Tourism? We are missing out big time

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Moyjil/Point Richie is one of three rich cultural and environmental sites in the south-west that could be maximised to form a major tourist attraction at the end of the Great Ocean Road.

The Terrier

A little statistic popped out of Parks Victoria about six weeks ago that should have had us all gasping and wondering what we are doing wrong in Warrnambool.

Here it is:

“A record daily peak of 11,000 national and international visitors made the trip to the Twelve Apostles during Chinese New Year celebrations”.

Please read that again, because it took me at least three reads to believe what I was reading: a record daily peak of 11,000 national and international visitors visited the Twelve Apostles during Chinese New Year (between January 28 and February 15) this year.

This was a 30% increase on last year. Thirty per cent!

And this is all happening less than an hour from Warrnambool – 72.7km down the road – yet we are seeing so little of the action here.


This is not a new question.

Over the years there has been much head-scratching, hours of discussion and piles of reports on how to encourage this lucrative market of cashed-up, eager travellers to travel just one more hour down the road to Warrnambool where, we would hope, they stay for more than 24 hours rather than passing through on their way to somewhere else, or turning around and travelling back to Melbourne.

To me, the answer starts here: give them something irresistible, something that they haven’t already seen or heard during their trek down the most popular coastal road in Australia.

And what might that be?

To me, the answer starts here: our incredible indigenous story.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I travel overseas, I can’t wait to immerse myself in the indigenous history, to read about it, see it and experience it through a tour, a trek, a talk, a meal or a spontaneous, random encounter.

Here in the south-west, and right here in Warrnambool, we are sitting on some of the richest indigenous stories in Australia, creating a natural ‘trail’ from Moyjil/Point Richie, to Tower Hill and out to Budj Bim (Mt Eccles/Lake Condah) near Heywood.

Budj Bim is on the cusp of a UNESCO World Heritage listing partly because of its stone eel traps that are 1500 years older than the Pyramids or Stonehenge.

And Moyjil, apart from being a geological wonder, has been a site of human occupation for at least 35,000 years and, pending the results of ongoing tests, could also be the oldest site of human habitation anywhere on the planet, dating back 80,000 years.

Why are we not celebrating and promoting this far and wide?

December 2016: The western walkway from Moyjil down to the beach.

Tower Hill, meanwhile, is where Great Ocean Roaders can see a koala, emu or a kangaroo while also learning about indigenous culture, but its full potential as a tourist attraction is far from realised, starting with the poorly signposted, pot-holed and dangerous entrance that must be the worst of any tourism attraction in Victoria.

To be fair, progress is being made at each of these sites to promote its significance (especially Budj Bim) and plans have been drawn up to manage their futures, but I cannot find any coordinated effort to promote the three locations as a not-to-be-missed tourism experience that would, in turn, create jobs and boost our local economy.

There is no single, one-stop-shop to find out about what should be a cultural and environmental gem of a self-guided tour: there is no one map, brochure, website, or app.

Try it yourself: visit the Visit Warrnambool website, click on “what to see and do” and see what you find.

The top listings alternate, but when I clicked, the first item was mini golf.

But back to Moyjil for a moment.

A 24-page conservation and management plan for this area was published in 2013, setting out how it should be cared for by the State Government (which owns it) and Warrnambool City Council (which manages it) but, four years on, there are worrying signs about the financial commitment needed to look after this precious piece of coast.

The western walkway from the carpark fell apart in early December last year, just before the start of the peak tourism season, and access to the beach was blocked.

It is now late April and the walkway is still busted although now, of course, there has been five months’ of people making their own path down the side of the walkway, as we do, and the erosion is obvious.

When it will be fixed, nobody knows.

April 2017: The western walkway from Moyjil down to the beach.

I contacted the state Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio and her spokesman said the council had applied last year for a slice of $730,000 in funding to fix the walkway as one of several work projects it had planned for the site.

It was not successful. (The $730,000 fund received applications totalling more than $3.1 million).

“DELWP is willing to look at how it can support Warrnambool City Council in fixing this walkway, and will discuss with Council how the department can assist,” he wrote.

I asked the council for its take on the situation and its spokesman said: “We will continue to seek funding from the State Government for maintenance. It will also be part of Council’s upcoming budget deliberations.”

And that was it. No passion. No prioritising. No real sense of urgency.

I can only wonder when a wooden walkway – a walkway – can’t be fixed (Triton woodworkers + youth unemployment project?), what the long-term future really holds for this magnificent site.

And in the meantime, the vast majority of the tens of thousands of tourists who are travelling to the Twelve Apostles each summer just turn around – or keep driving….

15 thoughts on “Tourism? We are missing out big time”

  1. You’re being generous to say that the walk ‘fell away’ last December. I moved back to Warrnambool in September 2015 and it had already fallen away then!
    I scramble down to the dog beach via that access point three to four times a week so that I can walk my dog off leash. It is the only dedicated off leash beach locally.
    It’s not possible to gain access to this area from the steps on the river side of the point every day due to the varying tides otherwise I’d choose that route.
    Canvassing for feedback on Warrnambool 2040 initiat may be admirable however we have the here and now of locals (dog walkers, surfers, exercisers) and visitors wanting access to one of the best beaches on offer and we’re left resorting to a goat scramble.

    1. You are quite right, Marilyn. It has been falling apart for at least two years, but gave up the ghost completely in December which is when you posted the photos that have led to this very piece. I, too, am wondering how we can project our dreams to 2040 when there is still so much to be done right here and now. By the way, I am so glad you decided to return to Warrnambool: it needs you!

  2. We keep getting told that the Chinese tourists usually only come on the great ocean road for day trips, isn’t it about time we started thinking outside the square and put some effort into this growing tourist market. Why does Warrnambool City Council always blame state funding allocations, just maybe they need to look at how they word their funding applications and apply with a bit more passion about our unique area.

  3. We visited Tower Hill last weekend and we were disappointed at the lack of interpretive signage, poor walking tracks and invasive weeds. This place is a gem with its natural beauty and volcanic story, however it is really lacking in providing thoughtful amenities for visitors. The Robin Boyd designed interepretive centre is little more than a tourist trap with the outdated signage and scale model covered in dust. It’s sad to think we have this at our door step and it comes across as being neglected. It could be so much better!

  4. oh the [surely black, intended] humour of “partly completed” for ‘mostly destroyed and unrepaired’.
    Tourism stats for GOR are at least 5 million per year and about 80% of those, stay 2 nights in accommodation. $$$

  5. WTF, WCC are far more focussed on (spending millions of ratepayer dollars on)creating a ‘safe’ and ? visually pleasing walkway for our modern culture of shopping culture, (please see Liebig st)

    1. Not to mention the approximate $800,000 on parking meters!
      Priorities: is that word part of the Council’s vocabulary?

  6. When there are so many unemployed in the area why is it that WCC cannot organise a “project” to repair/replace this walkway? And other projects as well? If I were in such a situation I’d be looking for something meaningful to do – and what better project than providing safe and efficient access to one of Warrnambool’s beautiful beaches? Its a no-brainer.

  7. It’s a vexed situation Carol. Recent French visitors could not believe what natural assets were in and around Warrnambool that you can’t find out about outside of Australia. It seems that only the locals get to know about them and some may say, many don’t appreciate. On the issue of Moyjil, the local indigenous community have plenty to say (including the old stories) but no-one seems to listen (or really hear).Then, if you’re lucky enough to hear John Sherwood on the subject….. ‘wow wow wow’ ….Its stunning that the site is not preserved, protected and properly marketed as the story proves absolute indigenous sovereignty in the area and proves they are the oldest peoples on earth!!

    1. I totally agree Toni. It is amazing how many visitors come to Warrnambool “for the day” and then wish they could stay longer because they realise how much there is to see. Like you, I just don’t get why we are not making the most of what we have.

  8. Carol and Toni, well said! And Carol’s pic of the deteriorating steps on the west beach at the mouth of the Hopkins River is symbolic of the broken remains of our local and regional Aboriginal culture – our true heritage as non- Indigenous people living on this Country! Without even travelling as far as Budj Bim (Mount Eccles, and the spine chilling eel traps of Lake Condah and surrounds), we have close by the amazing mouth of the Hopkins River, the life force to the Peek Wurrung (Warrnambool tribe on the west of The Hopkins River, and Kirrae Wurrung tribe, east of the Hopkins River), and their traditions and lore. Quietly vibrant in their own way, are local Elders and their younger relatives communicating to groups who request their knowledge. I’m speaking as an educator here, who has approached these Indigenous Elders, musicians and artists, and have invited them into our education curriculum, which can never be complete without their input. All to say, local Indigenous knowledge is here, it is alive and strengthening – and will only be embraced and progressed if entities like yourselves become proactive and unite to consider inclusivity in how we intend to progress our region. Not just for the tourists, but for OURSELVES!

    1. I couldn’t agree more. As a leading local businessman said to me just yesterday, why do we all know more about Sitting Bull than we do about our own local indigenous elders? And where is the authentic indigenous art around our Warrnambool streets? And why do so few of us know anything about the Peek Wurrung or Kirrae Wurrung? Every opportunity to explore this history and these stories should be embraced and we will all be culturally richer for it.

  9. Carol there is an interesting article in Australian Geographic Mar/April 2017 about the volcanoes in the South West. Well worth a read. For example Mt Elephant has now been found to have erupted about 550,000 years ago according to recent scientific studies. We have much to promote in the South West and we should be doing more to encourage tourists to stay longer and also revisit this magnificent area.

    1. Thanks for this Christine and I will be sure to check it out. The entire basalt range through here is, I believe, one of the largest and most significant in the world – as you say, yet another reason to promote the natural wonders of where we live.

  10. Great work Carol. I was in Port Campbell at the third leg of the shipwreck coast swim series over summer and on the foreshore they have Chinese dragons and drums celebrating something for the Chinese tourists – probably lasted about 20 minutes and drew a large crowd. It was very welcoming and fun.
    The numbers are scary. If you speak to the local hotel owners they are all trying to get the tourists to come that extra bit further to stay.
    We could have a celebration on the green or something like that. Who knows, but what I do know is that you are spot on – like lots of other events that bypass our city this just adds to the pile.
    No one seems interested in capturing any audience or building relationships.

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