Sunny Tongala making hay while the silo art trail shines

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Christmas spirit in the tiny northern Victorian township of Tongala is drawing in tourists off the back of eased pandemic restrictions and the success of the Silo Art Trail.

Last December, in between pandemic lockdowns, the local dairy farming community created an outdoor, COVID-safe and family friendly display of decorated hay bales that drew visitors from as far away as Sydney.

It was a huge hit, bringing a new vibrancy to the town and increased patronage for local businesses.

The Tongala Development Group decided they were on a winner and organised other hay bale celebrations throughout the year for Easter, Anzac Day and RUOK Day.

Now, the community has launched its second Christmas Hay Bale Trail and hopes social media will continue drawing visitors to the area.

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‘Visitors come from far and wide’

The group’s spokesperson, Amber Townsend, said shares on social media have played a huge part in the success of the project, and this year the organisers are encouraging people to take selfies.

“Last year, during the first COVID lockdown, a local farmer decided to decorate some hay bales as [popular cartoon characters] Bluey and Bingo, and popped them out the front of her farm, which generated so much interest within our region they got moved into town, next to the post office.

“We’re a small dairy farming community off two main highways, so we really want people to be coming through the small towns and seeing what we’ve got to offer.” 

Ms Townsend said the community is looking forward to seeing the streets lined with cars, the bakery “run off its feet”, revenue coming into the town through the local petrol station, supermarket and stores, and grey nomads coming along the silo trail and making a detour through Tongala.

a lady stands beside a hay bale stack as a man paints  ita lady stands beside a hay bale stack as a man paints  it
Amber Townsend and local bakery owner Mitch Oats at work on his hay bale art.(ABC News: Jo Printz)

Hay bale trail proving a family affair

Jordan Souter, who donated the hay bales from his local farm supplies business, was initially surprised by the idea.

“The committee are doing a really good job, bringing a lot of people into town on the weekends and even during the week,” he said.

Jackie Humphries, one of this year’s hay bale artists, said her three young children loved going around and looking at all the artworks.

a hay bale stack has white and black cows wearing  Santa hats painted on it a hay bale stack has white and black cows wearing  Santa hats painted on it
Dairy farming, one of the region’s main industries is highlighted in the hay bale art.(Jo Printz: ABC News)

Organisers hope that with fewer border restrictions and lockdowns this year the installations will bring visitors in their droves, put a smile on children’s faces, spark some spending and imbue everyone with the spirit of community and Christmas.

Artist Jimmy D’vate is painting the third silo at nearby Rochester.

The artwork will follow the flora and fauna theme of the previous two painted silos and joins the more than 50 silos that have been painted nationwide in the past six years.