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A year for forging strong connections

PERTH and other urban business centres throughout WA are being encouraged to forge new, or strengthen existing, links with their country cousins as part of the Year of the Outback celebrations this year.

The Year of the Outback was the brainchild of Queenslander Bruce Campbell, long associated with the rural sector, who saw the untapped potential of the regions and the opportunity to put the outback on the international map.

The concept was endorsed by all State and Territory governments, as well as the Federal Government, and was officially launched in Longreach in November 1999 by Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson.

Provision of funding by the Federal Government the following year allowed for the establishment of a national Secretariat, Outback 2002 Ltd, and steering committees with full-time coordinators have been established in all States.

In WA, Coordinator Barry O’Sullivan – who has been seconded from the WA Tourism Commission – said the Year of the Outback included all of WA’s regions and would not focus only on tourism.

“It’s a year for industry and for building relationships between the urban and regional areas in all manner of fields,” Mr O’Sullivan told Business News.

“I’ve been speaking to a number of rotary clubs around WA and the main district governors to set up some sort of reciprocal partnership between the city and country clubs.

“We’re also working with the Education Department on a Sister Schools Program, which hopefully will see city primary schools partnered with country schools, and that will trigger a whole range of cultural excursions and exchange.”

He said globalisation and other factors had resulted in a growing gulf between city and country.

“Probably 20 or 30 years ago, most people in the city would have been directly connected to someone in the country, and that’s not so much the case today,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“When services like banks close in the regional areas it’s highlighted more than in the city, because such a closure leaves a big hole in a country town.

“The Year of the Outback is designed to get a focus for our regional areas and to make people aware that there are different sets of circumstances and issues and cultures.

“It’s not about comparing city to country, it’s about making all regions aware of each other’s issues and, in the long term, that can have some real benefits.”

He said it provided some great opportunities for business.

“From a business perspective, it can be a year to encourage urban business to establish ties with regional areas, and the Year of the Outback may be the catalyst to instigate a program that a particular business may have been considering for some time,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

It also was a way to remind urban Western Australians of the wealth created by the regions.

“Our agricultural and wine industries are ever-increasing export earners for WA and the mining industry here is probably one of the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, and certainly the biggest in Australia,” he said.

“All of that wealth is created in the regions and, while urban people may be aware of that, they probably don’t appreciate what the value of it is.”

Mr O’Sullivan said many events were being planned for the year, including some activities that would bring the bush to the city.

“Our website, www.outbackwa.info, provides a wealth of information on a lot of the events around regional WA to provide an opportunity for people to get out there and experience something different than they would on their coastal holidays,” he said.

“There are also links on the site to places like the WA Tourism Commission, which lists many of the State’s attractions and operators, and accommodation information as well.

“I’ve also listed all of the regional Development Commissions, which are a worthwhile first port of call for anyone thinking of going into business in the regions because of their knowledge of industry and local issues.”

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