The Old Butter Factory in Bellingen is one of our region’s most delightful treasures. It has a long and colourful history and has always been a thriving hub of activity.
In its early days, the Doepel Street site has been the home of a variety of important and historical creations, market leading businesses, and of course, dairy produce.
The Alma Doepel, a three masted topsail schooner, was built on the site in 1902/1903. It was launched from the wharf at the river’s edge alongside today’s complex. The remnants of the wharf can still be seen today. The ship itself has a rich history, having its first few voyages carrying timber between the Bellinger Valley, Port Macquarie and New Zealand. The Alma Doepel, one of the oldest and most historic exports from the Bellinger Valley, now sails out of Docklands in Melbourne.
Following the launch of the Alma Doepel, the site became home to the Upper Bellingen Dairy Cooperative. The factory launched in 1906 and produced an abundance of dairy produce, including butter and cheese. Produce was exported to various regions across Australia. In 1919, the business expanded and added a bacon factory to the southern end of the complex. It was often called ‘The Unofficial Mint’, because the export of the food products produced by the Co-op had such a huge impact on the economic status of the Bellinger Valley. The Co-op ceased operation in the 1960s, but the intrigue of the site doesn’t stop there.
What many people don’t know about the Old Butter Factory site is that it was once home to the largest Model T Ford Dealership in the world! Mr Thomas’ Motor Imporium had a larger display of Model T Fords than any other dealership on the planet. It was bigger than the super dealerships in the USA, Asia and Europe. We can proudly say that a humble dealer in the quaint Bellinger Valley held the title.
These days, the Old Butter Factory is seen as a unique arts and culture district, housing a variety of specialist retailers and rare artworks. It is the birthplace of some of our region’s most sought after artistic creations.
The Butter Factory Woodcraft Gallery produces a variety of beautifully hand crafted timber products. The unique creations are made on site and range from gifts and ornaments to homewares and furniture. Each piece is individually hand crafted with dedication and attention to detail, to ensure that all creations are absolutely perfect.
The Gallery is also home to the famous Windsong Chimes. Since 1985, Windsong Chimes has been making superior wind chimes, precisely tuned to carefully chosen musical scales and elegantly designed to grace any style of home or décor. The chimes will both please the eye and delight the ear, keeping you in touch with the subtle variations in your surroundings and marking the changes that take place through the day.
The fascinating thing about the Windsong Chimes is that they adorned the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the landmark’s 75th anniversary. Every person who set foot on the bridge to celebrate the occasion could hear the delightful sound of the Bellinger Valley ringing in the air.
Awl Leather is another retailer with a fascinating story to tell. Bruce Erskine and his team have been making a range of unique handcrafted leather goods on site since 1991. The range includes leather sandals, handmade footwear, moccasins, medieval shoes, leather art, bags, belts, wallets, travel goods, holsters and whips. Saddlery and other horse gear are also routinely made and repaired. Awl Leather presents work by Bruce Erskine, Anton Halim, Chub McNeil, Gabrielle Tindall and Strak. Awl Leather has been producing footwear and various other leather creations for the Australian Opera for years now. Another shipment has recently been sent for the group to use in their upcoming productions.
The Courtyarde Shoppe is an absolutely stunning boutique located in the internal courtyard of the complex. The shop stocks a variety of exclusive and illustrious gifts, jewellery and accessories. Many of the treasures are from Australian local artists, but a selection is also created by prestigious overseas artists. Many of the pieces in store are handmade individually and are of superior quality and craftsmanship. The glassware is to die for, and the attention to detail on all pieces is phenomenal.
The Old Butter Factory Café is a hub of activity and one of the largest cafés in the region. The café has amazing coffee and some delicious meals and is open 7 days a week for everyone to enjoy.
New staff and apprentices have joined old stalwarts on the café team, and with an interesting new menu and a variety of daily specials (along with a full liquor licence,) the café is now set for the spring and summer holiday seasons.
There is no better outlook than the view across the beautiful Bellingen golf course to the Dorrigo hills from the café forecourt, and they look forward to welcoming friends and visitors to join them for ‘sundowners’.
The Old Butter Factory has been a regional landmark since the early 1900s, and it’s still a vibrant retail community. Make the trip to this special place to experience a little bit of the history for yourself.