Gippsland - It's Time To Rethink

Author: Jo Moulton

Pelicans Photo Jo Moulton, Pelican Float Lantern Festival, Lakes Entrance. Pelicans by artist Gordon Bain.
Rethink - What Makes Gippsland 'Pop'

There’s a fresh perception of Gippsland emerging. It’s coming from Melbourne’s design industry via Open House Design Week. It’s called Open Nature and it has showcased Float and its cultural collaborations at the eastern end of the Gippsland Lakes, Traralgon-based design practice The View From Here, the innovative publication Gippslandia, Sailors Grave Brewery and their unique collaboration with Bruce Pascoe to create Dark Emu Dark Lager. There are detailed maps of the Gunaikurnai Bataluk Trails that are seen as repositories of knowledge and culture. It celebrates the Country of Traditional Owners and the makers and creators that deliver on the culture and uniqueness of Gippsland.

Sailors Grave brewers Chris & Gabrielle Moore,Sally Jones of Gippsland Jersey & Mark Briggs of Sardine Paynesville

If East Gippsland tourism operators, some still hanging by their nails, are to revive and thrive, then tourism, currently led and managed by government, needs a re-think. “There has never been a more critical time for the industry to work together i.e., for government to come to the sharp end of the market with small business operators and their communities. The recently updated Gippsland Tourism Management Plan Towards 2030 [i] reflects a return to ‘business as usual.’ Destination Gippsland has a complex task working in step with a host of powerful government stakeholders and their competing policy agendas. It’s a Byzantine web of Local, State and Commonwealth government agendas. Regional Tourism sits at the intersection of Indigenous sovereignty, regional development priorities, public land and parks management, diminished local education services, and ‘the elephant in the room’, forestry management.

Rethink Top-Down

We advocate a re-birth, a shift from a "top-heavy", “top-down” management approach, to a co-design approach, a method of engaging with the industry from the ground up. “Co-design is unique as a process. It solicits creative contributions from all the stakeholders involved, and critically, it allows for the iterative outlining and prototyping of emerging ideas. It enables stakeholders to experience the implications, advantages and risks of the different propositions. Sharing of knowledge and discussion can unpack ideas and allow for stakeholders to make more refined risk assessments.” [ii]

Community Buchan rebuilt its pub, Krowathunkaloog Keeping Place, East Gippsland Art Gallery
Rethink 'Inclusiveness'

It’s time to rethink the notion of 'inclusiveness', to listen to the voices of Traditional Owners and cultural custodians, the makers and creators, the entrepreneurs, the community groups, the volunteers and the ‘hosts’, that form the backbone of the tourism industry in Gippsland and have direct impact on local community well-being and the visitor experience.

Rethink Brand

It is also time to rethink brand ‘Wonderland’ which belongs to Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Hers is a Surreal, underground English landscape full of grim experiences and menacing characters like the Queen of Hearts who ‘chops off heads’. It features a white rabbit, a cat and mice, all pests that have brought devastation to the Australian landscape and its native wildlife. It’s an uncomfortable fit with the dreaming stories and song-lines of GunaiKurnai culture that are embedded in Country and vital to the identity of the oldest culture in the world. It’s an awkward fit with regenerative farmers and the conservationists that are concerned with the protection and security of our rich biodiversity.

Cape Conran and the threatened Long-footed Potaroo

There is a groundswell of voices from East Gippsland seeking new and transformational approaches to shake up the industry and re-focus on values that benefit tourism operators and their communities. The upcoming Nature Tourism forum at the Nowa Nowa Hall (March 17th) featuring Dr Dianne Dredge, a leading consultant in Regenerative Tourism, is a welcome initiative that will strengthen and advance this conversation in the East Gippsland tourism industry.

So, what are the kind of questions we need to ask, the conversations we need to have?

Sanctuary East Gippsland Inc.advocates a rethink about the following:


1. How do we bring about structural change? From ‘top-down, top heavy’ regional governance to an inclusive and balanced range of stakeholders – a voice for makers and creators, entrepreneurs, small business operators, accommodation “hosts”, volunteers, capacity builders, transport operators, communities, bio and citizen scientists, etc.


2. How do we engage with Traditional Owners? [iii] How do we build trust? How do we respect ownership of Country and culture, observe protocols set by elders and custodians [iv], and how do we boost the well-being of Indigenous communities and ensure that they receive the economic returns for sharing their precious culture and knowledge?

Aboriginal Cultural Values: An Approach for Engaging with Country by Dr Danièle Hromek, 'Stingray' by Ray Thomas, Gunaikurnai Artist

3. How do communities’ benefit? Does tourism have a positive or negative impact on small communities? How does it impact on lifestyles, housing and real estate values, heritage values, environment, infrastructure, community well-being and social values?


4. How do small communities and tourism operators strengthen their voice? Do they cluster, form associations, form community enterprises or network on-line? How do the big stakeholders work collaboratively with small stakeholders? How do we engage busy small businesses operators in co-design activities?


5. How do we engage artists and creatives? Where is the voice of chefs, winemakers, visual and performing artists and designers, Farmers Markets, accommodation 'hosts', gallerists, festival directors etc.? Why is regional creativity and innovation important? Do creatives bring tourism to life in images, festivals, events and exhibitions?


6. How do we engage scientists? the universities and research institutions, who are actively engaged in discovering and securing species and habitats in Gippsland? Do they have a voice in the management of tourism? Do private landowners, farmers, citizen-scientists and Landcare groups, also have a stake in tourism?


7. How do we tap into higher yield tourism markets? If we shift perspective (and data) from Melbourne as the source of day trippers (60%) and domestic overnight visitors (39%) that leverage off the Bass Coast Phillip Island catchment, and refocus on international visitors, 1% of visitors to the region, visitation (unmeasured) from the Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne tourism route into East Gippsland, do we have a strategic market opportunity? The recent announcement of $316 million for a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural precinct in Canberra (Ngurru) [v], presents an opportunity to leverage off Canberra, to attract visitors to authentic indigenous cultural experiences on Country, on Ngarigo, Bidewell, Yuin and Gunaikurnai Country.


8. How do we ensure the strategic impact of HARD and SOFT infrastructure?

Is there equitable investment in soft infrastructure – the arts and creative industries that nourish community well-being and enhance the identity and uniqueness of place? How do we co-design apps that overcome language barriers? How do we co-design relevant education and training packages that assist small operators to service niche and high yield markets?


9. How do we create ‘sanctuary’ ? - safe places and spaces for humans and non-humans? How do we immerse visitors in biophilic and cultural ‘experiences’ of excellence that are unique to Gippsland?


Written by Jo Moulton, Sanctuary East Gippsland co-design lab. March 2022


References & Links:

[i] Towards 2030 GIPPSLAND DESTINATION MANAGEMENT PLAN | A Blueprint for Growth 2022 authored by consultants TRC [ii] The Value of Co-design 2021 by Michael Trudgeon, Professor of Design and Architecture RMIT, Director of Crowd Productions P/L and member of the Sanctuary EG co-design lab

[iii] Defining Country by Dr Danièle Hromek 2021, Yuin woman,Cultural Scientist, Architect.

[iv] Aboriginal Cultural Values: An Approach for Engaging with Country Authored by Dr Danièle Hromek 2020

[v] AIATSIS Ngurru Cultural Precinct Canberra

[vi] 2022 Nature Based Tourism Forum #5 (East Gippsland) Nowa Nowa Hall (March 17th)