Regional Economies & Tourism – Heathcote, 2 May

I wonder if city folk often watch property shows about tree changers, which build dreams of a better lifestyle?  Regional and rural residents know the secret joys of a country lifestyle but sometimes need reminding also about the positives.  Community leaders from across the region descended on Heathcote last Monday to hear inspiring stories of yet another alive and vibrant town.  “It is a wonderful, picturesque town with a heartbeat” said Loddon Murray Community Leadership Program (LMCLP) participant Stewart Luckman, from Inglewood.

The participants of the 2016 LMCLP Leadership Program have been witnessing similarly inspiring stories and towns and cities in our region since this year’s program was launched in Newbridge on the 5th February.  The LMCLP is all about effectively guiding and moulding active community members into positive and skilled community leaders who will gain the skills, networks and confidence to help facilitate and complete effective community projects.

Monday’s program theme was tourism and economic development and the day started with a panel discussion with local business and tourism champion Stephen Trompp, Axedale resident and active community member Yvonne Wrigglesworth, and the City of Greater Bendigo’s Strategy Manager, Trevor Budge who shared his insights on building tourism and economic prosperity in the region.  Each of these individuals aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty or accepting the criticism that sometimes goes with the territory of “change.”

Participants learned from Mr Trompp about the importance of effective planning, collaboration, and making the most of a town’s assets in ensuring the success of Heathcote in being awarded “Most Welcoming Town” for its role in hosting the participants of the Great Victorian Bike ride for an overnight stay.  Making the most of existing assets was a theme on the panel with Ms Wrigglesworth also sharing with the group the importance of “starting with what you have.”  Ms Wrigglesworth shared about how Axedale was transforming itself from a sleepy hollow into a fantastic day trip destination. The extension of the O’Keefe rail trail, the Axedale River Reserve rejuvenation project, and the foundation blocks for the RSL monument are just part of the action that is awakening the quiet rural town.  Ms Wrigglesworth is a graduate of the Leadership Program and shared how her involvement in Axedale’s Our Town Our Future, and her decision to run for council in the Eppalock ward at the forthcoming elections were sparked by her participation in the program.

A natural asset of Heathcote is clearly its wine – but also its people.  Participants enjoyed lunch and a tour at Heathcote winery followed by a presentation from the Community House’s Vicki Ford who shared about the importance of events in building community, including the very successful Heathcote Games and more recently the Ekiden Marathon.  All of these stories, and those of the morning, have at their heart committed, passionate, active community members – community leaders.

Participants were then warmly welcomed to Mandalay Resources, Costerfield mine site where they enjoyed tours of the site and were impressed with the visionary environmental and social responsibility of the company, and its incredibly strong commitment to leadership development at all levels of the organisation.

So, you might ask yourself: “What is happening in my town?” or “What could I do to entertain visiting family?”  If you’re not sure, perhaps you could make it your small but conscious decision to find out what is attracting the unfamiliar faces to your part of the world, what good things are going on in my area, and offer to be involved in the nuts and bolts of community engagement projects.  As Yvonne Wriggleworth says: “we never do anything if it is not fun, and if it stops being fun, we stop doing it.”