It’s all happening in Geelong

In recent times, the Geelong region has become a seachange haven, but moving from the capital city does not mean a life with little entertainment – the area has become a major events mecca. Its calendar is packed with events and festivals simply because the area and its people have so much to offer, says Geelong Major Events committee member Nicholas Heath.

“There is a willingness in regional or country areas to embrace events, which is very important for an event to be successful,” he says. “Events stumble and fall because a portion of the community don’t want that event; but in places like Geelong, people accept minor inconveniences like temporary road closures because as a community they want to support their region and attract people to the area.”

Not only is there community support, but the region has the infrastructure, is an easy commute to Melbourne and its airports, has good venues and an abundance of natural assets to attract organisers to the area.

“We have a good bank of accommodation across the region for the huge numbers of people expected to come for these major events, everything from five-star hotels to camping,” Mr Heath says. “We are blessed with beautiful long beaches, the bay creates a natural amphitheatre so we host a lot of water-based activities, and our forefathers gave us a lot of parks, which are great for use as open sports fields. And it’s obviously more cost-effective to host events in regional areas.”

The region not only plays host to a number of annual local events and festivals, but also one-off international and national events. “Where do we start?” Mr Heath says. “There is Skandia Geelong Week, which is obviously one of the biggest events on the calendar. It’s a very old event that we have grown and enhanced so it has become much more than a sailing event. And this year we are hosting the Australian Masters Games, which will be huge and bring many thousands to the area.

“Then there’s the 2010 UCI Road World Cycling Championships, which will bring the world’s best cyclists and huge crowds to town, plus ironman events, the Pako Festa, music festivals and agricultural shows that just seem to grow and grow. We’ve become very adept as a region at managing any type of event and want to become renowned for being able to host everything.”

When it was decided the cycling championships would be raced for the first time in the southern hemisphere, the Geelong and Melbourne bid won out against stiff competition. Not only does Geelong provide a picturesque backdrop for the event but it also provides a challenging course for the sport’s elite.

And the city has an impeccable major events record so the decision-makers knew Geelong could successfully host the world’s most prestigious one-day cycling event, says Michael Palmer, the general manager of the 2010 Championships. “Geelong was integral to the success of the bid. One thing [that contributed to the successful bid] was the enthusiasm of the various local councils and the State Government. And I think Melbourne and Geelong are able to demonstrate a pretty superb track record of running major events at the highest level.

“But I think one of the main things that really won it was the race course. The international federation came out to have a look to see if it was challenging enough. What really helped was that Geelong really can deliver a world-class, very difficult road race for the competitors. Without that it would have been a hard sell to win the bid. It’s very much in and around the city of Geelong and really will highlight the area in a spectacular way.

“Cycling is very much a European-based sport, where all of the major cycling events are held. These events are very rarely held outside of Europe. In fact it’s the first time this event has ever been held in the southern hemisphere so it really is, in some ways, a big step for international cycling to have world championships in Geelong.

“There are a lot of people who’ve been involved in cycling for a very long time who said they thought they’d never see the day. The men’s and women’s road races on that final weekend are the most significant singleday events in world cycling so it really is an extraordinary coup to host it.”

When the World Championships were last held outside Europe, in Canada in 2003, an estimated 267 million television viewers saw the event. Mr Palmer expects about 200,000 to attend in 2010.

Another major event, the Australian International Airshow, will also showcase the Geelong region. This year marks the ninth anniversary of Avalon’s biannual event. It is one of the world’s top airshow spectaculars and attracted more than 180,000 visitors in 2007.

Avalon is an ideal venue for the event, the chief executive of the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace and Defence Exposition, Ian Honnery, says. “When a venue was being sought to host the airshow, a number of places around Victoria and Australia were looked at, but the most suitable was the very under-utilised Avalon airport,” he says. “We needed an aerodrome capable of taking the largest aircraft in the world that was not congested and surrounded by an area that wasn’t built up. In choosing Avalon, we found a space that was very suitable operationally, was close to a major capital city and airport and part of a vibrant and progressive regional community.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that regional communities such as Geelong have a higher rate of community participation and a very strong community spirit. They get behind major events and exhibitions with an enthusiastic sense of support and ownership.

“And the commitment from the City of Geelong in particular has assured not only continued support of the event but a commitment for us to grow into one of the leading events of its kind in the world.”

It is not only sporting events that dominate Geelong’s events calendar. Last year there were 73 entrants in the Pako Festa Pako Parade and more than 100,000 people attended the festival, which has become Victoria’s largest multicultural event, says Diversitat chief executive Michael Martinez.

“The Pako Festa grew out of an idea from the traders and ethnic communities more than 25 years ago,” he said. “We now have about 30 cultural community groups participating with up to 60 community groups. It really is an opportunity to celebrate multiculturalism. Most importantly, it has helped to break down barriers and brought together a wide range of cultural groups to celebrate together.”