House debates

Monday, 17 August 2015

Grievance Debate

Maranoa Electorate: Waltzing Matilda Centre

4:57 pm

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in the chamber in the grievance debate this afternoon to talk about the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. There is the history, the story and the custodians, and of course it has recently been in the news in relation to the trademark of Waltzing Matilda. First of all, more than 80 per cent of the land mass of Queensland is now drought declared. Some parts of my electorate have not only had three years of declared drought but are entering the fourth. Many pastoral properties in my electorate in the hardest hit areas have been de-stocked for two years. Dams are dry and the news that we get from the weather bureau is that there is an El Nino, which is a phenomenon that possibly will lead to worsening of the drought as we go through this summer and next autumn, which is the worst news that we could possibly want.

When the money runs out on land outside of town, it also starts to run out in town, because if there is not any money out of town there is not going to be any circulation of the wealth that is created from the pastoral sector: the shearers, the truck operators, the landholders spending on building supplies and materials to look after livestock, and the transport operators. All of that money is not there because there is no stock. The other point I want to make is that there are much better prices for sheep, wool and cattle right now. We are all seeing it on the news. That is great for those who have cattle to sell and it is great for those who have sheep or wool to sell, and so the story goes on. The people who have totally de-stocked have no income. They have had no income for two years and they are going into the third, and you can imagine what that does to the economy of many of the Western Queensland towns in my electorate. They are not grain growing areas that are going to rely, when the rains do come, on restocking. First of all, the grass has to grow before they restock to enable the animals to become productive.

I also want to highlight the issue of outback tourism, which is important to the economy of many of these western Queensland towns. As you could imagine, when the winter cold comes to southern Australia it is a great time for people there to move to the wonderful climate of Queensland, particularly in the outback. They have been travelling there in their thousands in their caravans and Winnebagos for many, many years. It is a very important part of the winter economy for hospitality providers, for motels, for fuel operators, for food outlets and for other spending that circulates in these towns. What it adds to the normal economy is really what drives many of these towns through the winter.

Of course, this year and last year there has not been that pastoral economy helping many of these western Queensland towns. So I just want to recognise those small business people and their employees—the workers, the shearers—and all of those people out there who have been affected by the drought. I also want to recognise the resilience of these people. They are stoic, resilient. As a government, we need to make sure that we do as much as we can to help them, and I say that we have to do more than we have been able to.

On 18 June this year, at the peak of the tourist season, the Waltzing Matilda Centre at Winton was gutted by fire. It was a tragedy. The centre had been built up over a number of years by the Winton Shire Council, raising and borrowing money and getting grants from the Commonwealth government and the state government to establish a centre where people could come and learn of the history and the story of what in many ways could be regarded as our unofficial national anthem and of the struggle that went on in 1895 when Banjo Paterson wrote the words to Waltzing Matilda at Dagworth Station. It was first played at the North Gregory Hotel—the old one, before it burned down—by Christina MacPherson on an old piano, and that not only gave birth to the music of Waltzing Matilda but also added to the story and the history which is a part of our very early history as a nation.

When I visited the centre with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. Warren Truss, two days after it had burnt down we met with the mayor and with community workers from the centre who had just been advised that they had lost their jobs. In fact, 18 jobs went when the fire gutted the centre. In a small town like Winton in the middle of a drought there are no more jobs around locally. The shire said, 'What will we do? How will we deal with this?' I am very pleased that they have been able to find part-time jobs for those who were employed by the shire council at the Waltzing Matilda Centre.

Neither the people of Winton nor the council will not be beaten by that fire. But I want to talk about the true resilience of the people of the outback. The people of Longreach, the people of Blackall and Barcaldine, the people of Boulia and of all those other towns out there that are part of this outback tourism experience offered their support. They offered jobs to those who had lost their jobs and they asked if they could help in any way. The Qantas Founders Museum and the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame offered artefacts to the centre at Winton because it established a place where people could still come and see part of the story and some of the artefacts. Those communities caring for each other is a real demonstration of the people of the outback. It was really displayed in the actions of those other centres like the Qantas Founders Museum and the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre. They provided those artefacts to the Shire of Winton so that they would have them on display to ensure that tourists still went to Winton.

Tourists can see some of the story, if not all that they want to. The theatrette was not destroyed, so the centre is able to utilise that. Of course, at Winton they have the Age of Dinosaurs. I think every young person wants to go and see where the great dinosaurs roamed across outback Queensland more than 96 million years ago. They have other attractions, and this is part of their economy, part of the gross domestic product of these communities, particularly in the winter.

The Waltzing Matilda Centre was lost to fire on 18 June, as I said earlier, but the Winton Shire, the people of Winton and the people of the outback are not going to be beaten by that tragedy. They have an application in to the stronger regions program to assist with the rebuilding of that Waltzing Matilda Centre. I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker Prentice, and those listening this afternoon, that I will be out there championing the cause for these people, because tourism is such a significant part of the gross domestic product for these communities. It does not drought-proof their economy, but it adds to their economy. Without it this year, in those towns, I can assure you, there would be little that would keep the fabric of those communities together, because of the ravages of the drought outside the towns and the impact it is having in the towns.

Can I just say that I do understand the story of Waltzing Matilda. In fact, I worked on cattle camps on Kynuna Station, which is right next door to Dagworth Station on the Diamantina river. It was at Dagworth that Christina Macpherson and Banjo Paterson were. Patterson wrote the story, inspired by the shearer's strike and the conflict between the pastoralists, the shearers and the troopers at that very early settlement stage of our development in outback Queensland. I have been to the Combo Waterhole. I know its significance. I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker and anyone listening today, that if you were able to go there and if you walked past that billabong you could hear the ghost of the swagman as you walked past that billabong—it is a true experience that I can recommend to anyone. I have experienced it. It is part of our national story, our history and our heritage.

I say to those who think that they can claim the trademark as their own: I reject that notion. It belongs to all Australians. It truly does. You have only got to see a rugby match—or many games—to see that. In fact, even our troops overseas see Waltzing Matilda as a song that binds them together. It may have some trademark attachment to it in some areas, but it can not be exclusive to any Australian organisation. It belongs to all Australians, and at the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton, the Winton Shire are the ones who have ownership of it, have protected it and have told the story of it for all Australians. I commend them for their great work and their resilience, and I will be right behind them, pushing to make sure that they can rebuild successfully and, next tourism season, have the new centre up and running.