Geraldton lights up for inaugural Shore Leave Festival, labelled “genesis of an identity”

Michael RobertsGeraldton Guardian
Guests enjoying the Abrolhos Island long table lunch.
Camera IconGuests enjoying the Abrolhos Island long table lunch. Credit: Shot by Thom

Geraldton’s new signature festival has been hailed a big success, with food lovers from across WA descending on the port city over the long weekend.

Abrolhos gin, fresh caught western rock lobster and Kalbarri pale ale were among the produce offerings on show throughout the Shore Leave Festival.

The Geraldton foreshore and Fisherman’s Wharf were a hive of activity from Friday to Monday, with festival guests embracing all things Mid West.

Tourism Geraldton Midwest CEO Matt Rutter said organisers were thrilled with the public feedback.

The festival was delayed for four months due to COVID lockdowns and the fallout from cyclone Seroja.

“We’ve had a really good response from the different events and the community has been really engaged,” he said. “It’s all about raising the profile of the region and increasing visitation.

“It’s the first step in a long journey.”

Paddock to Plate.
Camera IconPaddock to Plate.

Hopes are that the foodie festival will be a long-term economic boost for the region, with the Mid West Development Commission estimating similar events add $1.5m to the local economy in just the first year.

“In future years as Shore Leave develops an increased awareness of Geraldton and the region, visitation outside of the event period will occur,” MWDC acting CEO Anne Finlay said.

Mr Rutter said the sky was the limit on expanding the festival’s program going forward.

“I genuinely think it can be the premier event in WA,” he said.

“There are a lot of learnings, but you have to start somewhere. It is about raising awareness in this region, which has been totally underappreciated and under promoted.

Rumble Jam perform at the Sea Shanty Challenge.
Camera IconRumble Jam perform at the Sea Shanty Challenge. Credit: Michael Roberts/Geraldton Guardian

Pleased with crowd numbers, Mr Rutter said the majority of the tickets sold for Friday’s Abrolhos long-table lunch were bought by people living outside Geraldton.

“I think when the borders open people will travel the world for it,” he said.

Although there were reports of an accommodation shortage, City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn said it was a good problem to have.

“I think the festival has been run extremely well,” he said.

“It will just be a matter of brand recognition and establishing a consistent message. You only achieve that by running the event year on year.”

He said Shore Leave marked a turning point in the Abrolhos Islands opening up to tourism. “We see this festival as the genesis of an identity, a branding and an event we can all be proud of.”

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