Find local art and history with the help of walking and driving trails, along with helpful volunteer tour guides.
The Art Drive map propels me southwards from Geraldton for a morning outing ... first, the 24km towards Greenough. For Art Drive, which I picked up at the Geraldton Visitor Centre, lists 20 art installations, and the route between them.
There are lots round Greenough and Walkaway, then more on the roads out east and then north to Mullewa and back, along the Geraldton-Mt Magnet Road, to Geraldton.
It’s just what I need to set off with, but at Greenough I get well and truly sidetracked enjoying coffee and biscuits in the sun at the nice Central Greenough Cafe and Visitor Centre, the gateway to the Central Greenough Historic Settlement, and then walking through the buildings of the historic settlement itself (worth the $8 entry fee for adults).
There has been agriculture here since the 1860s, and the police station building dates from 1863, school from 1865, post office from 1874 and store from 1886. They are well presented and all are open. I sit in St Peter’s Catholic Church and enjoy the still quiet, then stroll on through the Presbytery and Hackett’s Cottage Store, before stopping to photograph The Feeding Time, a pair of outstretched hands made entirely from recycled metal by Peter James which serve as a bird feeder.
On the way to Walkaway I am side-tracked by the Walkaway Wind Farm — 22 turbines, 85m high, producing 55MW of power, and rather statuesquely beautiful in the green landscape.
The Art Drive gives me impetus and theme, but the landscape itself, and the lives living on it, start to dominate the day.
The Yamaji Drive Trail loops around the city of Geraldton, and then heads out to Greenough and Walkaway, and inland to Mullewa. In Geraldton itself, just north of the CBD, there’s the Midden Site at Bluff Point. At Tenindewa there’s Woolya Reserve, the site of an old Aboriginal soak and a popular spot for wildflowers. There are 14 sites, with a good map available from the Geraldton Visitors Centre.
There are lots of themed walk trails in and around Geraldton, including the excellent Marine Terrace Trail, which explains the history and life of the city. It is well signposted, with historic photographs and explanations. Start from the sign at the Dome cafe.
I pick up the City Art Map at the Visitor Centre. A community project, it includes 65 art pieces around the city, in a pocket-sized map. It has information on public art, street art, art institutions and artists’ studios in the CBD, and I wander round quite a few. Again, it provides another avenue through which to see the city.
The foreshore is a magnet for families. Champion Bay is safe for youngsters, there are three coffee spots, and an adventure playground. The playground and water park are in a grassed area next to the beach and port.
There are three separate play areas and an area for toddlers. Mums, dads and toddlers are there all day — it’s an ideal spot for visiting families to spend time together.
Tour guide David l’Anson has skilfully just shown a group of visitors around the HMAS Sydney II memorial in Geraldton, explaining the details of Australia’s worst maritime disaster, and its emotional impact on families and the city.
And he has done so voluntarily, as all Geraldton Voluntary Tour Guides do.
“We do this as a courtesy to the visitors to our town,” David explains humbly. He has been doing the tour for 10 years.
This is grassroots tourism at its best. And, as travellers worldwide seek authentic experiences ... well, this is surely as authentic as it gets.
Geraldton Voluntary Tour Guides is a dedicated group of local people who show visitors around the HMAS Sydney II Memorial and the Old Hospital and Gaol. A guide is rostered daily at the memorial and twice weekly at the hospital site.
Nearly 20,000 people went on their tours between July 2016 and May 2017 — including more than 7500 around the Sydney memorial, 2385 at the Old Hospital and Old Gaol, and 8497 on cruise ship tours. There are also special tours for schools, coach tours and visiting dignitaries.
The guides are all trained, uniformed and professional. As a spokesperson says: “It would be difficult to find a more cohesive and happy group operating anywhere in WA.”
What’s more, the Geraldton Voluntary Tour Guides are now self-funded and in a healthy financial position. They do not charge for tours, but have a donation box. Cruise ships include a $2 donation per passenger paying for a town tour, which includes visiting the Sydney memorial.
The association was established with help from the City of Greater Geraldton, and it still subsidises their office rental.
But the guides cover their office expenses, computer equipment, stall facilities, printing and uniforms. They recently printed 7000 third-edition HMAS Sydney booklets which are sold to visitors. It includes the complete honour roll of all 645 men and many photographs.
At the end of our tour, we are all handed a postcard and advertising material. This is offered at the guides’ own expense. They also sell three different postcards for $1 each.
And now the guides sell replica HMAS Sydney sweetheart badges, based on the design of a badge left on the wharf, which are proving popular with visitors.
They have contributed $3000 to the Rotary Club of Geraldton to help build the Pool of Remembrance at the Sydney Memorial, and made contributions to the Old Gaol at the Bill Sewell Complex to create an interpretive centre.
Geraldton Voluntary Tour Guides see their role very simply: “To promote tourism within the City of Greater Geraldton by creating a better understanding of what the region offers to visitors and increase where possible the tourism dollars.”
As David l’Anson is rounding up our tour of the HMAS Sydney Memorial, he suggests we get down to the Museum of Geraldton for the free 11.30am tour, which includes spectacular 3-D underwater video of the Sydney wreck.
He then talks about all sorts of other things we might experience in the Geraldton area, including the Central Greenough Historic Settlement, with its “nice place for coffee”.
To help increase knowledge of the area, and promote it to visitors, Geraldton Voluntary Tour Guides have taken part in regular “Know Your Product Tours”.
The 12-monthly bus tours are part of the program “Tourism is Everyone’s Business”, aimed at improving how the community values tourism in Geraldton.
The initiative has Progress Midwest in partnership with Mid West Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Geraldton Guardian behind it.
DisclaimerStephen Scourfield was a guest of Australia’s Coral Coast.
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