Rockhampton was a great place to grow up. If like me you loved the outdoors, you could fish and explore till you dropped. Sporty kids had more opportunities than you could count, and you only had to have an ounce of interest in the arts to be embraced by proponents of Chamber Music and the Eisteddfod. I was involved in all three activities at various times, the outdoors winning by a long margin. In Rockhampton, you got to meet all sorts of people, and that introduced you to new things. Riding motorbikes was big for a while. In my later teens, New Moon Theatre Company included Rockhampton on its circuit, bringing two or three seasons of absolutely first-class theatre (Tommy, Life on Mars and Beach Blanket Tempest were simply made for me, but Royal Show and Ned Kelly ranked right up there too). Several actors from New Moon became quite big names, including Gina Riley, Terry Serio and others.
Looking back there were some things that were not a credit to the town. Basically, I think the main problem was that for much of the 1970s, the town’s attitudes were a reflection of the 1950s elsewhere. Rockhampton was much more isolated than it is today, and amongst other things there remained deep cultural wounds.
If you have been reading my articles written over the past 20 years, you will see that as far as our region goes, I have lamented the fact there has not been sufficient drive to offset wholesale changes that have occurred in the economy and world around us. We have embraced mining support and some other industrial activities, and that is great, but really there was little or no investment in the community between the Rex Pilbeam era and the recent upgrading of Kershaw Gardens, and the various riverbank beautification, and family focussed projects. A lot of the inertia comes from a resistance evident since Rockhampton’s role as a port city was challenged by the railway, which by 1897 had made it north as far as Gladstone. Holding your ground is important, but you have to recognise when to embrace change as well. At long last, I think we are seeing a change in thinking.
The development of Beef Week as a premier attraction on our events calendar is a credit to those who have stuck with and built the initiative over more than 30 years. Today it is a huge undertaking, and this year it is impressive that the committee headed by Ian Mill, has decided to weather the COVID-19 storm and push ahead. I’ll be amazed if the turnout doesn’t reach stampede levels – people want to get out, to be involved in their passions and to have some fun. If you have not been before, get on one of the shuttle busses and make an appearance. There’s great food opportunities, some fun bars, heaps and heaps of animals to look at, activities and also opportunities to even learn something about an industry that I think is hugely underrated in its sophistication and the opportunities it offers both economically, and for young people starting out in their working life.
Securing Rocky Nats was a huge step forward in generating interest in our town. People came from far and wide, and like Beef Week, accommodation was at a premium. Cafés and restaurants that bothered to open were run off their feet. And again, there was something for everyone – you have to admire the equipment, even if cars are not really your thing, and the turnout for the grand parade was huge and inclusive. Despite rain showers, the reviews were universally positive.
Finally, and perhaps more culturally than economically aligned was the turnout for ANZAC Day. Getting up at 3am, I acted as a ‘roadie’ for our local bagpipes and drums band, Rockhampton Highlanders. The first set was at the Gracemere Dawn Service, and what an amazing event. Following the military horses, the band led a short parade, which amazingly morphed into a procession where probably 3,000 people all made their way to the dawn service held at the RSL. Then it was off to Emu Park for a lovely procession, which followed a dawn service attended by, as I understand it, 4,000 or more. And finally, the Rockhampton march could only be described as rousing, given the incredible tide of people lining more than 5 blocks.
We should not be afraid of initiatives that enable interaction with new and interesting technologies, but for years I have been saying that we need to play to our strengths. From what I can see we are doing an excellent job of capitalising on these in the rural sector, light to medium industry, and what is perhaps unmatched community spirit. Perhaps we should capture that in a slogan – beef, bogans and bagpipes.