The faith of friends

Two farming mates have converted a historic vicarage into a community cafe, breathing life back into a small NSW town.

Story Lauren Munsie | Photos Ange McMaster

Early on a Saturday morning in the small town of North Star, cars make a pilgrimage to what used to be the town’s vicarage. It’s become a journey they make religiously nearly every weekend. But the people come not because of their own faith, but spurred on by the faith of two farmers who converted the old house into the vicarage cafe, bringing coffee and a community back together. 

Cafe owners and north star locals James Hardcastle and Simon Doolin grew up together. Their fathers farmed where their grandfathers once did, sealing their own fate early on. ‘I found farming is definitely my niche,’ James says. 

When the men were growing up, the town in north-western NSW was larger and had a pub, club and general store, where community members often caught up outside over a beer. But the population dwindled and the pub and store closed. The club slowly shortened its opening hours. In daylight hours, there was nowhere for the community to meet. ‘We were missing that community connection,’ James says. 

Two years ago, Simon approached James with a proposition to open a cafe but, at first, James shrugged it off. However, his mate persisted.  

‘A lot of people were staying home during the recent drought,’ Simon says. ‘We have so many great people in this area, and we had to find a way to draw them out.’

The building was in an ideal location, but was not an obvious cafe choice. It was built by James’s great uncle in the early 1900s as a masonic lodge, before it became the regular home of the north star church minister, but time had not been kind to the building.

The pair could see its potential and bought it in late 2020, renovating and converting the house into the cafe that opened last year in the township of just 40 people. 

“I got a message from a neighbour the other day, which said, ‘Thank you so much for The Vicarage’,” James says. ‘To hear that from one person makes it all worthwhile.’