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Re-Imagining Gippsland with Art & Soul

"Cow Up A Tree' by John Kelly, Bronze Sculpture 2000 for Docklands Melbourne

The up-coming 2026 Commonwealth Games offers Gippsland an opportunity to be part of a world focus on regional Australia, not just as a regional economy, but as a culture that recognizes the primacy of ancient Indigenous cultures and is alive to the powerful creative capacity of its people and their development in the 21st century. According to Commonwealth Games Australia President, Ben Housten, “a regionally focused Games will expand the capacity of regional cities in Victoria to deliver major events, linking tourism, arts, culture and sport.” He estimates that “it will contribute more than $3 billion to the State’s economy, creating 7,500 jobs in the process…and provide a unique platform “Sport Powering Australia’s Future” a strategy that promises “generational change.[i]

Implicit in the offer is global media coverage, a once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase ‘Gippsland’s regional identity’.

According to the current 2026 Commonwealth Games website, Victoria will showcase “everything regional Victoria has to offer to the world - the best food and wines, outstanding arts and culture and breathtaking landscapes …and (it will) celebrate the unique history and culture of First Peoples.” We are informed that the Games will take place in “five regional cities” - Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Shepparton and “Gippsland.” Visitors to the website will be surprised to discover that “Gippsland” is a region spread across an area of 41,556 sq. km.

So, in the Autumn of 2026, how will Gippsland differentiate itself from its regional competitors? How will Gippsland compete with the richer and historic ‘Gold Heritage’ cities of Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, gateway to the Great Ocean Road and its Shipwreck Coast attractions?

In recent years some Gippsland Shires have awakened to the increasing demand for 21st century cultural facilities and invested heavily in quality infrastructure projects. Now it is time to acknowledge the Creative Industries and tap into the knowledge, skills and talent that can fill these arenas with the high quality art, entertainment and culture. Australians understand sport at a regional, national and global level. We know that it doesn’t matter how spectacular the stadium, it takes support for the small clubs, the trainers, the referees and the talent of the teams from the ground up, over years, to be ‘winners’ in the global arenas. Likewise, the creative and cultural talent; the musicians, artists, actors, writers, publishers, lighting technicians, designers, arts and festival directors and managers, curators, the indigenous ‘keepers’ and guides, all integral to showcasing Gippsland’s identity, are in need of support, from the ground up.

So,what is Gippsland’s capacity“ to deliver major events that link tourism, arts, culture and sport”?

Across all disciplines, Victoria’s creative industries are driven by a powerhouse of small organisations, micro-businesses and sole practitioners. Gippsland’s creative industries span the visual and performing arts, design, media, publishing, fashion, film-making, media, festivals and crafts. They can be “both commercially driven, and community based, experimental and export intense.”[ii] All regions will serve up their best quality food and wines and steer the cameras and visitors to spectacular landscapes and native wildlife. To be competitive with the other regions Gippsland would do well to plan well ahead. Converting to a ground-up approach will ensure Creative and Tourism sector collaboration to develop distinct and authentic ‘experiences’ that value-add to the Commonwealth Games. Whatever attracts visitors before and beyond The Games is what will determine the long-term economic and inter-generational impact.

Indigenous Culture Differentiates

Its a certainty that international visitors will seek out authentic indigenous cultural experiences.[i]

Gippsland is rich with ancient Indigenous culture and creative talent. This is a story that needs to emerge as part of projecting an authentic regional identity and converting it into a unique visitor experience.

A region that does NOT have the maturity to put First Nations first, to showcase their continuous connection to culture, community and Country, will stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Krowathunkooloong Keeping Place, Bairnsdale. ‘Echidnas’ by Gunai Artist, Ray Thomas

Gippsland’s Bataluk Trail, a network of ancient and spiritual cultural trails and sites, including the precious collection of artifacts in the Krowathunkoolong Keeping Place, could be a draw-card for international visitors seeking an experience of the oldest culture on the planet. Support for First Nations communities to prepare their cultural sites, to train their guides and curators, to showcase their culture and appropriately house and manage their collection of artifacts ought, at this stage, to be a priority.

Gippsland is an Artist’s Paradise

Kevin Lincoln, Lindenow. East Gippsland Oil on Canvas. Evoking Gippsland Exhibition 2023 Gippsland Regional Art Gallery

The regional art galleries of Sale, Morwell and Bunjil Place (en route at Narre Warren), as well as the petite but highly successful East Gippsland Art Gallery, have much to offer and are well equipped in terms of highly qualified curatorial and management skills, expansive walls and spaces that can meet expectations. Curators and artists have developed a distinct regional genre that reflects a deep artistic connection to the beauty and fragility of Gippsland’s spectacular environment and biodiversity. Captured in all of its moods, galleries continue to showcase both the spirituality of Indigenous culture on Country and the broader fear of climate change and species extinction.

Artist: Dore Stockhausen, Oil on Canvas. Series documenting the 2019-20 Gippsland bushfires

Following the recent announcement by the Federal Government, regional galleries will also be able to borrow from the Australian National Gallery collection. Such an opportunity, if planned well ahead of 2026, could enhance the visual arts experience on offer in Gippsland to include some of the most powerful of Australia’s national art collection. It could, like the recent traveling 2021 Archibald Prize, at Gippsland Regional Gallery, significantly boost the regional economic impact.

Ksenija Hrnjak Red gloves of Tim Tszyu, Finalist in 2022 Archibald Prize Oil on canvas 198.6 x 162.8 Walking into Tim’s domain was intoxicating. Watching him train, seeing his power, precision and energy, left me in no doubt he was my subject.’ says Hrnjak, a first-time Archibald finalist.

Festivals Celebrate Humanity

“We celebrate humanity through creativity. We are the songs that we sing. We are the rhythms to which we move. We are the designs that we imagine. We are the stories that we share. We are the creatives. We are the activists. We Are You.” FIND YOUR VOICE COLLECTIVE CHOIR. Port Fairy Folk Festival.

Festivals make for dynamic entertainment and visitor attraction as many of the competing regions know e.g. Port Fairy Folk Festival. Festivals provide the framework for staging national and international stars that can radically boost visitation and have significant impact on yield. It takes festivals time to develop. It requires investment, experienced directors, teams of organizers, the advanced booking of talent and the technical personnel to stage events, as well as the supply chain of accommodation, restaurants, food, wine and retail suppliers to reap the benefits.

A Gippsland Festival Plan would put Gippsland ahead of the game. The South Gippsland Country Music Festival, East Gippsland Winter Festival, the Mallacoota Far East Music Festival, the Gippsland Fine Music Festival and Opera By The Lakes are the region’s bank of event management specialists. Strategic planning and investment in Gippsland festivals now, recruiting and booking national and international entertainment stars well in advance, could make Gippsland Festival a mega event that complements sports events, attracts major audience participation, and potentially creates the 'intergenerational' impact of the Commonwealth Games vision.

FLOAT Lantern Making Workshops for the East Gippsland 2022 Winter Festival

Creatives Reflect the Collective Imagination

Creative Directors (Art Gallery and Theatre Directors) Producers (Festival Managers), Entrepreneurs and Cultural Interpreters (Galleries, Gippslandia, FLOAT, ICE-WORKS,, Creative ThinkTanks (like FLOAT’s Feral MBA collective, Mallacoota Wilderness Collective, Social Enterprise Networks), artists, designers, film-makers, creative enterprises and Creative Industry advocates, like Sanctuary E.G, are all actively at work, re-imagining a 21st century Gippsland as ‘a regenerative region with art and soul’. Now is the time to engage with the activists, the creators and those with the specialist skills who can bring a collective creative vision to Gippsland’s Commonwealth Games experience.

Regional CEOs, government decision-makers and investors might find it difficult to sell Culture and Creativity to the ‘Old Guard’, but they would do well to engage the regional experts, to seek bold and innovative solutions from the creatives who, with appropriate investment, can make things happen.

Author: Jo Moulton, Convenor, Sanctuary East Gippsland Inc. March 2023

Header Image: Cow Up a Tree. Australian-Irish Sculptor John Kelly. 2001 Photo: Detail Docklands Melbourne



[1] According to Phil Lockyer, Head of Indigenous Affairs at Tourism Australia, there is a surge in the Indigenous Tourism market that has risen by 40% since 2013 and has continued to rise by 9% each year up to 2021. These visitors are staying longer and spending more. Trends in the International Indigenous visitor’s profile (2019) indicated that they:

· spent a total of 45 million visitor nights and $7 billion dollars in Australia.

· stayed longer than other international visitors (average of 45 compared to 31 nights)

· spent more per trip than other international visitors (per visitor $7,286 compared to $4,792)

[111] Creative State, Victoria’s First Creative Industries Strategy 2016-2020. P. 10


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