A wonderful event at the Riverport of Goolwa has gone through a storm, but everything is fine now. We’re talking about the 15th biennial South Australian Wooden Boat Festival, which has been moved to April 22-23, 2017.
The shift from its traditional February time slot has opened a huge window of opportunity in terms of attracting a significant increase in tourists and related economic benefit compared with previous years because of the likelihood of people taking the Monday off work to create a four-day break with Anzac Day on the Tuesday.
The festival’s newly-assured survival, having been almost lost to another region or at least deferred til 2018 because of a range of issues that have been resolved, isn’t simply the result of one person taking the helm, but a team response to a need to clearly define what this festival is about – keeping the amazing fascination for wooden boats shared by the wider community alive.
The Wooden Boat Festival (WBF), celebrating its 30th anniversary, has changed tact and has emerged far better for the experience. There will be no gate fee like the 2015 festival; in fact, no fences. It’s about presenting a boat festival as a wonderful experience that embraces the entire Alexandrina Council region and other boating culturally-enriched towns up-river to an influx of international and national tourists.
Behind the scenes of six months of uncertainty there has been the perseverance and leadership of prominent community leaders – including Keith Parkes as mayor, staff and several councilors of Alexandrina Council, which owns the naming rights and entity of the event. It was felt the event, and the passion it nurtures, must remain bigger than anything or anyone.
The process delivered us Garry Coombes, who is featured on our front cover, as chairman, who not only stresses the “crew” element, but the reality the festival is not only about a town, but a region and a river which continue to possess the ability to bring visitors from around the globe.
An aim of the initial working party has been ensuring that no one within the broader community feels disenfranchised. “We will continue to focus on building community engagement… encouraging community groups to work together,” Garry said.
He recently attended his last board meeting for St John’s Ambulance Australia (SA) after an amazing 54 years service, including six years as chairman, six years as state commissioner, and six years as chairman of training. Garry didn’t believe he would become emotional at this closure of an wonderful chapter, but he did. It tells us something about his commitment to the community. His passion for wooden boats is not about sailing them, but a love woodwork which led him to joining Armfield Slipway and Boat Shed, and being part of an amazing team that makes and restores wooden boats.
The other committee members are Brad Briggs, Jim Davis, Liz Livingston, Peter O’Brien, Lyn Roberts, James Stewart, Trevor Twigden, Bruce Wright, and this writer.
Garry sincerely acknowledged the outstanding contributions of past WBF committee members, who since the lead-up to the inaugural 1989 festival had worked diligently to develop it as a significant event on the South Australian tourism calendar.
“As a new committee our first objective was to clearly define what the Wooden Boat Festival represented, and to me personally its core is the display and use of traditional wooden boat skills,” Garry said.
“The festival is an opportunity for the passion of wooden boat builders and owners to actually come together and show off to the rest of us. My passion is the preservation of the traditional woodworking skills, ageless techniques like steam-bending, planking and saw milling.
“It is about bringing the history of Goolwa, Strathalbyn and the lakes very much alive, and showcasing the wine region of Langhorne Creek. It is about other river towns as far as Renmark, all of which have played such an important part in our riverboat heritage, sharing recognition. It is why the festival is not just about Goolwa, as much as this represents another opportunity to promote the town as a destination. We cannot forget this is the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival.
“We need to catalogue and promote our heritage. The information available on what the Riverport of Goolwa used to be is lost to some extent, and with the PS Oscar W and other magnificent boats this festival creates more opportunity to educate people about that.
“Having lived in Goolwa since 2011, I can say this is one of the most amazing communities I have been in where groups get together and do things. If the WBF as an entity is able to get these groups with their diverse interests to work together, something very special will happen. Personally, I find that achievable and very exciting.”