Strzelecki Stringbusters, Yinnar
For Ray Negro it's all about the music. Well, the music, the community, and nature around the Latrobe Valley where he's lived for his whole life and to which he likes to give back as much as he receives. Much of the giving back occurs at the Yinnar Hotel on the last Wednesday of every month when Ray's 14-piece string band, the Strzelecki Stringbusters entertains the town.
The Strzelecki Stringbusters came together 10 years ago when a regular jam session between Ray and a few mates snowballed. 'As we got more guys playing and word got out, people were asking, "where can we see you play?" We thought we'd do one Wednesday night at the pub and see how it went and now it's bigger than Ben Hur!'
The Strzelecki Stringbusters are responsible for bringing the occasional international artists and big Australian names through the tiny town of Yinnar to witness the band for themselves.
'Peter Rowan and Mike Compton, both internationally renowned American bluegrass musicians, played at the Yinnar Hotel when they were touring in Australia. It's pretty mind-blowing when you think about it,' exclaims Ray, who's just as excited about the talent found around the Latrobe Valley.
Most of the Stringbusters hail from the foothills and hollows around Yinnar, which Ray describes as a, 'great, vibrant community'. The Stringbusters are so committed to this local community that they put on a number of bushfire support benefit gigs after fires went through the area.
Born in Morwell and having lived in Yinnar for 30 years, Ray is well placed to recommend activities for visitors, though he admits it's a challenge as there's so much to choose from.
'I'd probably take them for a picnic or barbecue at Tarra Bulga National Park in the Strzelecki Ranges and do some of the walks. It's all giant mountain ash trees and fern gullies. It's so green! Or you can head to the coast, for fish and chips at Port Albert, and Woodside Beach and Ninety Mile Beach are pretty impressive. Then of course you'd have to visit ARC Gallery in Yinnar where they feature some great local artists.'
Ray's final tip is to have a meal at the Yinnar Hotel – preferably on the last Wednesday of the month.
'The Stringbusters play at the pub on the last Wednesday of every month, and bookings are pretty much essential if you want to come along and have dinner and watch. Then on the second Wednesday of the month there's the Jambusters, which is for anyone who wants to come along and have a go, all ages and beginners included.'