Fun4Kids Festival 2015: the results are in

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Scenes from inside the 2015 Fun4Kids Festival. Image: Warrnambool City Council.

Analysis  – Carol Altmann

The figures for the 2015 Fun4Kids Festival are in, and it’s a case of good news and bad news for the Warrnambool City Council and, by default, its ratepayers.

The good news is that it didn’t blow the bank.

In other words, it kept within the $450,000 budget that was set aside last October and avoided anything like the $150,000 blow-out of last year. Phew.

The bad news, however, is that the festival is attracting less people and therefore, you can assume, generating less economic and tourism benefits to Warrnambool but still costing $450,000 to run.

While there is still no official report on the results, the council released some figures to Bluestone today which said about 15,000 tickets were sold for the seven day event.

Last year, when the event ran over eight days, it attracted 19,758 people.

Of the 15,000 tickets sold this year, 24% were from metropolitan Melbourne – the highest percentage ever – which sounds like great news, until you work out that equates to only 3600 people compared to 3965 in 2015 and 5590 in 2013.

When you are coming off a smaller base, the percentages start to get wobbly.

It is extremely difficult to run a critical eye over a children’s festival – after all, it is aimed at children for god’s sake – but someone also needs to be the kid in the crowd as the Emperor marches by and point out that he is wearing no clothes.

So Bluestone, at risk of being deemed “too negative”, is prepared to say that the Fun4Kids Festival is getting precariously close to being bare-butt naked.

The reason is that the festival is no longer what it was designed to be, which was a major tourism attraction for Warrnambool.

Indeed in its heyday, the festival was pulling crowds of more than 32,000 people: double what it now achieves.

It was also costing less – far less – and at one point it was thought the council may not need to subsidise it at all because it would cover all of its own expenses. Such a notion now seems fanciful.

Here is the critical stat: in 2005, not long after the festival first began, it cost the council $156,354 and attracted 32,112 people.

This year, it cost up to $450,000 and attracted 15,000 people.

These are the cold, hard facts and why council staff last October recommended that the festival be discontinued because it had seemingly had its day.

But the decision to kill Peppa Pig, as it were, proved too emotional for the majority of the councillors and they agreed to press on in 2015 – turning the festival into more of a grassroots, simple-kids-fun kind of event with an extra heavy reliance on volunteers.

According to council spokesman Nick Higgins, this formula is set to be repeated in 2016.

“Council will shortly call for expressions of interest from local people keen to be part of the festival’s community consultation panel,” he said via email.

“The panel worked well this year and generated plenty of ideas and enthusiasm for the festival.”


It is wonderful to see such ideas and enthusiasm and I am sure most of the 15,000 people who turned up this year had a terrific time, but is this the best use of $450,000 each year to generate more visitors to Warrnambool?

Cr Kylie Gaston asked a question this week of Cr Brian Kelson, when he successfully pushed for free CBD parking over December and January, as to where the $70,000 in lost car parking revenue could be cut from within the budget.

I can think of at least one area….

For my money, I think free off-street parking over the busy summer period will do more for local traders than seven days of Fun4Kids where most of the action is confined to a plastic palace on the Civic Green.

If we want to continue to run a kid’s festival for, mostly, local and regional kids to enjoy, then let’s embrace that idea and stop pretending that Fun4Kids is a major tourism magnet.

It was once, but it is no longer, and there still needs to be a full and frank conversation about its long-term future.

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15 thoughts on “Fun4Kids Festival 2015: the results are in”

  1. Great article Carol. Unfortunately the Council will probably push ahead with approval of funding for the festival yet again. Time to look at other initiatives to boost tourism and trade in Warrnambool .

  2. Firstly, a disclaimer. I was a part of this years consultation panel :). In f4k defence they did have a number of things to battle against, most largely bad press. I heard that many locals weren’t going to bother coming this year but upon hearing from others that it was actually really fun for kids (and adults) they came. Maybe this was the same in metro areas? some good press combined with some positive choices from the organisers will hopefully see next year’s event a bit more successful as a tourist event.

    1. I hear you Megsie and all power to you for being involved (just that commitment alone, unpaid, is to be commended) but I think it is unfair to blame the media for the problems when the festival has, quite clearly, been in decline for some time. The media, at least in my view, has a significant role to play in asking what has gone wrong for F4K, why, and what needs to happen from here. That discussion could be a constructive and ultimately beneficial one for Warrnambool.

  3. It would be interesting to see what the entry price was in 2013 to this years price. Add on some pricey accommodation and it ends up quite expensive for Melbournians.

  4. Ok – we have now been to Fun4Kids 2 years running – 2014 and 2015. In 2014 it was mum, my son and I, last year it was mum, my son, me and my partner. We attended last year because we were told it would be the last year and we really enjoyed it in 2014. My son. partner and I live in Melbourne, but mum lives in Warrnambool.

    2015 was not s good as 2014.

    In 2014 there was the LEGO corner, which hands down beat the pond scum and bugs that replaced it.
    The 2014 marble run, and cardboard box area were excellent, as were the build and paint it bit and the baby animals.

    In 2015, the taping space in the gallery was pretty good, as was the taiko drumming and the bounce castles, also the foam building area. The cooking, which my son missed out on in 2014 because the queues were so long, didn’t seem to be as good, although he did enjoy it (but wouldn’t eat it!). The Ninja turtles (the whole reason we went on the day we did) kinda sucked (big time).

    Can I suggest a return to basics that kids like AND THINGS THEY CAN’T/AREN’T ALLOWED TO DO AT HOME – patting animals, even more building stuff, playing/building with cardboard boxes and foam bits and tape and bits of wood, maybe somewhere to put on one of those white suits and splash paint or mud or water all over the place, cooking FUN stuff, more LEGO, and people on stage that are fun -LOCAL jugglers, acrobats, magicians, bands and entertainers – in 2014 the whole reason we went was Justine Clarke and my son watched for 5 seconds and wanted to do something fun (no offence to Justine whose songs we know off by heart!). But why pay vast sums for people to entertain when someone local would benefit from it more.

    I am betting that we will be back for Fun4Kids in 2016, if it is still going.
    I hope it is.
    I also hope it is more supportive of local acts, or sponsors or whatever.
    I also hope it is more focused on what kids really want/enjoy – which really is the big cardboard box and not the xxxx inside it!

  5. oh I don’t blame the media entirely for the bad press Carol. Not at all. A lot of statements coming from council chambers have influenced the press. The festival had a pretty massive cut but delivered on budget and given, there are huge areas for improvement, I hope that Warrnambool is able to embrace an enriching cultural event for children, encouraging and cherishing creativity at its grass roots.
    However, I loved the bug zone. Some kids came back daily to discover what was lurking in those murky depths. Second disclaimer, my partner ran this zone. A local environmental ngo that volunteered their time, staff and resources to present an educational space full of scum, shrimp, caddis fly and the odd freshwater crab which kids could explore under microscopes. Not many kids can do that at home and for the little eco nut it was ace. I totally agree that the Ninga turtles sucked though.

    1. Thanks for the reply, Megsie, but again I can only come back to the fact that the steady decline of the festival – for a whole bunch of reasons – is what is really at the root of the problem. As you know, people are always looking for the next interesting thing and a 14-year-old festival has to work very hard to maintain that interest. I also have to point out, at the risk of being painful, that the festival budget actually wasn’t cut..but maintained at $450,000. The 2014 festival, as we know, went well over budget. I am just not convinced that F4K remains what it was intended to be and find it hard to see the justification for a $450k investment. (By the way, hopefully the Ninja Turtles are reading this and working on their act!)

  6. A large part of community outrage last year was over the massive overspend of the F4K budget, which is completely justifiable. Council asked for the festival to be brought back to budget. This was achieved. And still we are not happy?
    I was also part of the community consultation panel and I watched and listened as a relatively small group of local people, both paid and unpaid, worked tirelessly day and night, in a short amount of time (due to the timing of Council’s green light for the festival) to put together an amazing, fun, enriching festival for children and parents alike. Every cent was scrutinised and spent within an inch of it’s value, and to absolutely no detriment to the festival, in my opinion.
    The thousands of people who came to stay in Warrnambool are not coming to Warrnambool during Winter when there is no major reason to do so and surveys confirmed that. But thousands did come and I strongly believe that these numbers will continue to grow. This is such an important week for many businesses as it is the last event on the community’s calendar that will bring so many people into town for a few months….long, cold months (think about your story from Blarney Books regarding winter months, it is no different for Warrnambool). This is why I was more than happy to be on the panel and why my husband volunteers his time every year to support the festival. No, it’s not for everyone, but I fear that if it was ever gone it would be a case of “oooohhhh, so it WAS important to the town….” And it would be too little too late.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Amanda, and having a good robust debate is what Bluestone is all about. As I said to Megsie, the volunteers who helped organise this year’s event did an amazing job – no doubt about it – and I am sure all the kids who went to the festival had a great time.
      The nub of my argument, however, is that the festival is no longer the big tourist magnet that it was – the declining patronage shows that – and we need to be more up front about that reality and determine whether this really is the best, long-term use of an annual $450k investment.
      Maybe there are other ideas that could be developed as a winter tourism boost now that F4K appears to have run its race?

  7. this is why I love the forum of Bluestone so much and value it’s unique place in being able to raise positive discussion and debate about community issues.
    Having recently visited Questacom in Canberra I really don’t feel that a well delivered program aimed at providing a space in which children can develop their creative thinking and awareness can ever be old hat. Questacom has been running for eons and it had been a decade since I’d been near it and little had changed, but it’s still a major tourist attraction and bustling with energy. Hopefully with a larger timeframe to plan towards, larger Government grants will be attained and the bigger blockbuster type of exhibitions and zones can be used to entice those metro crew back. Truly, I would love to see a big step towards a permanent attraction aimed at creative children. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in regional Victoria and for me the extended playground that Warrnambool is, is really it’s biggest tourism draw card. But that would take a big leap of faith, commitment and yep, money.

    1. It is a bit like the Flagstaff Hill v Sovereign Hill comparison – why does one thrive while the other struggles?
      I love your idea of Warrnambool promoting itself as an extended playground – imagine linking the whole Lake Pertobe-Flagstaff Hill-Cannon Hill area into a giant wonderfest of kids science, history and exploration all cleverly disguised as fun? (With the train station conveniently right there in the centre). I think variations of formalising these linkages have been talked about before but nothing seems to come of it.
      Instead we continue to have a broken loop from Lake Pertobe up to the city and locked gates at Flagstaff Hill and the whole area, to me, feels disjointed and unfinished.

  8. Does not running Fun 4 Kids next year or for a few years, mean that it is gone forever? Perhaps giving it a rest ( just to really see what the numbers are, could answer the question once and for all, did the festival have a direct benefit to the community as a whole? How hard would it be to bring it back, if the answer was a positive one? Just curious to know if it’s possible.

  9. Absolutely! One of our towns most valuable tourism assests is weed and feral animal infested, with paths that are inaccessible for many. My most loved section of town is the wildwoods of lake pertobe. My 4 year old and I trudge across the grass from merri st to south Warrnambool kinder. He loves it and his recognition of bird life, history and art along the journey is fabulous. We do this trip all year round. But we have to dodge traffic crossing merri at at the most unfriendly pedestrian part of town, squeeze past the great big light conveniently blocking what path there could be. Wave at doggies as we still trudge through grass, boggy at the best of times before we come across a rough rock path. It’s like we’re going on a bear hunt. The potential for something down there is huge and *wallah* there’s a great big empty building and massive block of land just sitting there derelict. I think fun4kids can go on. It just needs a little reinvention. …. And please don’t get us started on flagstaff hill:). I was hunting for a place for my 5 year old’s birthday party. We’re going to Werribee zoo as we couldn’t get into the one place in town that is really great for kids. We tried flagstaff hill and whilst the volunteers who run the workshops are absolutely wonderful and passionate about their work, the place is like a ghost town and totally lacking party spirit.

  10. Wow. Love this debate. I have heard the same lines spoken at council meetings. Sadly for our city, there are too many councillors not prepared to move out of the comfort zone. Look out those who suggest we make this kids festival a permanent all year round affair. We might end up with something to show for our huge investment over the years of subsidy.

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