The Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, two institutions that epitomise the character of rural Australia, were honoured by the Governor-General at Longreach on Thursday.
Sir Peter Cosgrove and his wife, Lady Lynne Cosgrove, acknowledged the RFDS’s 90th birthday and the 30th anniversary of the Hall of Fame at a gathering at the Hall.
He honoured the vision of those who designed and built both enterprises in the middle of the outback, saying both required a lot of faith.
“If anything speaks about the resilience of this part of the world, it’s this place,” he said. “So long as Australia has places like this, it will have its spirit and future.”
That enthusiasm was reflected by Longreach Regional Council mayor, Ed Warren, who recalled the scene in front of the Hall 30 years earlier, when 14,000 people gathered for a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II as she opened the heritage centre.
“That moment, 30 years ago, forever changed our region’s destiny,” he said. “Today the tourism industry in our town alone is worth $41M a year.”
He said while communities in western Queensland may be small, they held an iconic place in Australia’s history and culture.
“That’s why it’s so fitting that this nationally significant institution was opened here in Longreach 30 years ago.
“It celebrates that history, culture, and lifestyle that we enjoy, which so uniquely characterises Australia’s rural heritage.”
Telling the story
The Hall’s core business, telling the story of Australia’s rural history, was acknowledged as an integral part of western Queensland’s tourism scene by its chairman, David Brook.
He said that, of the $10 million provided by the federal government last year, some $7m would be put towards making the displays an attractive prospect for today’s youth.
“We have to meet the needs of the future to keep attracting the younger generation,” he said. “For our next 30 years, we’ve got to do it differently because it’s the way they want to view information.”
The money to pay for the comprehensive overhaul would be taken out of the $10m promised by the federal government at the end of 2017.
Acknowledging that they wouldn’t always be able to put their hand out to government, Mr Brook took the occasion to announce that the ASHOF board was setting up an Australian Rural Heritage Foundation, using a $5m commitment by the federal government as its core to build on.
Over the next two to three years it will be seeking another $5m from anyone who wanted to contribute to the Hall’s ongoing good health.
“This fund will ensure our future is always protected,” he said. “We hope you agree that the 30 years we’ve delivered here has stayed true to its founders.”
Some $5m of government money has recently been spent on constructing the Outdoor Entertainment Centre at the complex, with another $3m to go into its second stage, that will see a commercial kitchen and training facility installed.
Mr Brook said they were being careful not to “put all their eggs into one basket” with the venue originally planned as a host site for large horse sports events.
“We’ve got to be careful putting money into animal venues when there may not be rodeos anymore,” he said.
‘RFDS has respect of all Australians’
Both Longreach mayor, Ed Warren, and Sir Peter, paid tribute to the dedication of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which meant that while communities in the bush may be remote, they weren’t isolated.
Cr Warren said it was an honour to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the service across the road from where the first RFDS aircraft were manufactured by Qantas.
“It is an honour too, and particularly fitting, that Your Excellency, as Her Majesty’s representative in Australia, joins us today to commemorate these two great organisations, which both enjoy royal patronage,” he said.
Sir Peter said the RFDS, which owned 69 aircraft, flew 26 million kilometres a year, and was helping someone every two minutes, had the respect and gratitude of all Australians.
As a Qantas board member for nine years, he also spoke of that organisation’s pivotal role in the nation’s development.
“It comes from having a go,” he said, acknowledging the many people in the region who were toughing it out in the face of ongoing drought.