14 March 2015

Can the ex-industrial city of Geelong have an art and tourist revival?

The Financial Review in Feb 2014 wrote that Ford was was closing its Geelong manufacturing works, ending 300 jobs by June and the remaining 210 by 2016. Alcoa reported that its ageing aluminium smelter at Point Henry would close in August, along with a rolling mill, at a cost of 800 jobs. Shell’s refining and retailing business was sold in February to Swiss owners. None of these operations were globally competitive. The year before Qantas had already axed 300 maintenance jobs at the nearby Avalon Airport. Target had sacked 260 from its Geelong head office. For a town that had only 200,000 citizens, this was a disaster. Manuf­act­uring, the sector that had accounted for 36% of Geelong’s workforce in 1971, was down to 10% 40 years later and was dropping rapidly.

The narrative of doom and gloom, job losses and the decline of the manufacturing industry, looms large just now. And so it should do. People who have worked loyally for Ford, Holden, Toyota and Qantas for decades will find themselves redundant within two years. Even more people who work in industries supplying Ford, Holden, Toyota and Qantas with parts and services will close down soon after. Big cities like Adelaide and Melbourne will be hard hit, but smaller rural cities will be devastated.

One group of  athletic bollards.
Note Cunningham Pier stretching into the background.

The carousel in its glass pavilion, 
looking out to Corio Bay.

Waterfront Trains in Eastern Beach.
Ferris Wheel on the sand.

Increased tourism had already become Geelong’s goal! Jan Mitchell presented the concept for the Waterfront Bollard Walk to the town hall as far back as 1994. Her 103 bollards, carved in reclaimed timber pier pylons, were eventually placed in 48 different sites along the shore line. Each of the 48 groups of bollards is distinctive, all of them caricatures of famous local people or famous local professions. The Bollard Walk is quite long but Colin Mockett the Tour Guide was an excellent source of information about the city's history, from boom to bust to hopefully boom again.

The tourist can also experience other attractions along the foreshore, including the restored Carousel at Cunningham Pier. The waterfront carousel sits in a glass pavilion and overlooks the harbour with spectacular views out to Corio Bay. It was originally an Armitage Herschell Carousel of New York that was created in 1892 to tell the story of King Arthur and Camelot; later it was used by families in the gold town of Castlemaine. Of the 36 horses and two chariots, 24 are actually original; the remaining twelve horses were built using many of the original processes and materials from the USA. The Waterfront Train tours run on a 20 minutes circuit from the Carousel to Eastern beach pools, much to the children's delight.

Cunningham Pier was a key part of the City port, from the mid 1850s when it opened to the late 1970s when it closed. With the modernisation of Geelong’s ports, Cunningham Pier was no longer used for cargo and looked decrepit. More recently the goods shed were turned into a huge nightclub, and restaurants, sailing clubs and entertainment facilities moved in. Tourism boomed, at least in summer.


Now read Debbie Cuthbertson’s article on 2nd March 2014, “Geelong, Shepparton: Can art bring new life to our ravaged regional cities”, which appeared in The Age after the Ford closures. While major employers such as Ford, Alcoa and Qantas shed many hundreds of employees in Geelong and will not survive, nascent creative industries are popping up and major arts and cultural projects will begin. These green shoots are signs of a possible culture-led economic regeneration that has proven itself interstate and overseas.

Work has begun on one of Geelong's major initiatives, a $45 million library and heritage centre set to open in 2015, funded with money from the City of Greater Geelong and state and federal governments. The Figment participatory community arts festival, shared between Geelong and the USA city of Boston, returned for a second year in 2014. In May, the council hosted Mouth to Mountain, an 80-kilometre extreme art walk from the You Yangs to the mouth of the Barwon River.

Geelong Performing Arts Centre, in its current location 

These projects have the potential to provide a serious economic boost, as well as an emotional salve, to communities that are doing it tough. They give Geelong a glimpse of the kind of cultural transformations that have been seen in other manufacturing cities eg Newcastle in NSW, Leeds and Cardiff in Britain.

Made In Geelong, a project inspired by the Renew Newcastle Scheme of giving vacant premises to artists, seems to have lapsed after a initial flurry of activity, ? due to resistance from landlords. More recently, one of the premises in a vintage market precinct set up in a former wool mill and glass factory in Geelong's north has been forced to close. The biggest and most long-standing cultural renewal project - the proposed $140 million redevelopment of Geelong Performing Arts Centre (GPAC) - had ready-to-go plans. Geel­ong's new mayor said he would rather see GPAC moved to the pier, alongside a national photographic gallery and a new convention centre. This would attract more tourists to the waterfront and lure visitors off the cruise ships that are docked there.


There are already examples of industrial and non-industrial centres being re-purposed for more cultural pursuits. The former Federal Woollen Mills were built in Geelong in 1912 to service the booming wool industry. Set on land that was donated to the Commonwealth by the Geelong Harbour Trust, the mills closed in the 1970s and are now the site of an art and design precinct. The old mills also have several recycled industrial building material markets and antique markets. A Temperance Hall was built on the corner of Little Malop St and Aitchison Place in 1858. This distinctive conservative classical building used to have a Barrabool freestone facade. The hall was demolished in 1978 to enable the construction of Geelong Performing Arts Centre.

And there are examples of existing cultural institutions becoming bigger, smarter and more attractive, in order to double and treble the number of visitors who will come to Geelong. See the 2015 plans for the Geelong Art Gallery which originally opened in 1897. One example will suffice. When Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted to sell Eugene von Guerard's View of Geelong 1856, the composer made an exclusive offer to Geelong Gallery with first right of refusal. This amazing golden landscape cost $4 million, paid for by Geelong Council, the state and federal governments, community organisations and the corporate sector.

Eugene von Guerard
View of Geelong,1856
89 x 155 cm
Geelong Gallery

Former Federal Woollen Mills, built in Geelong in 1912 
now part of an art, design centre and antiques market.

Is there a downside? I certainly agree that citizens in rural cities might love 80 ks extreme art walks, concerts, new art galleries and old warehouses filled with crafts and textiles. But what those citizens need mostly are good jobs that are well paid, well respected and above all permanent. Putting on international acts near the Geelong pier where cruise ships can dock is an excellent idea, but how will the locals afford to see these acts – from their unemployment cheques?

None of the new major arts and cultural projects mooted for places like Geelong can go ahead, without substantial funding from the state government. A conservative state government would not have wanted to pour money into dying industrial centres; after all the Conservatives ruined Qantas in the first place by privatising it back in 1992. Will anything change now that we have a progressive state government?


Andrew said...

While I have no idea of the coast\benefit figures, the is no doubt the 'mayor's Christmas tree' brought huge numbers of visitors to Geelong. Pre Christmas the city had a vibrant feel to it and I think it has a bright future and why not one with an arts focus.

Don001 said...

Yes, a fundamental change is required, I can't think of an equivalent city or town in New Zealand, at least of Geelong's scale. I've only been through Geelong twice on "The Overland" but only viewed it as an industrial city / dormitory town for Melbourne but must admit I was impressed to see there was a large airport just 15km from Geelong. The Ford works appeared to be huge, I just can't believe it's closing. I will be interested to see if Geelong manages a full "metamorphosis" but yes, it will cost.

Medico said...

I went to the same conference, walked each morning along the full length of the beach and had lunch in one of the open cafes and restaurants facing the sand. Every day the entire area was jammed packed with tourists.

Mark said...

There are some major features in Geelong, the railway connection and the beach front, that give it a good head start. For someone living in Melbourne's northern suburbs using public transport it doesn't take much longer to travel to Geelong's beach than many of Melbourne's beaches. Some of Geelong's former industrial sites can become tourist attractions like the former power house that has recently been painted by street artists. However, it not only requires money but also the will of locals to embrace the city's new identity.

Hels said...


oops I forgot to mention it. The floating Christmas tree has 11,000 reflective discs and can be synchronised to music. At night, for the tourists in Geelong's thousands of beach side restaurants, the steel and lights look amazing!

Hels said...


Not just Ford, as the Age says (Nov 19th 2014). Geelong's Alcoa smelter shut in August 2014, with 500 jobs going. Another 300 jobs were cut at Avalon in 2014 when Qantas closed its maintenance facility. Boral Cement shed 100 jobs in 2013 and Target cut 260 staff from its Geelong headquarters. And of course closure of the Ford plant will lead to a further 600 jobs losses in the city this year. Privately owned companies treat their workers like expendable bits of garbage :(

I realise it happened in places like Detroit years ago.

Hels said...


Geelong used to turn its back to the gorgeous beach and harbour. Thankfully more buildings and facilities now face the beach and accentuate harbour views.

I did not jog every morning (groan) but I loved the beachy half of town. New speciality shops; Deakin Uni Waterfront campus, Deakin Medical School; new blocks of flats facing the beach; and very cool restaurants with tables outside.

Hels said...


In 2007 Geelong's G21 Economic Development Pillar planned to collaboratively improve the region’s prosperity by becoming a globally significant competitor in industry sectors of high comparative advantage, generating and attracting skilled workers and business investment within a sustainable business environment.

Ho hum... perhaps G21 was over-ambitious back in 2007? Out of touch with economic realities?

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, The hardest problem is not to create a new persona for an area, but to keep it going. Cleveland had a revitalized riverfront area with restaurants, festivals, redeveloped industrial buildings, etc., but it all seemed to fade after a few years. The problem was not enough outside tourists and too few people living downtown. Now that many buildings downtown are being converted into apartments, the riverfront has another chance. (For some odd reason, the beautiful lakefront in Cleveland is all but ignored.)

Incidentally, Taipei's port and virtual twin city is also called Jilong (pronounced the same, but also spelled and pronounced Keelong), and the Jilong river is one of the city's largest. One of the attractions there is a huge night market specializing in seafood, also the specialty of many restaurants there.

Hels said...


I am so glad to read your comment! Cleveland did a few years ago exactly what fading industrialised cities are proposing to do now - renovated riverfront area with restaurants, festivals, redeveloped old industrial buildings into museums and galleries etc etc.

But there are two things wrong with that plan:
1] thousands of skilled aircraft or car workers will not want to be waiters in the new restaurants or ticket collectors on the ferris wheel. Will they leave the city and try their luck elsewhere?
2] even if tourist numbers double.. or treble, how will help the thousands of families who will now be depending on Unemployment Benefits?

Ann ODyne said...

thanks for that informative post Hels. The Geelong Art Gallery is a very pleasant visit and The Wool Museum was a surprise to me.
Geelong could transform one of the dead factories to desalinating all that seawater they have. Got to be cheaper than that stupid 'pipeline'from elsewhere.
I notice that Portland being a Deep Water port has just arranged for tourist big shipping to dock there.
If you have seen Hobart dock you will know how beneficial that is.
Oh and Geelong has that outlandish mayor with the pink hair who used to be a paparazzi in London.

Rore said...

inflation is the killer, if living costs are low, we can survive with less, if you wages are less, we can survive, and maybe the industry can continue to make a profit. but if we are competing with the labour of china, taiwan, thailand etc it will cannot work. The prices for land have to go down, and housing opportunities have to be in place for people that are not financially well off. This middle class accomodation is lacking, rooming houses, long stay motels, communal accommodation. drop the prices and increase the opportunity, creatives will settle into areas such as Geelong but it has to be affordable, and secured so that creative energy is not just worked for its tourist dollar and then discarded when enough bourgeois culture has bought in gentrified the area to cash in on the cool. weineger aber besser

Hels said...


The mayor opened our conference and was very enthusiastic about investment in Geelong's future. But his mohawk thingy is purple now :)

You are right about the Art Gallery and the Wool Museum. Very well curated and very easy for school groups to visit - my grandchildren loved both places. But you hit the nail on the head with the deep water port. Geelong used to be such a busy port.. and needs to be again. For cruise liners and for the import, export and storage of goods.

Hels said...


Right!! Land prices will not go down and neither will the cost of petrol or the rate of inflation. The only way to build the economy and to look after local families is boost employment ..with permanent, good quality jobs! Otherwise Victoria's second biggest city will lose its population.

Medico 2 said...

The children wanted to be photographed in each group of bollards, but their favourite was the Volunteer Rifle Band. Too cute.

Hels said...

Medico 2

Good to see the entire family loved the experience. Depending on the children's ages, I would be guided by Ambler:

The Bollard Trail walk could be completed in 45 minutes or so but as there is so much to do and see it can often take longer (2 hours). Numerous other public art works can be found along this walk.

If you are driving there, don't try and park too close on a busy day, it is a waste of time and not much fun: park and walk!


mem said...

I know Geelong very well . It has great liveability but Is also fairly uninspiring when it comes to shopping . It could be any town anywhere .It needs to be different ,encouraging artists would be a great start. The other thing that I often hear is that "I would like to live in Geelong but you often have to stand up on the train in peek hour" I really think that having frequent trains would make Geelong a very attractive home for young people priced out of Melbourne . While they were at if the could put a line out to Avalon to make the line more viable.

Hels said...


you are so correct! Privatisation of the Public Transport Corporation that happened during the Kennett Government was catastrophic. I had lived and worked in Bendigo when there were five trains Melbourne-Bendigo trains a day, in EACH direction. By 1993 the services to Albury had stopped and Bendigo was almost disconnected from the capital city. What a disaster that was for Bendigo, at least until the damage was undone.

Even more so for Geelong!!

Jim said...

I love those bollards.

Hels said...


Children love the bollards because they are really lovable versions of footballers, life savers, policemen, bandsmen etc. and because they are short enough for the children to have a good look. Each year repairers go out and inspect the timber work of every single bollard...repairs are made as needed.

Bronwyn Watson said...

Visitors will love to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's painting "View of Geelong", sold to the Geelong Gallery for $4 million dollars. It is a magnificent golden panorama that encapsulates the promise of the colony of Victoria.

iODyne said...

Hello Bronwyn - "Andrew Lloyd Webber has a net worth of $1.2 billion." and snatched that painting out of the hands of Geelong Gallery for AU$2m when they only had $1.98 to spend. How fab that the vile little muppet could make a $2m profit selling it back where it belonged. I have never liked any of his stupid shows or songs.

Hels said...


I hope locals and visitors see the von Guerard. Apart from being a very expensive painting, it is also very wide and detailed.. and deserves our detailed attention.

Hels said...


I think if we look closely at the source of all great paintings in public galleries, we may not approve. This was probably even more so in the USA - railway, iron, steel and banking moguls who wanted to decrease their tax burden and increase their image as cultivated leading citizens.

The gallery wrote about the 1856 imnage: attention was paid to the observation and recording of every aspect of the vista, from the diminutive buildings clustered in the township of Geelong, and around its port, to the surrounding pastoral landscape, the distant You Yangs and the even more distant Dandenong Ranges, the steamer on Corio Bay, the bullock team in the foreground and the deeply-cut valley of the Barwon.

tushar soni said...
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