I have said it so many times now that my wife tells me I need to stop saying it – but I’ll do what any good husband does and ignore my wife’s advice.
Culture is in. Dubbo has found its culture. It is now acceptable for councils in general to focus on cultural outcomes in their areas.
Ten years ago, the loud message from the Dubbo community was that it was OK to spend money on sporting fields and roads – and if you want some culture then go down to Sydney. If you are really culturally aware, you might even went to Melbourne (but don’t be a pretender and go when the Australian Open is on).
There were a number of clear messages that came through our Dubbo 2036 process. One that I picked up on was that cultural components of our society are now not only acceptable, but expected. When you start to focus further on the outcomes from Dubbo 2036, one very specific message was that local Aboriginal culture should be acknowledged and celebrated – that is the seven clan groups, Wiradjuri Nation, as well as other Aboriginal Nations now residing in Dubbo – and our Aboriginal population should have the opportunity to have a greater connection to their history and culture. I actually would like to go a step further – I don’t necessarily see Aboriginal history as ‘their’ history. I am going to take a great risk here and say that Aboriginal history is part of this country’s history, and it is something I don’t think we are well-versed in.
Aboriginal history is part of the history of this great nation and it would be nice to have all Australians understand this nation’s history better. When I spent time in China last year as part of a sister-city delegation, I was incredibly impressed with how well they educated their population on Chinese history. The display of artefacts and the education of the population about the thousands of years of history on display was very impressive. The difference between China’s and Australia’s show of history was marked.
There is an added side-benefit. If we manage to develop some Aboriginal historical areas, there is huge potential for tourism. I don’t believe this is necessarily the primary reason to develop further cultural facilities, but it is a nice added bonus.
The statistics start to add some real weight to the argument. Among domestic overnight visitors, 20 per cent participate in two or more cultural or heritage activities during their stay. Day visitors, with dramatically less time on their hands, still have an 8 per cent participation rate.
Not that Dubbo has a huge number of international visitors – yet – but over 50 per cent of all international visitors to Australia participate in at least one cultural or heritage activity during their stay.
These numbers are relatively current, but if they were still relevant 10 years ago, it would have been difficult for visitors to our City to find two cultural or heritage activities. That has all changed now, of course, with Dubbo having a very cultural feel. The recent Plein Air display of Macquarie River paintings at the Garling Gallery in Wongarbon was a case in point. There was hardly room to move in the gallery and red spots were popping up on paintings all over the place.
We currently have our draft Wiradjuri Park Master Plan on display in Dubbo and, if the project is realised to its full potential, it will deliver an historically significant, culturally aware area of Dubbo that all Dubbonians – Aboriginal or otherwise – can be incredibly proud of. In addition, the Aboriginal tourism aspect will give Aboriginal people the chance to tell the story of our nation’s history in their way. They can share cultural insights, traditional practices and contemporary concerns with visitors to the area. At an incredibly simplistic level, visitors to regional areas expect to be able to see some areas of Aboriginal significance. At the moment, I believe we are sadly lacking in this area.
Many years ago, I felt that we used to do the Taronga Western Plains Zoo a great injustice. Instead of embracing the Zoo as a major component of our City, in the past we sometimes cringed at a mention of it and tried to explain that we have so much more to offer. We have an Aboriginal population in our region that is higher than the national average. We should embrace that fact and be proud of the fact we live in the Wiradjuri Nation. I believe this is an area where both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal population can benefit and move forward as one nation.
Clr Mathew Dickerson
Mayor of the City of Dubbo