Celebrating your hometown champions - The Good Oil by Rod Brown

Driving through France last year it was quite apparent that the rural towns are travelling quite well, at least relative to ours. The weekly markets were abuzz with produce and people, and the bars and restaurants were busy. The west counties of England were much the same.

The sense of place in European regions is hard to define, let alone measure. I guess it is a function of history and its people, tight geographic settings and the tendency for city dwellers in Europe to escape to the country on weekends.

Fast forward to this morning, and there was a chap on the radio talking about the oddity of pop guru Molly Meldrum growing up in Orbost. Perhaps it is odd, but Michael Voss (AFL fame), Peter Nixon and Lindsay Tanner (ex-federal ministers) also sprung from there. A fascinating quartet for a small town now searching for identity in the face of the forest industry decline.

But Molly also grew up in Quambatook, near Swan Hill, as did the celebrated singer John Williamson. Quambatook (population about 250) is, like Orbost, on hard times. But both towns are too far from Melbourne for weekend commuters.

What if?
So what if we helped these and other small towns to discover their hometown champions?

Some towns are doing this. For example, Beechworth has signage indicating it’s the birthplace of former pole vaulter Emma George and Jerilderie proclaims it’s the hometown of General Sir John Monash.

But most towns completely ignore their hometown heroes.
So I’ve found a resource for you - the Australian Dictionary of Biography(ADB). It was started by a group of ANU academics in the 1950s and covered people who died up until the mid 1800s. It was then moved onto years after 1850 and is now working on the 1990s.

The particular value of the ADB is to help towns and regional communities build their image, and to give tourists a reason to stop and have a coffee and ponder its past.

You go into http://adb.anu.edu.au - then hit Advanced Search and in the “Place of birth” area you type in the town or city. It tells you who was born there. Or work from the “Place of Death” portal or simply move around the website with names of towns.

I typed in Warragul - no longer a small town these days - and up came Carji Greeves (1903-1963) who won a Brownlow playing for Geelong, and Jack O’Toole (1917-1983) policeman and world-champion woodchopper - plus some less interesting senior bureaucrats, academics and professionals. Other notables are boxer Lionel Rose, AFL greats Barry Round, Alan Noonan, Gary Ayres, Gary Ablett Snr. and cyclist Kathy Watt. Perhaps Warragul has a sporting culture like Wagga that could be tapped and marketed to tourists looking for a reason to stop and have a meal.

A smaller town nearby is Trafalgar - hometown to the race-caller Bill Collins and media mogul Harold Mitchell. Very few people realise this.

Further afield is Gordonvale outside Cairns - hometown of ARL tough-nut Nate Myles, as well as Frank Reys (1973 Melbourne Cup winning jockey).

Now some travellers wouldn’t care a hoot about these associations - but some would. What seems to be missing is interpretive signage to draw out the history and the connections. A good example of interpretive signage is at the entrance to the 16 suburbs in Canberra named after Australian prime ministers. There is a colour photo and a tightly scripted storyline. We’re in contact with the manufacturer who can provide quotes at a competitive price. Email us for details. Meanwhile, check out the ADB website.

Investment & Competitiveness Agenda
Last month, the feds released their Industry Investment & Competitiveness Agenda - $400 million for industry growth centres. It’s all a bit vague to be honest. The rationale is that five sectors - oil & gas, mining technology, medical technology & pharmaceuticals, food & agribusiness and advanced manufacturing - are where Australia has a “natural advantage” and that these sectors will receive up to $3.5 million per year, plus grants of up to $1 million for the commercialisation of ideas. We hope that the feds would be willing to fund a network of collaborating hubs within a sector, rather than picking
one winner.

An excellent aim of the Agenda is to better link employers and trainees via improved entry-level screening and testing. This is designed to equip apprentices with ‘foundation’ skills and to match them with training courses and occupations. .

Another interesting element is the new “Premium Investor Visa”, which offers a faster 12 month pathway to permanent residency for those meeting a $15 million investment threshold.

A series of the usual roundtable consultations is being scheduled.

Defence industry saviour?
A German delegation was in town last month lobbying for an open tender arrangement for the nation’s largest-ever defence contract - $20 billion for 10–12 submarines. ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems was keen to head off talk about the Japanese as the likely source. But ThyssenKrupp, which has built 160 diesel-powered subs, says it’s happy to build them
in Australia.

This could be a game-changer because it will apply pressure on Defence to cease its posturing for anoff-the-shelf buy from Japan. A long way to go on this!


Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant and lobbyist specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction and clusters, and accessing federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network.
Phone: (02) 6231 7261 or 0412 922 559
Email: apdcockatoo@iprimus.com.au
Blog: www.investmentinnovation.wordpress.com (750 articles)