The Goolwa Wharf precinct is on the cusp of further evolving into a stunning lifestyle, cultural and heritage hub that will deliver a fresh wave of tourism to South Australia.
This planned new activation of an entertainment experience also has the potential to give the Fleurieu Peninsula a prominent landmark resulting in a significant boost to the local economy.
It is part of a vision covered in a 2016-18 strategic plan presented last month by the Goolwa Wharf Precinct Board to the Alexandrina Council. It calls for an engagement with the local community to further develop existing businesses and to create new opportunities that will make Goolwa a year-round destination to discover, experience and celebrate. The branding and marketing component will present everything it has to offer on a plate to the fiercely competitive tourism sector at international, interstate and state-wide levels.
A key to the overall expansion in infrastructure and development will be the extension of the Goolwa Wharf, which will give the biennial South Australian Wooden Boat Festival a unique opportunity to have tourists stepping off the SteamRanger train platform and walking into the sight of a flotilla of paddle steamers puffing into dock.
Festival organisers have always wanted to create this rare sight of majestic splendour that will capture international attention, but it has never been possible because of a shortage of mooring facilities. The Alexandrina Council, which owns the event, will make every endeavour to have work on the wharf extension completed in time for the next festival in 2017.
Not only will the additional paddle steamers represent the most exciting new feature in the festival’s history and separate the event from the rest, the entire project will give people another reason to come to Goolwa. Also, a planned turntable for the SteamRanger will merely add to the uniqueness.
The Goolwa Wharf Precinct Board is a semi-autonomous subsidiary of Alexandrina Council and was established to maximise opportunities in-and-around the wharf precinct in this vibrant historic and natural setting. It also covers the Centenary Hall in Cadell, Street.
The board consists of Ian Darbyshire as an independent chairman, Miranda Lang, another independent member with a strong tourism and marketing background, Graham Pratt from the Friends of the Oscar W Inc, Grantley Schmidt representing a commercial operators group, Steve Grieve, who is on the Alexandrina Arts & Cultural advisory committee, and Alexandrina councilors James Stewart and Frank Tuckwell.
As chair, Ian brings a lot to the project with his tremendous experience in tourism and marketing, including his time as CEO with the SA Tourism Commission and head of the Rundle Mall Management Committee. His link as chair of the Murraylands Tourism Partnership is obviously also important to the Alexandrina region.
Ian believes the Goolwa Wharf redevelopment represents an opportunity to make it a major tourism destination for the people of Adelaide and the state.
“It is not a long way from Adelaide… we have have somewhere really enjoyable to come down to, and people see it as a destination that gives them dependable things to do,” Ian said.
“More tourists will result in businesses getting stronger on the wharf, which spins into the whole community getting stronger. Then as we build the destination with potentially more room for accommodation, people will now be not just thinking about coming down for the day, but spending longer there. It becomes a great place to base yourself because there is always something to see and do.
“I can see more food offerings springing up, and the market getting stronger.”
Ian said communication and cooperation between the relevant parties and the community would remain an important element of this project.
“The key is having strong communication with local businesses, not just the Goolwa Wharf Precinct,” Ian said.
“Also, communication with the consumer is important; what is going on, why you would want to go there and enjoy yourself. This spins for the business people who need to also communicate with their potential consumers on what brings them to Goolwa.
“The Alexandrina Council has been really forward thinking in doing this. The fact we have a board working hand-in-hand with the council so we can make semi-commercial decisions is a great opportunity.”
As the nominated representative for businesses nearby the wharf, Grantley said the project was not just about the business people of today, but the town for the long term future.
“The formation of the board is a great thing because its charter includes encouraging more tourist traffic and more businesses to come to the wharf and operate,” he said.
“We have to work out ways of promoting the wharf as a precinct and come up with good ideas to get more people through this area so small businesses can operate and survive.
“We can encourage more people to visit in a variety of means… offering more attractions is an obvious one. At the moment we are doing a free live band on the wharf once a month, which the Cittaslow group is catering for, and that is being well attended. There are lots of other things that can be done.
“The market is a great attraction, the SteamRanger is fantastic, the Steam Exchange Brewery is doing well with their beers, and the Oscar W, well, what a wonderful attraction. We have just got to enhance it and build up these features.
“The Wooden Boat Festival is a sensational event and maybe we should give more thought to also having other kinds of festivals. Perhaps we could think about being different and instead of having fireworks on New Year’s Eve focus on a big Australia Day event.”
Grantley and his wife, Monty, who have a brilliant cafe-restaurant businesses Hector’s on the Wharf, and he said obviously any new wharf development would benefit them personally.
“I see all of the businesses down here as caretakers of the precinct for the business people who operate here after us,” he said. “Provided they are able to operate well, the more businesses we have around here the better because they would add to the atmosphere and to the whole experience for tourists.
“We have been here 11 years, and in that time our business has developed as have other businesses on or near the wharf. We have all worked with council and heritage, which is so important. I just believe we all have a wonderful opportunity to bring long-term benefit to the town and the region.
“There is already a lot more people moving down here, and with this we can grow as a town and make it an even better destination.
“There is so much to offer. You only need to come down here now at six o’clock on a balmy Friday night and watch the boats sail right in front off you, so close that you feel that you can touch them, and you think how good is this? And then I think how much even better this can be.
“As I said, Goolwa as a town has a wonderful opportunity here.”