We’ll prioritize our focus on just two islands to begin with because one of them – Straddie – is about to lose the sandmining industry that has been digging up and selling the island’s resources, and has had 65% of the island closed off for the past 70 years. Peel is the other island that has potential for tourism, which can be harnessed in concert with its big neighbour.
A bridge to Straddie is a big threat to the island which is discussed here, but the other threat the Island faces is the possible extension to sand mining if the State Government fails to act. The cessation of sand mining on the island is a huge opportunity for tourism on the island which, if handled properly, has the potential to more than make up for the loss of the sand mining industry.
And no. We don’t want silly stories about miners becoming builders of the proposed Toondah Harbour redevelopment. If they want to swap their hi-vis vests, there will be plenty of tourism infrastructure to build on Peel and Straddie.
The fact is that Straddie is the only place in Australia where mining leases are sitting on top of a national park and tourism is a far better industry for the island than mining, it’s sustainable and it will benefit everyone in the long term – particularly the Indigenous population.
Tourism in Australia has grown faster than the rest of the economy for every year since 2007-08. Overall, tourism employed over 550000 people throughout Australia last financial year. Mining employs just over 200,000 and is shrinking year by year. Even the arts and recreation industry – which we’ll discuss shortly – employs more folk [247,000] than mining.
Minister for the Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and The Great Barrier Reef Dr Steven Miles, said this was the first step towards a new chapter for North Stradbroke Island, to unlock the island for Queenslanders to enjoy the unique natural and cultural values of this special place and launch new opportunities for the island, its community and economy.
Indigenous cultural activities
Surveys of international visitors to Australia have shown that interest in Indigenous music, art and dance is consistently at the top of the ‘must see’ activities on visitors’ lists and reasons for their visit. In south-east Queensland there is a well acknowledged scarcity in the tourism sector of such Aboriginal culture. Yet Straddie has some of the earliest human habitation in South-East Queensland and which is continuous. Archeological sites show evidence of the Quandamooka People using the island and surrounding waters for food, work and recreation for over 10,000 years.
Accordingly, many existing activities like the Quandamooka Festival, and Indigenous cultural activities and guided tours could be expanded, along with an Indigenous cultural centre where Indigenous culture and knowledge can be showcased and interpreted. More could be made of the fact that the island was once home to Australia’s best known Indigenous poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920 – 1993). Formerly known as Kath Walker, she was also a political activist, artist, educator and a campaigner for Aboriginal Rights. She was the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse.
Event & Activity Tourism
Straddie is a great place for surfing championships, whale watching, camping, wildlife tours, and trekking holidays.
They could all benefit from improved council backed infrastructure and marketing.
Straddie is a great place for surfing championships
Whale watch cruises by boat. Straddie also has the best land-based vantage points for whale watching in Australia.
Also tours of its abundant wildlife on land and surrounding waters
North Stradbroke Island Vibe Festival
There is untapped tourism potential on Peel Island which council should be fostering. Many thousands of years of Indigenous habitation was followed by the use of the island as a quarantine station in the 19th century, followed by a leper colony in the early 20th century. Many of the buildings from this latter era remain in fair condition and some have been restored by QNPWS and asbestos removed. It thus has all the heritage, educational and field study potential of the very popular St Helena Island to its north (27,000+ visitors p.a) but with the added benefits of usable buildings, good camping site potential, plenty of shade and a safe sandy beach. To start with the island requires a jetty so that it can be properly accessed. The Leper colony closed in 1959 – what are we waiting for?
Charterboat & Ferry Access
It’s not just Toondah Harbour that needs upgrading. On the island side, at both Dunwich and One Mile, the stepping off points onto the island require much needed renovations. The ferry terminals at Dunwich and One Mile are the scruffiest and most unwelcoming in Queensland. Moreover, to optimise the enormous potential of the Brisbane visitor market, a fast passenger ferry from the CBD must be part of the plan. Similarly, bay island cruises, Peel Island tours and whale watch cruises could be conducted from North Stradbroke Island itself.
Arts Council Grants
There are good prospects for partnering between the tourism industry and government and there are grant monies available from both state and federal governments. How tourism businesses transform these government support mechanisms into viable enterprises is no easy task but two ongoing festivals on St Helena Island were seeded in the 1990s with Australian Arts Council grants, so it can be done.
Moreover, between them, Peel and North Stradbroke Island tick all the boxes in regard to what is favoured by these funding bodies: ‘Live’ Indigenous culture; early colonial history; vibrant art culture; tourism potential; National Park status and educational opportunities. Separately and in various combinations, these features all have good success rates for winning grant monies.
Another key indicator for seed money is competence and Straddie has the skill sets and a good track record of hosting successful festivals. We need a Council to set the right priorities and incentives that will further expand on existing events and exploit the untapped tourism resources that exist on all our islands. Some of the infrastructure and organizational constraints are outside local government control, like a jetty for Peel Island and its proper gazetting as a functioning National Park. Hence we need a Council that will turn its attention away from residential development and lobby State Government hard on these fundamentals.
Sailing at Deanbilla Bay
The Royal Qld Yacht Squadron (RQYS) at Manly is Queensland’s biggest yacht club and is host to many national and international sailing regattas. The club has a Sailing Academy that teaches sailing to students from schools around Brisbane and plays host to many youth training camps for teams from Junior and Youth through to Olympic level from Australia and overseas.
There are existing sheds, buildings and land, currently leased by the sandmining company, Sibelco at Deanbilla Bay, just south of Dunwich which includes accommodation and large storage sheds.
RQYS has made an application to turn this area into a sailing facility and live-in camp with the idea of using part of the bay south of Peel Island as staging ground for sailing in all its forms, including introductory sailing programs, sail racing and as a regatta destination.
This is an opportunity to grow participation in the environmentally friendly sport of sailing across a wide demographic of competitors and spectators alike. It will provide ongoing employment opportunities to people on the island where around 140 jobs are threatened by the cessation of sandmining and will boost the local economy through increased visitation. It will help provide national and worldwide promotion of North Stradbroke Island for tourism and as a world class sailing venue with first class courses and facilities.
It must pass muster in regard to real estate values and rental agreements; it must be approved by the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation who manage the native title interests of the original owners in the area along with other stakeholders on the island. Environmental Impact issues to be addressed for this proposal include assessing the effects of increased boating activity and moorings on oyster leases and adjacent marine habitat. Then there are issues concerning access to anchorages in Deanbilla Bay, general public access to the bay and its foreshores.
RQYS already has a good track record in environmental management in the Redlands. In the late 1980s they acquired ‘Browns’, a run-down 1.1 hectare property on the north-east tip of Russell Island. Take a look at the following to see what has become of it now: http://www.rqys.com.au/about/our-locations/canaipa/
The Redlands Visitors Information Centre is situated at IndigiScapes at Capalaba. Their staff do a good job, but its out-of-the-way location means that it’s missed by nearly all visitors to the Redlands area. A council with the proper balance of priorities would act as facilitator and properly promote Redlands’ tourism potential in areas where visitors are most likely to be. At minimal cost, small tourist information kiosks could be located adjacent to the areas transport hubs and staffed by volunteers.
Adelaide has lost almost 30% of its workforce in the industrial sector in the past 30 years so, in response, the city has been supercharging its cultural sector. There’s a cluster of festivals in Adelaide during late February and March – the Adelaide festival, the Adelaide fringe, Womadelaide, the Biennial and Adelaide writers’ week – which have a transformative effect on the city and its economy. In a report released last month by Festivals Adelaide, the festivals delivered $210m to the state’s economy in 2014/15 – an increase of 16% on the previous year.
Then there’s ticket sales – more than a million tickets were sold to the various activities, according to the report – then there’s the hotel rooms, restaurants and taxis, plus the couple of days many visitors tack on at the end to explore the area. Last year 52,000 interstate and international visitors came to Adelaide in March and in the whole year, 800,000 people came through the Garden of Unearthly Delights.
Rob Brookman, the artistic director of the Adelaide festival and founder of the WOMADelaide festival, says the festival season in Adelaide “acts as a great calling card for the city”. In Australia, what Rob calls the “awesome small city” vibe, has also worked for Hobart, whose arts and tourism sector have been revitalised in a short space of time through festivals and promoting cultural arts.
Vibrant cities like Austin or Portland in the United States have carved out their own niche in various festivals they hold that were initiated by supporting local creatives. Some great festival cities, like Avignon in France and Edinburgh in Scotland, use their festival space to create a carnival atmosphere outside the festival season. They allow for some elements of the festival season – including pedestrian zones, central cultural hubs and pop-up entertainment venues – to run all year. Such creative sizzle could also be initiated by Redland City Council through grants and by cutting the hoops participants have to jump through. Festivals drive tourism and create jobs: festivals in Adelaide generated 790 full-time or 7800 casual equivalent jobs in 2015.
The Redlands is well placed to emulate these examples and to expand on existing festivals. It has an active and varied arts community and the Cleveland town centre would lend itself to becoming a pedestrian only zone to provide venue space. This would also help revitalize the dying business centre. Then there are plenty of add on activities for visitors including the Sirromet winery, boutique brewery, farm stays, scenic drives and visits to the Bay islands and Straddie.
Straddie is very busy in school holidays but has low occupancy rates at other times. The development of new events-based products and scheduling of festivals can help even out seasonality across the year.
Talking of Festivals, now read this:
A MUCH PREFERRED STEPPING OFF POINT FOR NORTH STRADBROKE ISLAND
After properly and carefully evaluating all the concerns related to the siting of the proposed Toondah harbour reclamation, in March 2014, a team of specialist volunteers came up with a grand idea that not only takes the constraints into account but provides untold opportunity. It is to re-site the new depart point for Straddie on the west side of Cleveland Point, an area that already is oriented towards boating facilities [Volunteer Marine Rescue and Redlands Boat Club] and has entrance channels ready made that don’t impact on the bay’s fragile ecosystem. It will add just a few minutes journey time to/from Straddie. But just look what it gives us.
This is a proposal that:
- preserves one of the oldest green reserves in Queensland, the G J Walter Park
- conserves and thus enables us to promote the unique early colonial history of the area
- gives back the grand view to the Grand View Hotel – the oldest and grandest in Queensland
- provides an all-weather harbour that is protected from the elements – no risk of barges going aground
- will restore the important Toondah marine environ. [Existing channel cuts through seagrass meadow, coral habitat and significant Ramsar bird feeding site for endangered shorebirds]
Above all, it gives the Redlands an historic, waterside precinct with bay views intact and priceless bay breezes that stretches from the Grand View Hotel all the way down to include the ugly and dysfunctional Toondah Harbour site. With a mangrove boardwalk, it could even go further through to the Nandeebie and Oyster Point Parks. This bayside parkland can become the City’s unique focal parkland that will provide a premier site for events and festivals. Then, for the rest of the year, provide a beautiful green space that will serve as a reminder that the Redlands community and its Council have together set the right priorities and not given in to big business.
When I talk of tourism of course, I don’t mean 5 star hotels, luxury resorts or Club Med, which could detract from the area’s liveability.
The type of tourism I’m thinking of makes the place attractive for visitors and residents alike. Basics like good restaurants, farmer’s markets, cycle paths, walking trails and mangrove boardwalks, public transport, a capacity sports ground, parkland, arts, cultural and heritage precincts, festival and event venues etc.
Tourism development requires a Council to set the right priorities and incentives, reduce red tape, provide the right infrastructure and facilities and listen to the community and the various stakeholders.
As an example of what tourism can do, take the case of Mackay. In 2013/14, the city recognized that the resources boom was coming to its end, so it took action to recoup lost prosperity through tourism promotion. Despite the region having no iconic tourist attractions, it increased its domestic visitation in 2015 by almost 20% and Queensland visitor numbers alone went up 25%. And that’s just in the first year of its new tourism plan.
North Stradbroke Island
We need to focus our attention on North Stradbroke Island because it’s losing its main industry with a loss of 140 jobs. Cessation of sand mining on the island was originally legislated in 2011 to conclude in 2019. But this was extended in 2013 by the short-sighted Newman Government – heavily lobbied by the mining industry – out to 2035. The Annastacia Palaszczuk led Government sensibly brought this back to 2019 but this means that there are now just 3 years in which to undertake all the necessary infrastructure planning before mining ceases.
Mackay’s success can be emulated here. The Queensland Government has already developed a worthy Draft North Stradbroke Island Economic Transition Strategy supported by 16 actions, which aim to:
- drive sustainable tourism
- expand education and training opportunities
- foster business development and growth
They have allocated $20 million to drive this strategy and facilitate stakeholder co-investment to deliver a sustainable economy. The strategy is further supported by an additional $3.87 million in-kind Queensland Government contribution for identified actions and $5 million to help mine workers pursue new employment opportunities. This is an opportunity for mine workers to acquire new skills over the next year or two and make the transition to tourism. And these sums are in addition to any expenditure required on items such as policing, national parks or roads.
The State Government involvement in these tourism opportunities can only take it so far, the initial direction, motivation and ideas have to be locally generated. In seeking to promote such innovation-led growth, it is fundamental to understand the important roles that both the public and private sector have to play. In the first instance the public sector can work from the top down via the aforementioned strategies and they can also incentivize private sector-led innovation through subsidies, tax reductions, grant monies and in building the necessary infrastructure. The rest has to come locally from the ground up.
The State Government set up a Committee to oversee the Amendment Bill but it was made up solely of State MPs. But transitioning to tourism is not like planning a change to an industry with a single focus like manufacturing or mining, it has to involve the local community, business and tourism operators in the first instance. This is because tourism development is complex as the industry relies on a wide array of small niche markets, so planning for growth in tourism must be similarly wide ranging and very carefully managed with input from all stakeholders.
The instigators and facilitators of all the necessary local input must be the Redland City Council itself and it’s in this respect where there are grave concerns with the priorities that the last council team, led by Karen Williams, set in the past four years with its one-eyed focus on residential development, its lack of proper community consultation and its failure to listen to the science and experts in the field.
A functional and properly led council team that understood the issues, would appreciate that the big prizes shouldn’t all go to those who develop and build in the Redlands, help can be given to those who can create something from its natural assets. Heritage, cultural and nature based tourism brings local employment opportunities and provides income that helps preserve our natural assets and provides amenities for us all.
Already there have been scandalous delays in getting Straddie tourism proposals even discussed, let alone planned. Redlands City Council have been missing in action when it comes to exploiting tourism opportunities in the Redlands generally but particularly in regard to Straddie and Peel Island.
At the Public Forum at Cleveland on the ‘North Stradbroke Island Government Bill’ held on 10th February 2016, it was stated that it would take 22 years for the tourism industry on the island to make up for the shortfall in sand mining revenue after 2019, but that was at tourism’s present growth rate. But the present growth rate is at a snail’s pace because of the constraints it’s working under.
There are over 3,000 campers on the island in peak season and the island’s camp sites get overcrowded and they are desperately short of infrastructure. At the Main Beach camp site there are no facilities – not even composting toilets or drinking water. At Flinders beach there are just composting toilets but no other facilities. The island is also under extreme pressure from 4WDs and camping so there is need to open more of it up and establish more camp sites.
North Stradbroke Island is the second biggest sand island in the world and we should be taking more care of it. Straddie is popular as it has what both Fraser and Moreton Islands have got but is closer to the main population centres and easier to get to. Also, unique for a sand island, to access some of its campsites, a 4WD is not required.
Below you will see visitation statistics that confirm what many tourist operators in the Redlands and surrounding areas generally, have been saying for decades: that Straddie is chronically under-marketed and lacks the necessary branding as a tourist destination. The peak tourism bodies of Brisbane, Queensland and the Commonwealth have also echoed these sentiments many times over the years. All these bodies will help in marketing the island both in the domestic and international markets.
Straddie Tourism facts
The island attracts an estimated 350 000 visitors per year with as many as 70 per cent of visitors being return visitors. Domestic overnight visitors make up the majority of visitation to the island (75 per cent) with day-trippers (22 per cent) and international overnight (three per cent) accounting for the remainder. There is an extraordinarily low conversion rate of the Brisbane visitor market of just three per cent per year.
This means that just 3 tourists out of one hundred, who visit Brisbane are visiting Straddie. Yet there huge numbers of Brisbane visitors that head to the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast from Brisbane just to visit the surf and ocean beaches each year. Similarly the south-east Queensland resident market of just five per cent per year, screams with opportunity, as does the average visitor spend per day on the island, estimated to be just $20 per person. (In fact this figure beggars belief and would normally only apply to the most self-sufficient campers). Most tourists in Australia would spend more than $20 on breakfast.
The final figure that highlights the lack of awareness of Straddie’s attractions – particularly among interstate and overseas visitors – is the seasonal variation in occupancy rates. The peak season rate of around 85 per cent drops to around 10– 15 per cent during the off-peak season. The only tourist destinations in Queensland that have this rate of decline are ones that have good reasons that relate to weather extremes, like those that exist in and around Longreach and Winton. Whilst Straddie of course has good weather all year.
What does it all mean?
Straddie is in close proximity to two of the biggest tourist draw cards in Australia: The Gold Coast (902,000 visitors annually) and Brisbane (1.126 million visitors annually) These are big numbers for us to tap into. The visitation figures for Brisbane alone easily outstrips Cairns, Port Douglas, the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays and Townsville combined. Moreover Brisbane’s numbers increased 13% in 2015. Not to forget of course, the 3.4 million potential visitors that live in south-east Queensland.
How many visitors to the Gold Coast realize how close they are to the second largest sand island in the world, or that they have the chance of seeing koalas, kangaroos, rays and turtle in their natural setting? How many Brisbane visitors know that Straddie has the closest surfing beaches to the CBD? Properly managed and marketed, the tourism industry on Straddie has the potential to tap into these two international tourist drawcards and easily make up the shortfall from the cessation of mining to make a massive contribution to the island’s and Redland’s future.