Tourism harvest awaiting

NOW that the Aussie dollar is headed for the US50c mark it’s time we thought long and hard about WA’s tourism industry, a sector that can benefit greatly from the Aussie’s slump.

Unfortunately, thinking about tourism too often leads to throwing tax dollars on fancy television advertising to allegedly attract foreigners.

WA has many things making it worth visiting – modern facilities, dark nights so the stars can be seen, (I’ve been told that’s why some Japanese come here, rather than lit-up and glowing Hawaii), fine wine country, historic goldfields, rugged outback, long stretches of desolate coastline, and now an even cheaper Aussie.

But there’s one obvious gap that should be filled.

Conspicuous by its absence is a world-class WA Agricultural Heri-tage Museum (WAAHM) despite our long successful farming past that gave rise to economic endeavour which before and after the 1890s gold rushes ensured WA survived.

Were it not for farming, many of our towns, ports, and large segments of the railway, road, electricity and scheme water networks, to name a few milestones, simply would not have happened.

There are 25 museums in metropolitan Perth but none pays full tribute to WA’s farmers, the pioneers, heroes and heroines.

Many young West Aussies are maturing without an appreciation of the role agriculture played and continues playing in their history and economic well being. Yet WA is a major world surplus agricultural region, dating back nearly 170 years.

An independently based WAAHM could emulate Queens-land’s world-renowned Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre in Longreach which was created “to capture and record the fast disappearing culture and history of rural Australia”.

Despite its remoteness from big cities (Brisbane is over 1000 kilometres away) and its not inconsiderable admission fees ($17 a single adult, $40 a family) it has hosted nearly a million visitors since Queen Elizabeth opened it in 1988.

The Stockman’s Hall is an incorporated, self-funded, non-profit company, operating without debt or ongoing government aid. The start-up cost of $12.5 million was raised by supporters, commerce and industry (with some funding from State and Federal governments), with running costs covered by admissions, souvenir sales, catering, membership subscriptions, sponsor-ships and donations, which are fully tax-deductible.

As WA’s two farmer groups – the Pastoralists and Graziers and the WA Farmers Federation – have never bothered launching such a joint initiative what is needed is an independent special purpose broadly-based civic-minded group, along the lines of that recently created for construction of the $21 million Australian Prospectors and Mining Hall of Fame in Kalgoorlie.

Funds for a WAAHM could be raised from State and Federal governments, rural shires, individ-uals, small and large business (including livestock and transport companies, chemical and farming equipment manufacturers, and fabrication and construction firm), and service providers such as banks, insurance, accounting, and invest-ment companies.

Most have benefited handsomely from WA farming over the past 170 years.

But where should such an institution be based? There are several obvious sites which could be debated as the time approaches for construction.

Northam could meet the task, so could York, Toodyay, or Gingin, or even in bush land beyond Kalamunda; far enough from Perth to be in a rural setting, yet close enough to be a must for tourists, school and family excursions.

A WAAHM would celebrate WA’s entire agricultural com-munity, its personalities, places, progress, and professionalism.

It could serve as a major and permanent venue for the preservation of agricultural artifacts, including equipment related to the horse-drawn, steam, gas and diesel ages.

A special place could be given to the many unrecognised and forgotten farmer inventors who played key roles in adapting agriculture to WA’s unique environment.

Other sections could be devoted to rural lifestyle, products, history, role of farming women, and Aborigines.

Any sceptics should be in Kalgoorlie on October 24 next year, when Prime Minister John Howard officially opens the Australian Prospectors and Mining Hall of Fame.

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