A DETAILED concept plan specifically designed to boost Wonthaggi tourism, with the town’s visitor information centre at its heart, was put to the Bass Coast Shire Council two years ago, but so far, nothing has come of it.
Mark Stephenson, from Wonthaggi, developed plans for a Wonthaggi Underground Discovery Trail, linking key mining and cultural sites around the town with bike/walking paths.
Crucial to the concept is the Visitor Information Centre/Centennial Centre. The council plans to close the VIC element of the centre on June 30.
“Within the context of the project, the functions of the VIC would be ticketing to the underground tours at the State Coal Mine, merchandise derived from the features of The Wonthaggi Underground, and hiring bikes and even Segways to ‘Ride The Shunt’.
“’Ride The Shunt’ would take visitors around the perimeter of town to the State Coal Mine Heritage Precinct, the Rescue Station and Number 5 Brace and then reconnect them to the Wonthaggi CBD, ensuring its commercial viability,” Mr Stephenson said.
Other plans include a Miners Memorial Wall and Wishart Labyrinth at Wishart Reserve, a detailed indigenous culture display at the VIC, and new attractions at the State Coal Mine such as:
• The Big Shunt – a towering viewing platform atop a poppet head accessed via a caged elevator; and
• The Runaway Coal Skip Ride – a safe and adrenaline fuelled luge type ride from the top of the Poppet Head.
Eventually, he’d like to see historic train rides on the former line introduced in the middle of town.
Mr Stephenson said Wonthaggi should be proud of its remarkable history, and highlighted many ‘fast facts’ in his plan that would intrigue visitors.
• Located on the edge of town, the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine is the only black coal underground tour in the southern hemisphere!
• Mined by hand with pick and shovel, the town sits atop a 5000km labyrinth of tunnels, and exported 17 million tons of black coal by rail.
• Mine conditions were some of the most dangerous in the world, and in dramatic disasters many miners lost their lives.
“Culture is the bedrock of a society, therefore preservation, renewal and attractive presentation is of significant value to communities.
“Providing emotive connections to these cultural values promotes local ambassadorship and motivates touring visitors, domestic and international, to seek out community places and attractions to experience and understand our lives.
“It’s effectively a major driver of tourism jobs growth and services in Bass Coast Shire’s economy!”
Mr Stephenson said the Wonthaggi Underground Discovery Trail would bring Wonthaggi’s state and nationally significant heritage to life.
“The aim is to establish a cluster of creative public arts attractions, and link all historic sites to Wonthaggi’s CBD, and evocatively communicate our story in one experience.
“Digital technology will interactively link and market a suite of iconic features displaying Wonthaggi’s historically significant role in powering the railways and early industrialisation of Victoria from 1909 to 1968. “Precinct linkage is proposed via a community activity and heritage trail to physically encircle the town and network the underground tour experience back to Wonthaggi’s heart, and wider trails system.”
Mr Stephenson said business operators will gain unique assets to leverage their place of trade, and grow local jobs.
“It’s essentially a cutting edge attraction package to aggressively target visitors from Melbourne, Gippsland day-trippers, intra and interstate and international tourism, and promote Wonthaggi as a creative cultural destination with an engaging history and the only underground experience in the southern hemisphere.
“It positions Wonthaggi as ‘The Key Gateway Linkage’ between Destination Phillip Island, Prom Country and Destination Gippsland, to leverage existing Phillip Island, South and Central Gippsland nature tourism and heritage trails and markets.
“It will assist in converting day visitors to overnight stayers, by being part of a new, exciting and ‘marketable’ full day itinerary and experience.”
Morgan Barnes from Wonthaggi business Wheel Heat said the concept needs to be taken seriously.
“I can’t see the town going further in any way without a plan like this,” he said.
“Mark’s plan is a brilliant concept. He’s put in all of this hard work and handed to the council on a platter, and it’s about time it was looked at.
“The council is ignoring how it can make money. They’ve become too focussed on what to close to save money.
“As a town we’ve become static and we’ll stay that way until something happens.”
Grand plan to celebrate Wonthaggi’s mining past