Is Wingham Withering Or A “Vibrant Community”?

An outsider’s view 

Anyone who has read the in-depth articles about Wingham in the June issues of FOCUS magazine and The Manning Community News might be scratching their head in bewilderment because the articles are like night and day; one warns of a possible sunset, the other sees a bright, rose-coloured-glasses sunrise. 

My knowledge of Wingham is limited and I have lived in Forster only for six years, so although intrigued by this conundrum (who do you believe?) my antennae sharpened because I have just started writing my fifth non-fiction book about Australian culture and could see a possible case study here for my new book, because of the many culture compromises. 

I phoned the Tourism Manager explaining my background included destination marketing, and was offering to write a positive article with workable ideas, but needed an appointment to ask questions and gather market research/stats/good contact names etc. I was told it would need to be “run past the coms people” (translation : communications department) and a promise was made to get back to me. This never happened. 

To knowingly ‘over promise, under deliver’ is un-Australian. 

So while I am unable to offer specific growth ideas, hopefully MCN readers will find my ‘culture-compromising’ angle interesting because I believe it is the root cause of stagnation.

MidCoast Council has a reputation for a culture of not listening to majority resident feedback and also not responding to communication, which I had already experienced last year when I wrote to all councillors and the mayor about the Barrington Coast tourism branding which did not even come close to meeting proven destination branding criteria. They didn’t listen then. Still don’t. 

Aussie Culture

Culture is a sum total of our communication, values, sense of humour and the way we live and relate to others. Over the years, my research identified five core Australian values: Fair Dinkum, A Fair Cop (Copping it Sweet), A Fair Go, Having a Go and Mateship. Each core value has sub-values. For example respect, tolerance and courtesy sit under the umbrella value of A Fair Go.

Also relevant here is appreciating that communication has three components, in ranking order: tone, visual, words. They are not mutually exclusive and interact to produce an overall impact.

If we give an Aussie fair go to both MCN owner/editor Di Morrissey and Kev Ellis from the Wingham Chamber of Commerce (who wrote the FOCUS article on Wingham), what are my balanced views, starting with the article’s tone. 

Di calls a spade a spade. Kev calls a spade an exciting, fantastic, functional, ultimate, super, golden-plated shovel. A fair dinkum (the culture value in play here) question to ask MCN readers is: If you go to Bunnings to buy a spade, which spade would you buy?

The visual component reflects the tones, i.e. Di’s article is black and white, Kev’s is coloured and animated both visually with cartoon murals and by Kev’s upselling answers. 

The 3rd component of communication is words: the content. 

My take on article content is that the murals and historic markers initiatives are nice but only represent the dessert in the solutions recipe, not the main course, and are possibly “tokenism at best, superficial and cosmetic”, words used in the MCN article in another context. 

To get snapshot feedback on which Wingham is real, I phoned a friend (not Eddie Maguire) or two who either know Wingham well or has strong roots in the town. I also phoned on spec a few locals picked at random. Some thought the MCN article was too negative and I got the impression that turned them off. But nobody suggested the facts were wrong or even exaggerated. 

Although Di’s article can read like a ‘work-in-progress’ obituary, that foreboding label is a sticky label and can be peeled off because Di also offered many doable, pragmatic solutions.

Is Wingham listening?

Prima facie, the “Heritage Town” moniker seems to be the key to tourism attraction. These things may already happen but if not, encourage the Historical Society members to walk around town in peak visiting hours, with a fixed time each day when a Town Crier (recruit a volunteer) creates attention, ask the Men’s Shed whether it’s feasible they could help with the ‘renovation rescue’ of the main streets appearance, nicely ask all business owners if they could help by not parking in the main streets, contact Casino Beef Week organisers to see whether Wingham Beef Week can learn from their great recent success, ensure a Publicity Officer sends media updates to local papers, publicise their events better (like Scottish Week.) etc.etc.

The Dreaded
Barrington Coast Scam

The MCN article mentioned that Wingham “never even ranked a mention in the new tourist publication “Coast.” I visited Forster Tourism Information Centre to pick up a copy. 

How many people, particularly the visitors who help themselves rather than ask the staff, realise that this highly impressive, glossy Visitors Guide 2019 on the front page with a Welcome to the Barrington Coast inside the cover, and Barrington Coast stylised theme throughout, is not an official visitors guide. I was told that it was a private publication and produced without the consent of the tourism authorities. And yet it is sanctioned by the council because its copies are at their centre and implies that it is the overarching guide for visitors and residents.  

This anomaly is very relevant because the map inside of said Barrington Coast NSW finishes in its northern extremity at part of Tuncurry Beach. 

Blackhead, Red Head, Diamond Beach, Old Bar, Harrington have been apparently washed out to sea, and all inland areas north of Taree like Johns River, Moorland, Upper Lansdowne, Eland and Comboyne do not appear on the map at all, even though they pay rates here.

The publication is clearly based on paid advertorial, which disadvantages the many businesses that can’t afford to go upmarket but also can’t afford to be off the radar of visitors, but should be entitled to Council’s support. All councils everywhere should help, not hinder. 

“Inclusion” is now the byword in Australian politics, business and our society in general. 

The core culture value compromised here was ‘A Fair Go’ for all those struggling businesses.  

I was also told by the Forster Tourism officer that an official flagship visitor guide is on the drawing board but couldn’t say when it would happen. More confusion for new visitors, let alone the 70-plus businesses in our local phone book (or on Google searches) which changed their name to either ‘Mid Coast’ or ‘Mid North Coast’ only in 2016. Are we there yet?

Di (who has worked in the film & TV business) wrote: “Wingham needs a movie company to come to town and design and upgrade all the facades of the shops as a heritage town!” I second that motion. Old movies that come to mind are Cast Away/The Lost World (how Wingham people might feel after being swallowed up in council amalgamations) and The Color Of Money. The worst case scenario nobody wants is a future movie company deciding to use Wingham for a remake of Brigadoon, the town that disappears. 

Wingham’s Death Slide

The Wingham slide will unfortunately continue unless there is an attitude paradigm shift where everyone presses “enter” for listening, being friendly and co-operative. Delete defensiveness. 

The MCN article research uncovered many examples in Wingham of the overly defensive mindset culture now systemic in Australian society where for reasons of ego, insecurity, power, recognition or combination thereof, everyone now wants to put their personal stamp on things, an unwanted culture change exacerbated by “It’s not my fault or my responsibility” copout. 

Wingham’s Chamber of Commerce and other local bodies need to be accessible, helpful, open and honest with local media like The Manning Community News. They are friends not foe. 

Wingham needs people who will champion the pathway to progress.

And things would improve if everyone in Wingham took the attitude ‘we are all on the same team’, and remind themselves that a champion team will always beat a team of champions.

Perhaps a good slogan or catchcry for Wingham is Switzerland’s unofficial motto borrowed from Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers: All for one and one for all.  Also a good slogan for MidCoast Council –  but then, they don’t listen. 

John Buttling. 

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