Winton Shire has marked the opening of its new $23 million Waltzing Matilda Centre with official ceremonies and a four-day festival that clocked up 6500 ticket sales.
They are the achievements of an entrepreneurial council that has embraced the benefits of tourism for many years, according to Winton Shire Council tourism and events officer John Elliott.
The original Waltzing Matilda Centre, celebrating the area’s connection with ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s verse, was destroyed by fire in June 2015.
“The mayor at the time, Butch Lenton, the day that it burnt down he said ‘we’ll rebuild it’, ” Mr Elliott said.
“They’re a pretty tough bunch up here and it didn’t take them long to get back on track.”
Peak Services acted as project managers for the museum construction, which was funded through a combination of insurance money and contributions from all three tiers of government.
“It’s an adventurous design – Cox Architects from Brisbane were responsible for that. It doesn’t look like any other museum you’ve ever seen and the build time was only 11 months,” Mr Elliott said. “It was a big job.”
Mr Elliott said the contributions of Cr Lenton, who died in September, were honoured throughout the opening events on April 20 – including a video tribute during the official luncheon. An empty chair held his spot of honour during the formal ceremony, which was attended by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Mr Elliott said the town now had world-class museum, expected to help draw a record number of visitors this year to the region – which also boasts the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument (Lark Quarry) and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History as tourism drawcards.
“The reason people come here is we have the Waltzing Matilda connection and the dinosaur connection, but we also pride ourselves on putting on events that bring new visitors to the area,” Mr Elliott said.
“We have a really major 10-day film festival happening in June/July ever year (Vision Splendid) and the town will be full again then as well.”
Another example was the Way Out West festival held in conjunction with the Waltzing Matilda Centre. It featured artists including Jessica Mauboy (pictured), The Living End, John Williamson, Sheppard, Busby Marou, Russell Morris, The Black Sorrows, The Pierce Brothers, Kip Moore and Lee Brice.
Mr Elliott said the council was seeking funding to build a film production studio for visiting filmmakers.
Feature films The Proposition (with screenplay by Nick Cave) and director Ivan Senn’s Mystery Road and Goldstone were fimed in the area.
“With The Proposition, they had a cast and crew of 500 people here for almost three months and they tell us they spent $12 million in the local economy,” Mr Elliott said.
“We had Japanese filmmakers here on a project in November and they spent almost $1 million over 10 days. Apart from putting money into the local economy, people like to come here to see where The Proposition was filmed – so it influences tourism as well.”
With a population under 1200, Mr Elliott said the shire needed to harness such activity.
“It’s the only way the town can survive and grow,” he said.
“This part of the world has regular droughts, so the cattle industry is always going to have its up and downs. All of this stuff tries to help drought proof the area.”