An Arnhem Land icon

The Mainoru Store is the only service facility on the 700km stretch of the Central Arnhem Road between Katherine and Nhulunbuy. Picture: supplied.
The Mainoru Store is the only service facility on the 700km stretch of the Central Arnhem Road between Katherine and Nhulunbuy. Picture: supplied.

The Mainoru Store/Mainoru Safari Lodge has changed hands.

Established in 1998 the Mainoru Store is the only service facility on the 700 kilometre journey along the Central Arnhem Road between Katherine and Nhulunbuy. 

The store fell on hard times and closed in 2008 with the basic building vandalised over the ensuing years.  

In 2010 Sonja and Barry Jones renovated the building then enlarged the site to provide accommodation and a serviced camping ground in addition to the store and fuel stop.

The result was a green oasis on an otherwise desolate dry season road. In the wet a welcome light on the muddy track.

In Sonja’s words ‘Little did we know what we were getting in for!’ It takes a very special kind of person to live remotely, working 7 days a week 12 months of the year when you are the only point of contact on the side of the worst major road in the Territory.” 

To complicate things come the wet season this strip of rock, mud, dust and flooded creeks is the only means of road communication for all of the Northern Coastal communities along with the Central and East Arnhem communities, perhaps 5% of the NTs total population. 

In the absence of any reliable information from the NT Roads Report the store routinely receives perhaps 2000 calls from would be travelers each wet season asking ‘What is that road doing?’

Prior to the bridges being built across the Mainoru River Barry  would set up a boat with rope  across and ferry people from Bulman back and forth so they could access fresh food and to enable travelers to link up with a vehicle to get into Katherine and vice versa. 

Things are a bit easier now with bridges over all of the major water ways. However this has simply tempted more people to travel and, as you might expect, get into trouble. Where do they aim for? The Mainoru Store!  

Over the past 8 years Sonja has become one of the most recognized faces in Territory, be it in a restaurant in Darwin, shopping in Katherine or refueling at Adelaide River sooner or later you will hear ‘Sonja Sonja…”  or ‘You’re the lady from Mainoru Store, I…’ 

Now it has all come to an end, as Barry explains.

“The Mainoru Station changed hands a little over three years ago.

“Shortly after the Gove refinery closed down and 2000 people left town. In addition the Territory Government is facing a significant drop in revenue – all of these factors have combined to reduce the turnover at the store,” he said.

A rise in rent and long working hours forced the pair to call it quits.

For travellers on the road this wet season Barry has these words of advice.

“Fuel is available from Bulman 24/7 via a card reader – if it has not been vandalised. Do not plan on it being available outside store hours. Carry plenty of water and spare tyres. DO NOT take chances at flooded creeks – wait for them to recede. DO log on to the BOM site and view the weather conditions, immediate past and future. Be careful out there!”

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