba business’s branding on our beer labels.

“We can only sell our beer through here; it’s basically a house beer … a marketable beer for Yamba promoting other business’s brands.”

Meanwhile, Justin has set up a Gofundme page to help get the ‘Wobbly Chook Brewing Co’ up and running.

At the time of writing $4,270 of $40,000 had been raised.

One donator, Yamba Shores Tavern owner Matt Muir, tipped in $1,000.

Shane and Justin have been strong supporters of our venue over the years,” says Matt.

“I class them as friends. Shane would come to the tavern twice a week with his tours.

“We were the last stop, where he’d come in and feed the bream on the pontoon.

“He’d tell the backpackers that the bream were piranhas and spin a bit of a story, saying, ‘Watch your fingers!’

“He always made a joke of it but came clean in the end.”

Matt acknowledges that he has donated to a competitor of sorts.

“I just think the guys need encouragement and support,” he says.

“They’ve given so much to the community over the years; I really want to see them succeed.

“I think the town really needs it.”