The Urban Dream Became Real for Hunter Valley Local
History plays a major role in the local community in the Hunter Valley, NSW. With farm land and properties being passed down the generations, the community flourishes on family history.
It can be a rare find to locate a true local. However, Neil ‘Clarry’ Jones is the perfect definition.
Growing up in Glendon Brook with his family, Clarry has spent his entire life in the area.
“I lived at the foot of the mountains there on a dairy farm. Then Dad bought this property in 1973, and moved the dairy down here,” Clarry says. “Been here ever since.”
His 120-acre property is now famously known to the local community as Drovers Camp. Positioned in the heart of the Hunter Valley, just out of Branxton, it is the utopian dream to those that are enriched by urban lifestyles. Described as ‘a hidden gem’, the property features picturesque views, a country-style restaurant, campgrounds and even a bush amphitheatre. Each constituent working nicely together, creating a place that has been hailed ‘the best venue in the valley’.
Being family and pet friendly, it is the ideal place for people to stay while they explore the wineries, attractions and the countryside of the Hunter Valley region. As far as farms go, this one provides comfort for even the most unsettling travellers.
The property is entirely self-resourceful as all produce grown on the farm is used in the fully licensed Drovers Camp Restaurant.
Clarry says, “I run enough cattle and sheep to provide my own meat to the restaurant over the years. You have to add value and the best way to do that is to grow your own and support your own.”
Being a strong believer of locals supporting locals, an amount of work has gone into the property through the help of other businesses in the area. From sending his meat to the Kurri Kurri abattoirs, to having local Singleton builders Link Upward develop the timber stage in the bush amphitheatre, Clarry thrives on keeping it local.
Working in the underground coal industry for over twenty years, he knew he wanted to run his own business. Saying the way to do that was to jump right in and make the change, Clarry purchased an old bath house that he found at a coal mine site near North Rothbury in 1989. He moved it to the property, rebuilt it and in 1994, opened it as the Drovers Camp Restaurant. After securing DA approval, he obtained a Public Theatre Entertainment licence and started heating up the cooktops.
“Been operating that ever since and it’s been a great life. A great lifestyle. Not a big business but a great business,” Clarry says.
Twenty five years on, he is still just as optimistic about the property as he was when he began. However, living in a hyper modern society, Clarry states that his main issue with exposure is his lack of knowledge of social media and marketing. He attempted to hold a few festivals however, the crowds didn’t come.
“Not being an entrepreneur, not knowing how social media worked, I put the shows on and hoped people turned up. That doesn’t happen today,” Clarry says. “After three or four years of trying, they were great shows but never drew a big enough crowd to warrant keeping it going. So, I stopped doing it.”
As any good businessman would do, he turned his attention towards the area that was successfully bringing in revenue; private functions and camping. This was when organisers of Branxton’s ‘Country at the Camp’ music festival, Cass Shoulders and Luke Thrift approached Clarry and turned things around. They held their first festival in the amphitheatre in 2015. With its success, they decided to continue as an annual event. The amphitheatre is finally fulfilling the dreams Clarry initially had for it.
“It has grown since then. Now the Drovers Camp is certainly a lot more known as an entertainment area than it was when I was running it,” Clarry says.
“The ambience of the place and the sound that comes off that stage is as clear at the top of the hill as it is down here.”
Promoting the festival as a laid-back atmosphere, the non-manufactured bush amphitheatre, along with great Australian country artists has proved a winning formula. The fifth festival will be held on November 9, 2019, with expectations of over one thousand people attending.
Clarry’s ambition for his property is only growing, and with the support of the local community behind him, his desires for his land are coming true.
“It’s virtually the final stage in life, but it’s a great stage in life,” Clarry says.
The kitchen operates at certain times a year however, camping and bookings for functions are always available.
For more information about Drovers Camp, visit ‘The Drovers Camp’ Facebook page.