Caretakers of heritage Queensland landmark call for outback tourism funding

The Sydney Morning Herald wrote:

The original Blackall Woolscour ran from 1908 until its closure in 1978. After a big community revival, the centre reopened in 2002 as a cultural tourism facility.

Former Queensland arts minister Matt Foley and Queensland senator Ron Boswell added the revitalised wool scour to Queensland’s Heritage Trails Network in April 2002.

In June 2018, then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull visited the centre.

However, it is now struggling to stay open because of a complex disagreement over “just $20,000” between those who run the wool scour and the Blackall-Tambo Regional Council.

Bob Willow has been one of the tour guides for more than 16 years and, with partner Annette Richardson, has run the day-to-day tours and operations of the wool scour. He does not get paid.

“The wool scour recently received a letter from the Blackall council,” Mr Willow said after he took Brisbane Times on a tour of the facility.

“It was a really harsh letter. It basically said there’s no more money, so bugger you.

“It knocked the guts clear out of me.

“We were promised at least $18,000 a year plus, they said they would pay our big expenses like maintaining our steam engine and our diesel supplies.”

Yearly visitor numbers have plateaued at about 8000.

By the end of the tourist season in late September, they see a handful of visitors a week as it gets hot.

By October, virtually no one.

Caretakers of heritage Queensland landmark call for outback tourism funding - The Reports

Bob Willow takes a tour party through the heritage-listed wool scour in September. The council would like to have more audio-visual aids through this area.Credit:Tony Moore

Mr Willow and Ms Richardson run the Blackall Woolscour committee, which includes local businesses.

Mr Willow is president but the Blackall-Tambo council is not on the committee. Mr Willow says they are having trouble getting members.

“There’s only a handful of people that are running this wool scour. It is very, very hard to get support. We’re having a battle, a really big battle at the moment.

“What we need is $20,000 to keep us alive until next season. By January we are really, really struggling.”

Ms Richardson said the council had a new chief executive, who was questioning the committee’s requests for money.

“Willow has done all those years of tours for nothing. He doesn’t get paid. I’m only paid on a clerk’s wage,” she said.

“But you do everything from selling the tickets, to doing the books to the cleaning. I’m over it. I’m really over it.”

She said the couple had brought hoses from their own property because they had to save money for expensive maintenance.

“The cookhouse over there that Willow has cooked out of for 15 years, that’s got all of our stuff in it.”

Blackall mayor Andrew Martin said Mr Willow and Ms Richardson were both “good, honest, hard-working people”.

“Both me and my council would all sweat blood for both of them, but there is just no business case for the wool scour,” Cr Martin said.

“It doesn’t need to be a Lindsay Fox [founder of transport logistics giant LinFox] scale of thing, but it does need to happen.”

The council will present its plan for the continuing operation of the wool scour at a meeting on October 27, Cr Martin said.

Caretakers of heritage Queensland landmark call for outback tourism funding - The Reports

At Blackall on the Barcoo River, 1000 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, is the last of Australia’s 52 wool scours.

He said the issue was not over “funding of $20,000” but agreed there was tension between the wool scour committee and the council.

Cr Martin said the Blackall-Tambo Regional Council believed the wool scour should be augmented by audio and vision of sheep yards, shearing and trains.

“You should walk up into that shearing shed area and we’d love to see music and videos and holograms and things,” he said.

Cr Martin said the council would also like to see a wool-handling centre, so modern visitors could better understand the industry.

“We’d also like to see an industry built around woollen Blackall blankets,” he said.

“So it is not the case that we are a conservative, regressive bunch at council.

“It’s not the case we want to lose Bob or Annette, but their skills are not in running a modern business.”

One nearby local business, the Tambo Teddies, has grown an international profile using local wool.

Mr Willow said if the Blackall Woolscour closed it would be devastating to Queensland’s outback tourism.

“This is a world-class tourism facility. There is just no more. I would say most of the people camp overnight in Blackall just to see this,” he said.

“This is the town. This is Blackall. If they didn’t have this, there is just not much else.”

The disagreement has reached the ears of Tourism Minister Kate Jones, who promised to help resolve the situation.

A spokesman for Ms Jones agreed talks would be held this week within the department.

“The minister and her director-general are willing to talk to all parties to learn the details of what is being offered to prevent the threats that the centre will close,” he said.

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