Sinead Francis-Coan. Greens’ Candidate for Wallsend
As the world transitions from fossil fuels to the energy of the future, local jobs and economic gain from this sector dwindle. As a region home to the world’s largest coal exports, the Hunter needs to plan for this.
At an Upper Hunter business breakfast, I had the privilege of addressing a room full of passionate local leaders who were all excited about the role tourism can play in guiding our region into the future as we move away from unsustainable industries.
Tourism is key to a just transition for the Hunter, where workers and local community are supported through this economic and energy transition to a more sustainable future for all of us.
The west of Newcastle is ideally placed to step into its role as a geographical gateway to the Hunter and be a feature highlight of this process.
I fondly remember growing up in Jesmond where school holiday movie specials for $5 at the Regal Cinema and vacation care activities at the Jesmond Neighbourhood centre were integral parts of the local recreational framework that many enjoyed.
Many of us remember as school students the excitement of ‘dip-netting’ to see what life forms emerged from the waters of the Hunter Wetland Centre then examining them under a microscope.
With the Hunter Expressway now active, a coming cruise terminal and other planned developments, it is an opportune time for this framework to expand to appeal to domestic and international visitors.
I envisage a well-coordinated tourism plan for the west centred around the celebrated RAMSAR listed Hunter Wetlands Centre, the Blue Gum Hills Regional Park and Tree Top Adventure, the Richmond Vale Rail Trail from Hexham to Kurri, Yamuloong, Blackbutt Reserve and rehabilitation areas such as the Brickworks park and Kooragang Island.
These areas celebrate the region’s biodiversity, boast world-class bird-watching and educational opportunities and promote health and the preservation of especially natural history.
This plan includes more special film events at the Regal Cinema and greater celebration of cultural diversity in the west.
With this expansion can come pride of place, increased employment and the other benefits of improved infrastructure which go hand in hand with well-planned tourism.
In other words, the benefits are not restricted to visitors. Locals can likely make most use of the associated improved accessibility and transport options, a sore point for all Novocastrians.
Tourism often forms in clusters, where like-minded locals band together to boost the destination appeal, share resources and coordinate tourism experiences to break through in a competitive sector.
This organic form of collaboration has indeed been attributed the success of tourism in the Hunter Valley vineyards and surrounding areas. In that case, the success has been a combination of grass-roots organising and government support.
But is the state government on board with this potential in Wallsend and the west?
A government that supported tourism in the area would not have so spectacularly squandered the Newcastle light rail project for a start.
The light rail when it opens will not reach John Hunter Hospital, the University of Newcastle Callaghan campus, or centres like Jesmond, Minmi and Wallsend, let alone any place tourism-related.
If you look at the Destination NSW website, you will see a range of strategies designed to promote regional tourism in NSW, even a specific strategy to promote food and wine tourism, a sector dear to the Hunter. With that in mind, one could be forgiven for being confused at talk of closing the Newcastle Visitor Information Centre that begun as early as 2010.
For a long time it seemed that anywhere outside of Newcastle or Pokolbin had no central, independent tourism contact at all.
Where is the disconnect?
The locals deserve some cohesive explanation.
Lately it seems a restructure has been underway. Local councils in NSW are now seeming to be delegated the responsibility for running Visitor Information Centres, and probably the load of funding them.
It’s time for the NSW government to advocate effectively for our regions and facilitate the realisation of their potential. Those who look to the future and embrace this opportunity have much to gain.
Sinead Francis-Coan holds a Bachelor of Social Science-Recreation and Tourism and a Master of Philosophy in Leisure and Tourism from the University of Newcastle