A simple search for a certain book led Vickie Burkinshaw to open a whole new chapter – both in her life and that of the Wagga arts scene.
Vickie had been enjoying a quiet life in the Riverina after a successful career in communications, which included touring the world and working alongside Body Shop founder Dame Anita Raddock.
While in Melbourne, she lived life in the fast lane until love and motherhood reignited her passion for rural Australia. In early 2017, with husband Tim and children Lucy, 15 and Angus, 11, the family relocated to a 360-acre farm at The Rock.
Wagga Wagga was the nearest city and Vickie found herself travelling the 60 km roundtrip regularly, including on one fateful day in 2020.
Interested only in finding “that book” for her daughter, she entered the Rabbit Bookstore and set about leafing through numerous hardbacks, paperbacks and reference books.
She was about to leave empty-handed when she noticed a “For Sale” sign on the bookstore’s café wall and the wheels in her mind started turning with possibilities. There was room to expand and include artists of all types, classes, performances – the list was endless.
Inspired, Vickie negotiated and exchanged contracts within a matter of weeks. Then COVID hit.
“I thought ‘oh my gosh what have I done?’,” Vickie said.
“But that was followed by ‘No, I want this to happen so that when COVID is over, the artists will have a safe place to meet and perform.’ I felt the artists needed support and an epicentre for arts.”
While lockdown was on, the overalls came out and new decor was added. The store was now bright and airy, had indoor and outdoor seating, plus a craft-making and an acting area.
Vickie also changed the venue’s cafe menus to reflect a simple fare and, when restrictions lifted, the store opened seven days a week, sometimes after hours.
Renamed The Curious Rabbit, it now housed classes, exhibitions, art, writing, drama, music and guest author talks. Live music commenced, even drag shows and open mike presentations, all of which proved popular.
“All of these are designed for artists to cut their teeth on – even the chalk paint workshop,” Vickie said.
“Our classes are designed for social groups. We have Leggo for NDIS clients, The Alphabet Soup group is for teenagers, as are the after-school programs. For those wishing to fill in a Sunday afternoon, particularly in winter, there is entertainment, foodie nights and, of course, coffee and chat.
“It’s just like an expansion of home in here. I have shelves of books, lots of art, people traffic and functions to organise. I like coming to work, it’s stimulating.
“I decided to change the name (of the store) as I wanted the public to ask ‘what’s on at the Curious Rabbit today?’.”
Vickie exudes enthusiasm when she talks about her venture, which also has a community fundraising side for causes like the Ukraine conflict and now, victims of flood.
Mater Dei Year 9 student Mia Hugget attends regularly and participates in the Secondary School Artspace program at the venue.
“I love it here,” she said. “It is relaxing and we have fun.
“Our teacher is excellent and we enjoy each other’s work.”
William and Camilla Thompson attend the primary school program, with mum Emily dropping in from Alfredtown.
‘They’re excited to attend class,” she said. “They are able to interact and, of course, take home a delicious dessert.”
For more information on art, books, the cafe, events and more at The Curious Rabbit, visit the website.