What about more fun for grown-ups?

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civic green_2
The Fun4Kids festival in Warrnambool is gone for another year – and the grass re-growth begins …



[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] A [/dropcap]s Warrnambool restores the grass on the Civic Green after another whirlwind Fun4Kids festival, I can’t help but wonder when we will turn our attention to more permanent attractions for grown-ups.

As one local put it, “Warrnambool is great for kids and great for the elderly, but there is not a lot for people in the middle” – and she is spot on.

Most regional cities in Victoria are coming up with new ways to attract the cashed-up, time-poor, middle-aged, middle class who want to spend their dollars on unique experiences and personal indulgence, but Warrnambool persists with “big things” that lose money.

Two of our attractions – Fun4Kids and Flagstaff Hill – cost the Warrnambool City Council around $1 million a year to prop up. In a queer kind of logic, we continue to subsidise the cost of these attractions to ensure their survival, but still consider them successful and necessary.

It would be understandable if these attractions were just starting out and trying to find their feet, after all, every new concept needs time to establish itself. But Fun4Kids is in its 14th year – 14th! – and still doesn’t break even despite the valiant efforts of all those involved and how much fun there is to be had.


Quirky shops and cafes – like this little cafe in the town of Penguin, Tasmania (popln 3924) – are what put a town (or city) on the tourist map.


[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] A [/dropcap] report commissioned by the council last year was upbeat in its assessment of Fun4Kids. It found the event created direct expenditure of around $1.9 million and that this, in turn, stimulates even more economic activity which – based on a series of sums and guesstimates – brings the total benefit to an estimated $3.69 million.

These figures, however, are always hard to quantify – where does this $3.7 million, if it exists, actually go?

From the council report, it appears local accommodation is a big winner through filling more beds in winter, but other traders are less affected.

Of the 95 traders who responded to a council survey, 50 per cent said their turnover remained about the same for this time of year and only nine (10 per cent) said it was significantly higher.

Some may consider $450,000 a year a small price to pay for an injection of winter tourists, but if we add up the total cost over 14 years – around $6 million – you start to wonder what we have to show for the money.

Perhaps the $6 million would have been better spent helping to establish a series of experiences that run all year round?

You only have to look at any of the recent Victorian tourism reports to see where the future lies: eco-tourism, food, wine, art, culture, boutique/quirky shops and unique, luxury experiences. In other words, fun for grown ups who may, or may not, also want to take their kids along.


Tanya Connellan and Liz Foreman from the Merrijig Inn are part of a new artisan food trail that has started around the Port Fairy district.

[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] O [/dropcap]nce again, Port Fairy is leading the way. It is hard to believe today, but 30 years ago Port Fairy was a very cheap place to live because it was considered a dumpy backwater.

Since then, it has reinvented itself spectacularly by tapping into its natural assets – its seaside location, history, charming buildings (see our story this week on Coffin Sally’s bar) and its access to the rich, fertile soils that support a boutique food and wine industry.

The same week as Fun4Kids started, for example, Port Fairy used its Winter Warmer Weekends to launch an artisan food trail.

Shane Clancey, from Basalt Wines, Killarney, has teamed up with the Merrijig Inn, Port Fairy, and Shaw River Buffalo Cheese, at Yambuk – among others – to showcase the fantastic food and wine that is produced in the area.

I can see Melbourne folk salivating already at the thought of driving down the Great Ocean Road, taking in the 12 Apostles, winding their way through the 12 Apostles Gourmet Food Trail that incorporates the Timboon Distillery, Newton’s Ridge, Apostle Whey Cheeses and others, then zooming on to Port Fairy to do more of the same, before retiring for the night in a gorgeous 1800’s cottage with a crackling fire.

Why would they bother to linger in Warrnambool?


tower hill - travel vic
Warrnambool has an ecological, environmental and cultural gem on its doorstep with Tower Hill, but does little to capitalise on its potential. Image: Travel Victoria.

[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] I [/dropcap] have written before about how frustrating it is that Warrnambool does not make more of its natural advantages. We have one of the most spectacular and accessible coastlines in south-west Victoria, but is there even one classy restaurant with sea views?

We have Tower Hill on our doorstep, which has already been identified as a potential tourism mecca, but what are we doing to help capitalise on its appeal to bushwalkers, birdwatchers and international visitors who appreciate our indigenous heritage far more than we do?

We have a city centre full of historic intact buildings – those that have not burnt down or been demolished – but what are we doing to assist those people trying to convert them into cafes, galleries, cosy wine bars, jazz clubs and boutique shops?

We have an incredible whale nursery, but is there a fun, interactive place for visitors to go and hear a whale sing, or to touch its ‘skin’, or learn about how and why they come to Warrnambool each year?

And we have an art gallery that was one of the best in regional Victoria when it opened in 1986, but has not seen any meaningful funds spent on it since – there isn’t even a cafe – and it now relies increasingly on corporate events and weddings for income.

Imagine, just for a moment, if we didn’t spend $450,000 a year on subsidising 8 days of Fun4Kids, but instead divided this money to help kickstart great ideas – food trails, artisan studios, laneway cafes, cosy bars, boutique shops, a bush tucker cafe at Tower Hill and the like.

Perhaps then Warrnambool would have some enduring funk – as well as fun – for people of all ages.

The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington State, is devoted to orcas and shows that a museum does not have to be big, to be interesting.

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10 thoughts on “What about more fun for grown-ups?”

  1. Great piece, but we can’t just get rid of Fun4Kids, I was in Geelong last week and when I said to friends of friends I was from Warrnambool they said they had been down for the festival, and would come back next year with their friends.

    The problem with the festival is it’s advertising had all been done pretty much, the past two years they have focused more on Melbourne and Geelong, with the Geelong Avertiser and BayFM as it’s media partner this year and The Age last year. I’d say that is starting to work. It’s a shame it’s taken so long to realise this.

    Also it’s well and good to try and promote Tower Hill, but it falls into the Moyne Shire and it’s actually state government controlled. So as a WCC rate payer, I wouldn’t like to see my dollars being spent there.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jarrod. It will be interesting to see how many attended the festival this year, as numbers have been falling, unfortunately. It will be an indication of whether the advertising campaign worked!

  2. You make very valid points in this article. It is sad that we, as a town, haven’t found our identity when we have so much potential. At least the ideas have started to be heard, but turning ideas into reality seems somewhat impossible. I am hanging on to hope that our next elections will bring a new, vibrant, business and community minded Council, lead by an innovative, not-controlled-by-the CEO Mayor.

  3. Jarrod, even though Tower Hill falls into the Moyne Shire, surely by promoting Tower Hill, this amazing, historic, and unique place, it is encouraging visitors to venture further on down the GOR. Surely if Warrnambool promotes itself as a destination of interest, and they promote it well, tourists will stop off on the way to Tower Hill. I think by not promoting Tower Hill because it is in the Moyne Shire is just ridiculous.

  4. Just wondering what ever happened to the proposed australian music festival for Warrnambool?

    Wasn’t there a grant from Vic Gov to get it started?

    Great opinion Bluestone and agree with your comments, Keep up the good work!

  5. More fun for grown-ups? Are you kidding me? Grown-ups have a plethora of activities to do all year around. Over winter, local ‘grown-ups’ have plenty of opportunities to get involved in weekend/weekday sports, art classes, groups, clubs and courses and also plenty of places to drink wine and listen to music. More fun for grown-ups? Are we talking about the same town that has a pub on every corner in the CBD? That voted to have the May Races as a public holiday over the Warrnambool Show? That has a whole stack of child unfriendly activities to do for grown-ups over winter including cafes and restaurants (where children are expected to sit quietly and behave like adults), the cinema (that hardly ever screens child-friendly films), the Lighthouse Theatre (that only has the occasional performance aimed at kids), the many art galleries (places where again children are expected to ‘behave’), day spas (another place off limits for children); I can keep listing things. I just cannot see how ‘people in the middle’ are missing out. As a parent, I am very aware that there is a lot more places and activities geared towards me as an adult, than there is for children (and the elderly).

    Whether you’re a fan of Fun4Kids or not, at least it is something that ‘grown-ups’ with children can do together. It is fun, loud and creative; everything a holiday with a family should be.

  6. Excellent article with many great ideas which would bring so much prosperity to our city and then fund the less profitable events. Sadly for many years I have been asking council to look at alternitave activities instead of spending so much of our citizens hard earned money on fun for kids. I’m not saying don’t run it but let’s look at other ways of having such an event. Lake pertobe is the jewel in Warrnambools crown but it simply hasn’t moved with the times.
    On recent trips to Europe I actively looked at ideas where adults could also enjoy this type of area with their children and when doing this would form a great bond with their children. There are wonderful examples of exciting activities the whole family could enjoy and can also be used by corporate business in bonding of their workforce. Council could even benefit from this type of bonding through challenging activities
    The back part of lake pertobe has great possibilities for a nature learning experience with boardwalks in and around the lake with the latest technology incorporated into the experience . Then move onto thunder point where children and adults alike could learn a part of our rich aboriginal history.
    Flagstaff hill could be partly privitised to help cover cost of maintaining the village and it would be a wonderful area for school groups from all over to stay, learn and have the time of their lives.
    Fun for Kids is a hugely expensive event which goes for one week. Spending the same money throughout Lake Pertobe would create a Mecca for children and adults alike which would draw everyone here every day of the year.
    We have so many opportunities for our wonderful city and surrounding area but seem terribly blinkered in challenging ourselves to truly achieve what is possible for all.
    If we capitolize on our potential we all benefit.
    Warrnambool could be a wonderful hub for tourists to visit and then venture out to enjoy the whole Western District. We could be the number one destination in Australia.
    All that is stopping us is the willingness to accept that there may be a better way and then engage the talent of our citizens to help make it possible.

  7. The divide between cultural , commercial and independent progressive interests has always proved difficult and it has been no more evident than what I have listened to about my home (town ) of Warrnambool.
    After living in Melbourne now for over twenty years, FUN 4 KIDS is the only thing I hear of recently when people are referring to Warrnambool in a positive . Whales are’ maybe you see them maybe not’, racing is for the corporate cashed up freeloaders and something about a wonderful playground by the sea- I do hope the figures stack up and that the F4K can keep progressing and developing forward in many diverse ways, as we all know it is through the children that we can teach , learn and pass on the values of our society.

  8. What a pack of miserable [word deleted by editors as offensive language will not be tolerated on this site]. Can’t the children have a few days of the year when they get to be the focus of attention? Children have a great time hanging out together, seeing live music for the first time and having the run of the place. There should be more of it. Public money SHOULD be spent this way. I took my children for the first time this year and I will be going back for sure. Parks and gardens and galleries don’t ‘break even’ either. That’s not the point of funding initiatives in the public interest. ‘Quirky boutiques’? Give me a break!

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