Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 29 April 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.
In my last column I suggested that Armidale had failed to sell itself to Australia. I also suggested that Armidale could draw lessons from Melbourne’s success.
If you look at the Victorian Government tourism advertising over at least the last ten years you will see remarkable consistency.
Whereas Sydney tries to sell iconic attractions such as the Opera House or the Harbour, Melbourne sells experience and romance wrapped around first English and then increasingly European themes.
Whereas Sydney tries to sells itself as a modern city, a place of excitement using bright colours and fast tempo, Melbourne uses muted colours and a slower tempo to present itself as a place of sometimes mystery where past and present merge in unexpected ways.
The Victorian and Melbourne Governments have been remarkably clever in backing this approach up in their planning and city development. The new precincts are integrated, while the re-development of the city lanes has created an ambience nothing short of fantastic.
By contrast, Sydney is something of a mess.
I am, I think, reasonably good at selling Armidale. In doing so, I draw from the Melbourne experience.
When asked what there is to see in Armidale, I ask how long can you stay? This attracts interest and usually makes people ask why.
I explain that Armidale is the traditional centre of a very large region with its own variety, culture and history. To really see this, the best way to go is to use the city as a base for touring. A week would be good.
Note that I am already setting up a perception about the city. It’s not just a stop point.
Assume, for a moment, that the person just wants to know about Armidale and its immediate district.
Then I will say something like Armidale reflects its history.
The city began as an administrative centre of a vast region that briefly stretched north as far as Torres Strait. Later it was the capital in waiting for those trying to get self government for New England, to break the Sydney Government’s control over the Northern Districts. It was also the centre of one of the wealthiest squatting regions in Australia.
Armidale’s old city reflects this past. Note the use of the words “old city”. The words are accurate, but they also create a sense of difference. How many Australian towns can claim an old city?
The old city was formed within the old town boundaries. Major public and commercial buildings centred on the main street, while town merchants and local squatters built homes and town houses on the north and especially south hills overlooking the town centre.
Some of these people were seriously rich. This is where I refer to Booloominbah as the headquarters of F R White’s pastoral empire, noting that even the smaller mansions had to accommodate a number of servants, as well as family members.
Most of these buildings and homes have survived. This explains the Victorian feel of the old city with its iron lacework and blue brick mansions.
You all know Armidale, so I won’t continue.
My point is, and this is the link with Melbourne, that Armidale can be sold on history and romance in a way that few Australian centres can. It cannot be sold on attractions and events.
We are actually very bad at presenting Armidale’s romance.
I think the problem is that most Armidale people don’t see it themselves, don’t understand their past.
Just at present the subject of Thunderbolt is of great interest to Express letter writers.
For the purposes of this column, it doesn’t matter whether Thunderbolt was an absolute villain (he wasn’t) or a Robin Hood figure (he wasn’t). He just has to be interesting!
On this, a question for you. Is there anybody left in Armidale who actually remembers the Thunderbolt movie?