City of Greater Geraldton won’t rule out Houtman Abrolhos Islands anniversary festival spend

Francesca MannGeraldton Guardian

City of Greater Geraldton councillors have agreed to consider allocating $50,000 to the Batavia Coast Maritime Heritage Association for a one-off event celebrating the history of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands.

A further $100,000 will be considered in the 2019-2020 budget if the heritage association is able to secure significant funding from other sources.

The Balayi — Open Your Eyes festival will be held on July 27 and 28, marking the 400th year since the islands were discovered by Dutch explorers Frederick de Houtman and Jacob d’Edel in 1619.

The discovery occurred 151 years before Captain James Cook discovered the east coast of Australia in 1770.

Cr Natasha Colliver said the festival would be a significant opportunity to showcase the city.

“It will put us on the map for our local maritime history, which is like none other in Australia,” she said.

“It will host a series of events ... viewed from the different cultural experiences from 1619 right through to the current stories of the Abrolhos and our rich local Yamatji culture.

“And it’ll promote the unique beauty and remoteness of the Abrolhos Islands, which we all agree has significant value to our community.

“The event is much bigger than just Australia and us. It builds on our strong ties with the Netherlands.”

During the ordinary council meeting in October, councillors voted 11-4 in favour of considering the funding allocation in the 2018-19 mid-year budget review.

Cr Colliver said the group had already applied for funding from several organisations and groups, including Country Arts WA and Lotterywest.

But Cr Victor Tanti opposed the motion, noting the need for “real tourism” to be developed first on the islands.

“We might get 3000-5000 extra visitors to Geraldton, but then what?” he said.

“No progress has been made in regard to real tourism on the islands ... and we need to convince the State Government to let it happen so people can stay at the islands.

“What annoys me is there is tourism on the islands which is totally unregulated and uncontrolled.

“I also have doubts on whether the 400th anniversary will actually be that much of an attraction for people.”

Crs Tanti, Tarleah Thomas, Graeme Bylund and Jennifer Critch voted against the motion.

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