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Since 2016, when Guido van Helten began plying his brush to silos in the west Victorian town of Brim, close to a dozen other communities have followed suit.
But how effective have the artworks been in turning around the small towns' fortunes?
Rochester, in Victoria's north, is the latest community to pin its hopes for economic rejuvenation on a silo artwork.
PHOTO: Artist Jimmy DVate (left) and his wife Carmen (middle) have stayed in Rochester while working on the silos. The business network's Kate Taylor (right) hopes the work will bring more tourists to town. (ABC Central Victoria : Mark Kearney)
For the past two weeks, Melbourne artist Jimmy DVate has chosen a Grain Corp silo next to the Northern Highway as his canvas, painting an azure kingfisher.
The artwork shows the bird feasting on a golden perch, snatched from the Campaspe river that runs just metres from the base of the silos.
Nearby is the dormant Murray Goulburn factory, which closed its doors for the final time in January. The dairy giant's departure from Rochester, which left 100 people jobless, was typical of the town's fortunes in recent years.
It was also the catalyst for the Rochester Business Network to push for its town to join Victoria's growing silo art trail.
Mural brings traffic to a stopA Murray Darling Basin Authority report released in June found the number of full-time equivalent positions in Rochester dropped by 20 per cent between 2001 and 2016, with the most rapid decline occurring since 2011.
Farming jobs were cut by almost 30 per cent over the same 15-year period.
"The town has been feeling it," said business network spokeswoman and local high school teacher Kate Taylor.
She hoped the eye-catching design would encourage more of the 7,000 cars that drove through town every day to stop in Rochester.
"Quite often people go through on their way to the river — the Murray — in Echuca, and they don't always stop here unless they need to," she said.
The artwork was still two weeks from completion, but Ms Taylor said she was already noticing a rise in visitor numbers.
"It's been busy, to say the least, almost chaotic on the weekend with the amount of traffic coming through," she said.
Silos put towns on the mapOn Tuesday morning, dozens of onlookers — locals and out-of-town visitors — stood at the foot of the silos to check out the artist's progress.
Among them was Kyabram resident Brenda O'Sullivan, who chose to lunch with her sisters in Rochester to see the kingfisher mural take shape. She was sure other people would do the same.
"They'll stop and have a look at the silos, get some fuel, buy something to eat and maybe have lunch, so it'll be great for the town," she said.
Ms O'Sullivan spent the recent Queen's Birthday long weekend following an emerging mural trail in the state's north-east.
Artworks at Devenish, Tungamah and Goorambat have all appeared since the start of the year, with the Goorambat mural — a rendering of a barking owl — also the work of DVate.
Pub trade picks upOwner of Goorambat's Railway Hotel, Jacqui Coleman, can see the owl mural from a window of her pub.
She said business had turned the corner since the artwork was complete, with the kitchen cooking as many as 30 meals on a quiet weekday lunch.
Probus clubs and car groups regularly stopped by for lunch, having followed the north-east silo trail all the way to the hotel's doorstep.
Ms Coleman said she even had to turn customers away during weekends, when tables were often booked out in advance.
Being part of the trail was important to luring tourists into town, she said, with residents all along the route urging visitors to carry on to the next mural.
It is not Goorambat's first foray into street art as a way to reimagine old buildings. The Uniting Church last year invited another Melbourne street artist, Adnate, to decorate one of its interior walls.
Original still going strongThe Rochester and Goorambat silos are new additions to their towns' cultural landscapes.
But in Brim, where regional Victoria's first mural emerged, tourists continue to stop.
It was not unusual for up to 20 vans to park overnight in the town's caravan park, run by the local Lions Club.
During peak seasons like Christmas and Easter, longtime visitors jostled with out-of-town visitors to hold onto their preferred position in the park.
A local woman has made memorabilia to sell from beside the silo.
The caravan park's Greg Dixon said there was still room to capitalise on the increase in passing traffic.
While some visitors bought coffees and petrol in town, he said others came well-stocked, uncertain what would be available once they arrived at Brim.
The pub had also shut its doors, not because it lacked patrons but because one of its owners was battling ill health.
Brim Active Community Group president Shane Wardle said reinvention was important to keeping up tourist numbers.
Solar panels were installed to power floodlights, which illuminated the silos when the sun went down.
He said a run of six silo murals from Patchewollock in the north, to Rupanyup in the south, was also important to attract visitors to the region.
"It would've been nice if Brim had the only one, but that was never going to happen once we saw how positive it ended up," Mr Wardle said.
"But I think they're all sort of feeding off each other a bit."
Boost to community spiritFor Jimmy DVate, who stayed in Goorambat and Rochester while working on his birdlife murals, art was more than a money-making opportunity.
"They really do a lot for the town, not just for tourism, but for the general wellbeing of people in the town — good self-esteem, being proud of their communities, all that good stuff," he said.
"Everyone is just so impressed and so positive, it's just a beautiful experience."
Ms Taylor said the mural was giving people a reason to stay buoyant about the town's future prospects.
"Like all small communities, they've pulled together and sort of made the best of a bad situation, and thought, 'Right, what can we do now to move on from here?'," she said.
"This idea of a few people that has grown wings and come to life has just been a bit of a life saver for us."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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