Yandina. Early morning. There’s no mistaking this town’s rural heritage – there’s a battered farm ute turning at the traffic lights towards Nambour and an agricultural machinery supplier in the main street. Most of the buildings along this central strip are separate dwellings – low-set single-storey properties that were probably once residential homes (in fact, some of them still are). In any direction, a 10-minute stroll will have you in the surrounding countryside.

But the town is busy – there are tradesmen in hi-vis picking up a quick pie from the bakery or an early-morning coffee at one of the town’s cafes. Shops are opening their doors and locals are heading out to get on with their days.

In so many ways Yandina is like any other of the region’s hinterland townships – like Cooroy and Pomona, Mooloolah Valley and Landsborough it’s still very much a small town, with a pub and a primary school, a hardware store and mechanics. Locals bump into each other as they grab some groceries after school drop-off or while they’re doing the banking at the post office.

However, there’s something a little special about Yandina, and it’s not just the scent of ginger in the air.

The Aboriginal people of the area belonged to the Gubbi Gubbi language group. And the name of Yandina honours those traditional owners – ‘yan’ means go and ‘dinna’ on foot. In terms of European settlement, Yandina is an old town. Its post office was established in 1868 and the town was surveyed in 1871 with blocks sold from 1873 onwards. Then called Maroochy, the settlement was the first commercial centre on the Sunshine Coast. In 1874 a telegraph office was opened and in the 1880s settlers started coming in earnest, clearing trees and establishing crops of cane, fruit and maize.

Today, visitors can still find plenty of original buildings: the Anglican church, which opened as a community church in the 1880s, is the oldest on the Coast; the Yandina hotel dates back to 1889 and was relocated to its current position using rollers and a bullock team in 1891 when the owner realised he’d built it in the wrong spot; and there is Koongalba homestead, a privately owned heritage-listed property.

With its history and location, Yandina has been known as many things – a ginger town (thanks to The Ginger Factory), a timber town, historic town, river town and railway town. But what is Yandina today?

If you ask Tanya Hoddinott from Stevens Street Gallery, no doubt she will tell you it’s a friendly town. Tanya is an artist who moved to Yandina more than a year ago. “The people are very warm and very welcoming,” she says. “I have lived in lots of country towns and I have never been embraced as I have in Yandina.

“I think the town was so happy about that space being brought back to life.”

The space she is talking about is her studio and gallery at 2 Stevens Street. She says her gallery and nearby shops draw people down the street.

“Usually in a small country town they are wary of newcomers but not Yandina. They are good working-class people who go out of their way to help.”

Tanya says foot traffic around her gallery has increased dramatically in the past 12 months or so. “Visitors from Brisbane, interstate and international are coming to eat, wander and browse. The gallery has become a destination as one of a number of hinterland galleries.”

She’s seen other changes too. “A lot of shops have been filled, and with interesting things. You can come and have lunch, get a haircut, buy some art, look at some real estate and buy a beautiful dress.

“On top of that there is what Yandina had 50 years ago, and Nambour did too. That emphasis on natural, healthy living.” She lists Vitality Wholefoods at the new IGA complex and Jeffers. “There is also The Ginger Factory, Bee Positive and Nutri-Tech, which is a company that offers natural alternatives to chemical farming. There is a big emphasis [in the town] on natural alternatives.”

Yandina & District Historical Association secretary Margaret White is also a relative newcomer and, like Tanya, a big fan. She’s lived in Yandina for about three years. “We were living in Kenilworth and had a beautiful old Queenslander so we looked around for a nice, low-set house. We found the perfect spot. We just found it was so convenient and the people were just lovely. I met a lady and she invited me to the historic association.”

Margaret lists Saturday’s markets, the North Arm school country fundraiser and the independent theatre as her favourite parts of the town. There are also plenty of cafes – “Wherever you go you can get great coffee. Everything you want is here. And quaint shops too. 1828 has amazing cakes. Invigor8 is great, and around the corner [on Railway Street] is The Shared. There’s coffee and music. It is really an alternate, fun place.”

Fiona Groom, who has lived in the area for 17 years, has also seen the town change. “Yandina is evolving – it’s still a little country town and everyone wants to keep it that way, but there’s a lot here and it’s nice to just wander around sometimes and buy a few things. And you have the markets on Saturday and the historical house itself, which is a beautiful house.”

Fiona is the art curator at the Yandina Historic House Gallery, a role that has kept her busy since 2005. Her job is to help raise the profile of local artists. “My whole intention is to get the local artists out there and get their work seen.” She says the gallery is well worth a visit and the historic house volunteers have put in long hours to catalogue and showcase its collection of historic memorabilia. “All the volunteers there work so hard.”

“I organised an event for Horizon Festival and we had an artisans market in September and we had a really good day and a good turnout of people – artists and craft makers. I was really pleased. I will be doing a few more things to get more exposure for the local artisans.”

So along with ginger, railway and historic, I guess we can call Yandina a friendly, popular and creative town too.