Cut takes wind out of Geraldton group’s sails

Francesca MannGeraldton Guardian

The team behind a new festival celebrating the Houtman Abrolhos Islands say they are disappointed a funding contribution from the City of Greater Geraldton has been reduced.

The Balayi — Open Your Eyes! Houtman 400 Festival, on July 27 and 28, will mark 400 years since the islands were discovered by Dutch explorers Frederick de Houtman and Jacob d’Edel in 1619.

Late last year councillors agreed to consider allocating an extra $100,000 towards the inaugural festival on top of their initial $50,000 contribution, if the Batavia Coast Maritime Heritage Association secured external funding.

But on Tuesday, June 25, councillors unanimously agreed to reduce the amount to $50,000 instead.

Festival co-ordinator Rebecca Millar said while the City’s support was appreciated the decision had put the team in a “tough situation”.

“We were under the impression we would get the extra $100,000, otherwise we would not have put it in the budget,” she said.

“But we’ve created a festival on the budget of $150,000 from the City ... and every letter of support was about matching funds.”

The Houtman Abrolhos Islands lie about 60km off the Geraldton coast and consist of 122 islands.
Camera IconThe Houtman Abrolhos Islands lie about 60km off the Geraldton coast and consist of 122 islands. Credit: Zoe Keenan, The Geraldton Guardian

She said $100,000 was a lot of money to ask for, but it was for leveraging funds. “It’s not like we’re asking for that money and then not doing anything,” she said.

“This has come as such a shock and has a big impact but we’ll still create a fantastic event.”

Ms Millar said she was most concerned about losing significant funding from the Australia Council for the Arts.

“They’ve given us that money because of the vision of our festival,” she said.

“It really puts a spotlight on Geraldton as that funding is so sought after and the whole arts community will want to know what’s happening here.

“We don’t want to lose that opportunity.”

With festival events starting as early as July 1, association chairman Howard Gray said the council’s decision was a “last -minute disappointment”.

“We’re going a long way to put the islands in the hearts and minds of locals and visitors,” he said.

“The impact of this on a small group of volunteers is enormous.

“We’re having to cut things out when we really don’t want to ... and we’ve already had to cancel the long table lunch event.”

During Tuesday’s council meeting, councillors Natasha Colliver, Michael Reymond and Sally Elphick voiced their disappointment at the reduced funding.

But Cr Victor Tanti, an advocate for developing tourism on the islands, said he was a “little unhappy” the council was agreeing to contribute any extra funding at all.

“I understand the event is historically significant, but it hinges on the islands and unfortunately they’re not tourist-friendly,” he said during June’s agenda forum.

Councillors also agreed to allocate funding to the Community Group of Greenough, Mullewa Muster & Rodeo and Geraldton Greenough Sunshine Festival.

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