I want to visit Quambatook The Good Oil by Rod Brown

Once in a while you read a book that really gets you thinking. 

In my case it’s ‘Hey True Blue,’ written six years ago by celebrated singer/songwriter, John Williamson. It charts his career from a wheat farmer in Quambatook (Mallee) and then Croppa Creek (near Goondiwindi), to playing to small audiences for minimal return, and then cracking the bigtime, the Sydney 2000 Olympics ceremony, Gallipoli events, Ashes cricket dressing rooms etc. During all this he never forgot his Mallee roots, his parents’ support and Quambatook’s strong social capital. Here’s an excerpt:

‘In the 1950s, the district population for Quambatook was about one thousand people. It reduced slowly once they sealed the road to Kerang and Swan Hill. But when I was a kid it was quite self-contained with a bank, three cafes, two pubs, two garages, a bakery, stock and station agent, grocery store and the Quambatook general store. It had a menswear and a ladies fashion shop, and right up to at least 1964, young lads could pick up their numbered jersey for the footy team at the menswear store. What a beautiful memory.’

Quambatook’s population is now down to around 250, with perhaps another 250 on outlying farms. It makes an effort to attract visitors via its annual Tractor Pulling Championships, but for the other 51 weeks of the year Quambatook sits there, like countless other Mallee-Wimmera towns, as a silent reminder of its glorious past. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Small towns like Quambatook could be home to food processing plants, as is the case in Europe and North America. I daresay the economics of these facilities is improving as the nation begins to reacquaint itself with the benefits of Buy Australia as well as life outside the major cities.

There are also untapped opportunities to drive tourism in the Mallee-Wimmera. Sure there are art silos now attracting tourists, and classy indigenous art centres. And there’s a sculpture of singer Nick Cave in Warracknabeal – the locals chuckle that he was expelled from the high school years ago. 

In Quambatook, apart from the Tractor Pulling stuff there is a heritage museum presumably featuring ageing farm machinery. In the warmer months there is a Silo Cinema where films are projected onto the local silo, while folk sit around feasting.  

But hey, there are five million tourists living in Melbourne wanting some action in a post-COVID-19 world, and tractors and sculptures alone won’t cut the mustard. The pitch is surely to tug at the heartstrings – of a region with fascinating socio-economic history, long hot summers, beautiful sunsets, down-to-earth locals. And many Melbournians would also want to chill out with music combined with local food and beverages in a rustic setting. 

Enter John Williamson performing Mallee Boy via audio recordings in a classy refit of an existing building. Photos and cartoons of his wonderful career. The nearby pub and café serving roast Mallee lamb with the trimmings, Swan Hill wines and iced Murray River juices. Taking in the sunset. Deciding to stay the night. Buying some local arts and craft to take home.

The next day they would drive south to Nyah West, the home of the late Bob Rose, Collingwood’s best ever player. There must be a million Collingwood supporters still lamenting the narrowly lost grand finals in the 1960s when Rose was coaching. Ashen-faced, with 100,000 spectators in the background. Sadly, the Nyah West Wikipedia entry makes no mention of him – but gee, just like John Williamson, he was a gem. 

Please drop me a line if you’d like to ramp up your tourism offering. I have some solid ideas. I’m not talking about mega projects like the Slim Dusty Centre in Kempsey – rather smaller yet powerful displays of the lives and times of our Bush champions.

Red Tape
The federal government is talking about plans to cut red tape, but this will require a massive attitudinal change by its staff.  

For example, the ATO’s heavy hand and relentless paperwork demands on small business are ingrained. And the rigmarole I face with the Attorney-General’s Department with my lobbying business is mind-numbing. Apart from having to read the spurious newsletters and signing stat decs on a continual basis, I’m now required to furnish the ABNs of my clients! This is absolute over-kill, so I’ve told them to go jump.  

Can we claw back some automotive capacity?
According to Andrew Liveris, the Darwin-born engineer who became the boss of Dow Chemicals, Australia’s inability to compete in scalable industrial sectors was laid bare by 1990s trade liberalisation, globalisation and domestic deregulation. “The most recent fatality of that was the automotive industry,” he says.

The chances of a significant automotive recovery here are remote. However, consumers are at least showing signs of wanting to favour home-grown products. And interestingly a little birdie tells me that one of the Asian embassies here has raised the possibility of a partnership with Aussie interests to manufacture farm vehicles for sale in the Asian market as well as ours. This isn’t as silly as it sounds – with our strengths in design, marketing and financing, and Asia’s low labour costs and growth scenarios in a post-COVID-19 economy.  

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