Fun4Kids: the missing bits

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When the Warrnambool City Council gathers tonight (3/11) for its monthly public meeting, there will be one item missing from the agenda: the full picture of the parlous state of the Fun4Kids festival, as outlined to councillors a fortnight ago.

For some strange reason, this report – unlike others – did not make the cut and will not be released to the public until at least December, despite the future of the festival being the topic of the moment.

But the full report provides some fascinating details, such as the fact that there is, as yet, nobody to run the 2015 festival.

As you now know, the eight-day festival – whether you love it, don’t like it, or are not-fussed either way – posted a record loss in 2014 which requires $593,000 of council funds to cover, or around $150,000 more than anticipated.

It also posted a record low attendance of just 19,758. By way of contrast, in 2005, the event attracted 32,112 people.

Mayor Michael Neoh remains confident that the fading Fun4Kids festival can be turned around in six months. Image: ABC

Fun4Kids is dying, and has been for some years, but several councillors and Mayor Michael Neoh remain confident that they can turn things around in just six months and will spend at least another $450,000 to do so.

This means that the total ratepayer subsidy since the festival began is closing in on $7 million.

Let me say that again: $7 million.

It has already been pointed out by Cr Peter Hulin that if Fun4Kids was producing such a stimulus to the local economy, why are there so many empty shops in the heart of Warrnambool?

And isn’t it just a little strange to spend $450,000 on Fun4Kids to stimulate the local economy while also asking traders to pay a compulsory levy to raise $300,000 to stimulate the local economy? (In a neat piece of synchronicity, objections to this levy close today).

And why can’t the council afford to offer 8 weeks of free summer car parking in the CBD to try and make visitors linger longer – at a cost of $100,000 – yet it can fund 8 days of Fun4Kids for $593,000?


None of it makes sense, and it makes less sense when you see the full details of the Fun4Kids briefing provided to councillors on October 20.

While we wait for the official release, here is a summary in dot points:

* As it stands, there is nobody to run the Fun4Kids festival. Both the Service Manager (Events and Promotion) and the Marketing Manager have resigned from their roles. Both positions have been advertised, but not filled. Another part-time staff member will be taking maternity leave in December.

* There has been “an erosion” in sponsorship and in-kind support for the festival, but the 2014 event still secured $646,250 of in-kind support. (Imagine the cost to ratepayers without it!)

* Ticket sale revenue has dropped 30% from 2012 to 2014 ($505, 381 to $372,479).

* Locals are abandoning the festival. Of the 19,758 people who came to the 2014 festival, 9100 were from Warrnambool, compared to 13,812 in 2013. This is despite heavily discounted ticket prices for locals in the final days of the event.

* Less people are coming from Melbourne: 3965 in 2014 compared to 5590 in 2013.

* Council staff met with a lot of groups after the 2014 Fun4Kids festival to discuss the disappointing results: these groups included Sovereign Hill, Great Ocean Road Tourism, Federation Square and Melbourne Major Events. These groups highlighted a lack of local support and the increased competition in children’s entertainment as significant issues.


Given all of the above, it is not surprising that council staff recommended Fun4Kids not continue in 2015.

This is the nub of what they said to councillors on October 20:

“Despite the positive feedback and suggested recommendations, Council officers are not confident, given the above findings, the financial results of the festival, the loss of events and promotions capability within the organisation, and the overall increases in the costs of running the festival, that it would be possible to attract back the levels of audience participation that the festival needs to meet its financial targets.”

They then went on to recommend that community groups, traders and tourism bodies be told as soon as possible that the event was ending, and that council develop an “events strategy” to build on the city’s strengths and attract tourists all-year round.

But we know what happened: the advice was dismissed and the council now has six months to pull off a miracle turn-around.

While nobody wants to be the person who closes down Peppa Pig, it takes true grit and leadership to admit that the event has had its day and another $450,000 could be better used on developing a fresh attraction.


17 thoughts on “Fun4Kids: the missing bits”

  1. This sums it up entirely for me….
    “… spend $450,000 on Fun4Kids to stimulate the local economy while also asking traders to pay a compulsory levy to raise $300,000 to stimulate the local economy?”
    None of it makes any sense, but this waste of money really ruffles my feathers!
    This amount of rate-payers money could be so much better spent in so many other areas, but if stimulating the local economy is their #1 goal, scrap the $300,000 Traders Levy and spend $450,000 a year on bringing visitors into our City!

  2. I think we don’t really know ‘who we are’ in Warrnambool. We live on a wonderful wild coast and have an increasingly vibrant cultural life, real heritage (not fake Flagstaff Hill kind but the Fletcher Jones and Tower Hill kind), wonderful and active community groups and clubs, great musicians, filmmakers, ……every weekend there is an amazing array of interesting, community initiated things to do in Warrnambool and the region. I wish Council would fund a community arts officer with some of this money – they could provide support for linking and extending projects and the cultural life of our city and the ‘real’ and talented people we have here – those funds might also bring in artists in residence and new ideas. I’d like more emphasis on supporting our own community in this way and what grows from that will also be attractive to others who visit us. The Fletcher Jones stories in our community – I mean the potential from that is just amazing – if we had someone who could help us bring that to life wouldn’t if be wonderful!

    1. You are spot on, Julie. And there is no doubt $450,000 (let alone $593k) would go a long way toward paying for a community arts officer for the next five years who could develop a strategy for the city, which is exactly what the council staff were recommending: a broader events strategy, rather than the hit and miss approach we rely on at the moment.

  3. When you lay it out like this, it is clear that it is insane to continue on with the festival (what’s the definition of insanity again????)
    I agree with Julie, Warrnambool doesn’t have an identity. We are in absolute desperate need for a strong leader to take hold of the reins and steer us in a direction of growth and prosperity. With so much to offer, it shouldn’t be that hard.
    As residents, we need to really take a good, objective look at what has happened (and continues to happen) to our town over the last few years. We have a right, as voters, to voice our concerns and worries to the elected Councillor’s and in return they should be respectfully heard and acted upon without any seperate agenda’s interfering. But his doesn’t happen, we all know it isn’t happening and I can’t help but feel that certain Councillor’s and Mr Anson are sitting back and laughing and not giving 2 hoots about the issues that people are crying out about.
    I sincerely hope that people start to speak up a bit more and that they speak the loudest with their votes at the next Council elections. Our city has too much on offer to let it keep slipping under like this.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with all the comments previously posted. It seems to me that the organisors have lost sight of their primary targets and are more intent on impressing parents and looking for awards. I know that younger children don’t need headliner acts and overblown productions to be amused and you’ll rarely find any teenager impressed with anything that their parents are interested in. Maybe a simplified version aimed at a specific age group (instead of trying to be all things to all people) may be an answer. The idea of a community arts officer who has a clear vision, imagination and talent, is excellent!

  5. My parents advised me never throw good money after bad. Citizens of this town should be marching in the streets demanding financial accountability and truth from those employed and those elected to govern in the city of Warrnambool. I have no confidence in the Mayor or CEO. And thanks to Bluestone for giving us this information.

  6. I’m proud that we have Fun for kids in Warrnambool. Ok the Festival itself lost $450000, however how much does it generate in our community. This is not mentioned in your article at all. Surely this a fairly important point in deciding if the Festival is worthwhile. That is Accomodation, restaurants and other tourist attractions. 3900 people from Melbourne. Say 500 stay with Warrnambool families and friends. A further 500 may be day trips. That leaves 2900 people looking for accomodation and meals. Average family 2 adults 2 kids. That would be 725 families. Average cost of accomodation $150 a night. Average stay 3 nights. $326250(Some would stay 5- 7 nights and accomodation costs most likely higher) I know these are just rough figures and estimates but a bit of gauge. Obviously there must be some benefits. I’m pretty sure the 3900 people wouldn’t be coming to Warrnambool in July without Fun for kids. We can cancel Fun for Kids but I’m pretty sure another regional city would be keen to take it on and half of Warrnambool will travel for the festival.

    1. Hi Cam, please see our earlier piece here about the return to the community.
      (The return to the community has actually fallen since 2005, when Fun4Kids was at its peak). And just to confirm, this year’s festival lost a record $593,000, not $450,000.
      The question is whether the council should continue to fund an event that is in obvious decline,despite many good years earlier.

  7. Carol, whilst I agree in principal with the idea that we shouldn’t be throwing good money after bad towards ANY venture, the assertion that we should abandon this festival altogether is rather simplistic and a knee-jerk reaction to a wider problem.

    The question one must ask firstly is “why” this festival has gotten to the point where it is losing half million dollars? The problem seems to stem from mismanagement at Council level and moreover a lack of vision and future planning strategies to ensure the festival stays relevant as the years roll on.

    It should not have gotten to the point where the festival is losing this amount of money before the nay sayers demanded we slam the doors on nearly 20,000 paying visitors. Someone, somewhere should have looked at the numbers years ago, sat down with all relevant parties and formed a blueprint in which the financial loss was knocked on the head without forfeiting quality.

    Why is the only option now just to shut it down? This idea lacks any vision and seems half-sighted.

    Personally, I think the benefit to the Community is a no-brainer. Surely no one in their right mind can argue that an influx of visitors to the region during an otherwise dull time of year is of no benefit. And truth be told, for any event to be getting punters through the door in the current climate is a great effort and must be applauded.

    We can’t ignore the fact that people (families) have been suffering – especially in this state. Massive job losses, companies and profits in free-fall. Industries such as Building and it’s connected Trades at decade lows. Industries which very often employ a young workforce with young families. Young families who are currently walking on egg shells struggling to pay rent on one wage.

    So, the problem is much larger than the Festival itself. But it all goes back to the management of the event. These factors must be taken into consideration when outlining a strategy that would keep a Festival such as this ongoing and viable.

    Anyway, it’s late and my fingers are tired!

    I’m sure this is not the last we’ll be hearing about this subject and you must be applauded for bringing this issue to our attention.

    1. Hi Jay, Thanks so much for such a considered response to this issue and I think your point about how many families are struggling to make ends meet may explain why the numbers are so low for this year’s festival: many people can’t afford to go.
      I just wanted to clarify that the recommendation to close the event is coming from the council, not from me personally, and follows a fairly extensive review into the event last year.
      Fun4Kids has actually been struggling for several years and while 19,700 people came to the event, only about half of these were actual visitors to the city, not locals.
      I would actually love to see something good come of all this, and bringing Fun4Kids back to the basics may be the answer.

  8. As a newcomer to this town (Which I absolutely love!) my impression is that the festival is a good idea in principle; it does stimulate the local economy ie accommodation/restaurants/other Warrnambool attractions, etc. However, though once a revenue raising attraction in it’s early years, this is no longer the case. I think the current economic climate is a big factor; young families are struggling, but also the time of year it’s held doesn’t help either – not much you can do with little kids if it’s freezing cold & windy. Perhaps it could be held earlier or later in the year? Also, Lake Pertobe playground area is one of, if not the best, I’ve ever seen and could be integrated into the festival. I think the suggestions already made in this forum of hiring a specialist events facilitator or some such person who would utilise all the amazing people, places and natural attractions that Warrnambool has to offer in a year round offering of reasons to ‘come on down to Warrnambool’ is an excellent idea. (when we told people we were moving down here, most reacted with; “Windy Warrnambool! Why would you go live down there?!” “There’s nothing to do !”). I think someone needs to get the word out on just how much there IS to see and do here! I wish we’d moved here years ago!). 🙂

    1. I have long thought we should turn our reputation for windiness into a quirky advertising campaign: “Visit Warrnambool: You’ll be blown away!”

  9. Hi Carol. Would it be worth a story covering Michael Neoh’s push to become the next member for South West Coast? The local paper has only mentioned it when Cr Hulin raised the matter but they haven’t looked any further. It would be great to see Bluestone question what the mayor’s intentions are, and if he;s representing the Liberal Party or the city. The same querstions are being asked of Darren Lyons in Geelong

    1. Hi Jan – It is an unfortunate development within local councils across Australia that they are now being used as political platforms for higher aspirations. At the very least, I think all councillors should declare if they are a member of a political party so that at least we can view their actions through that lens. I always keep this in mind when considering the views of Crs Neoh, Hulin and Ermacora who have quite clear party allegiances. Oddly, however, you have a Labor candidate (in Cr Ermacora) supporting a Liberal (Cr Neoh) as mayor: that wouldn’t happen too often elsewhere!

        1. Thanks for the update, Peter, and apologies for being out of the loop on the Liberal Party: it is hard to keep up!

  10. Mayor Neoh stated on radio this morning that the festival was $150, 000 over budget. He made it sound like that was all. No mention of the $450,000 already gifted to the committee.
    Is this called bending the truth!!

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