Because visitor centres play such an important role in elevating public appreciation and understanding of complex natural ecosystems, I have become a passionate advocate for having a world class visitor centre for Fraser Island.
Having seen visitor centres in all other states and many overseas countries, I am appalled at the lack of visitor centres in Queensland national parks and at how poorly those visitor centres that Queensland does have compare with their interstate counterparts. There are some great visitor centres in Queensland, but these have not been developed by the Queensland Government. Rather, they have grown out of community and commercial interests with strong local government support.
If anyone wants to appreciate good national park visitor centres, they need to look at Tasmania and the Northern Territory. I never cease to be impressed by the visitor centre in the Desert Wildlife Park or at Cradle Mountain. Both of these provide unforgettable vistas looking out into the natural environment being protected. This is why Maaroom is my preference for siting a visitor centre for Fraser Island and Great Sandy Strait. Moreover, Maaroom is much more accessible than commonly thought.
In Queensland I have been particularly struck by some visitor centres. The visitor centre for the World Heritage Riversleigh Fossil Fields is located in Mt Isa, about 200 kms from Riversleigh. This centre is privately run and seems to have been created through a local government initiative. It is supported by admission fees ($12.00 per adult, with concession prices for pensioners and children).
The Age of Dinosaurs Museum has a spectacular 1,800 hectare location atop a large mesa donated to the foundation 20 kms outside Winton. It is such a ‘must-see’ that it causes people to stay an extra day in Winton. Interestingly, it was built by a private foundation in a collaborative effort supported by $500,000 from the Queensland Government’s Q150 Legacy Infrastructure funding, $500,000 from Winton Shire Council, plus more funding from other sources. The museum is now mostly financially self-supporting but continues to seek widely for more funds.
Queensland’s Outback has a number of visitor centres of sorts. However, almost all of these are associated with historical museums, which receive some funding and support from local and state governments. Some though have been much more ambitious, to the point that they are now vital to the economy of some Queensland communities. Longreach, for example, has the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Museum, while Barcaldine has the Workers’ Heritage Centre and Blackall has its wool scour. All of these are focussed on history and all have received government funding to help establish them. There is no reason why visitor centres that are explaining and presenting natural history should not receive the same level of public support.
The Great Barrier Reef Aquarium in Townsville is the effective visitor centre for this large World Heritage area. It focuses on presenting the natural history of the reef, and does so with suck success that thousands of visitors annually extend their Townsville stay by a day. This visitor centre opened in 1987 as part of the Bicentennial Commemorative Project, meaning its establishment was paid for by the Commonwealth Government. Visitors now pay $28 per adult to explore this amazing facility.
Having explored so many visitor centres during my 25 years leading GO BUSH Safaris to every state in Australia, I have long deliberated on what sort of visitor centre is need for Fraser Island. I am not in favour of siting it on Fraser Island, and I note that many visitor centres that really work, such as the Great Barrier Reef Centre or the Riversleigh Fossil Centre, are not located within the areas they are interpreting. My preferred site for the Fraser Island visitor centre is Maaroom. It is close to Maryborough, only five kilometres from the Cooloola Coast Road, and offers spectacular views of the Ramsar listed Great Sandy Strait and across the water to World Heritage listed Fraser Island. It is also one of the best bird-watching sites in Queensland for migratory waders and it offers no distractions to appreciating the area’s natural history.
John Sinclair (AO), FIDO