GM’s Log – July 2017

It’s pretty chilly here in Hobart now, with a dusting of snow on the mountain most days. It reminds us that this is the time for repairs and maintenance and preparation for the coming season. It’s not exactly tropical here in the AWBF office in the Salamanca Arts Centre, but there’s plenty of work to do, preparing grant applications and sponsorship proposals and writing endless reports to ensure that we have the financial resources to produce another great festival in 2019. The Tasmanian Government has made a welcome commitment to support three festivals (2017, 2019 and 2021), but that amounts to just around half what we need to produce the event. The rest comes from corporate sponsorship, exhibitors and organisations like the Australian National Maritime Museum. Each of these contributors must be looked after to ensure that they receive a satisfactory return on investment and continue to support the Australian Wooden Boat Festival into the future. This will be the subject of a short presentation at the next AWBF Member’s Meeting on Monday 7 August 2017.

That meeting will be the final one for our long-serving Treasurer Peter Benson, who has donated 13 years of professional financial guidance and stewardship. Peter has guided the festival through some rough patches over the years and his qualifications as a senior chartered accountant have been invaluable. I know that when I joined the organisation in 2011, it didn’t take long to work out that nothing got past Peter’s eagle eye in the day-to-day accounts or the monthly financial reports. ‘Purser Pete’, as he’s affectionately known, could spot a fuzzy figure in a balance sheet faster that a hungry seagull spots a sardine in the water. I learned that my budget forecasts would be checked and adjusted and checked again to see that we weren’t spending money we didn’t have. I came to have huge respect for Peter’s acumen and head for business. I’m pleased to say that we developed a great partnership and I’m indebted to him for teaching me things about tax law and corporate governance that I never suspected I didn’t know. I will miss Pete’s bombshell visits to the office and the sound advice he’s given me over the last six years. Peter is off to enjoy his love of adventure travel and sailing and he’s earned every minute of his retirement.

We’ll also be taking advantage of our ‘off year’ to accept a warm invitation from our friends at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival in September. Chairman Steve Knight and myself will travel to Seattle to attend the festival, with a two-part job to do. First, we’ll be scouting for boats, boat owners and influencers who can help us promote the participation of the United States as our guest nation in 2019. Our two nations have far more in common than that which separates us, and the culture of wooden boats is strong there. Many American enthusiasts have been to the Hobart festival and have returned home singing its praises. Now it’s time for us to go there and spread the word even further. The second part of the job is scouting for new inspiration and ideas. The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival has a great reputation for authenticity and hands-on wooden boat activities. We’re looking for good ideas that we can bring back to the AWBF to enrich that part of our program. We’ll be joined in Port Townsend by AWBF members travelling independently, including Cathy Hawkins, Joy Phillips and Mike Ponsonby. It’s an Aussie invasion, but they did invite us!

– Paul Cullen, General Manager AWBF, Inc.

GM’s Log – June 2017

This isn’t a full newsletter, but a quick update on what’s happening around the AWBF traps in June.  Apologies for an electronic whoops that saw an old March newsletter go out to subscribers in error earlier this week.  Our computer system is often smarter than its operators.  We are much better with wooden boats.

The tourism awards season is upon us and AWBF will be nominating for the Tasmanian Tourism Awards and for the Qantas Australian Tourism Awards.  Readers may remember that we won Gold in the Tasmanian Tourism Awards for the 2015 event and went on to place third in the Australian Tourism Awards in the category Major Events and Festivals.  Not a bad result, when you consider that our podium partners were the National Flower Show (Floriade) and the Melbourne Cup.  We’re hoping to better that result this time around.

Headline results are in for the 2017 MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival post-Festival analysis.  Attendance numbers were close to the 2015 result, with 220,000 visitors over four days.  Ordinary weather on the last two days dimmed some enthusiasm, or we might well have set a new record.  Boat owners didn’t seem to notice, with some great compliments on the event following through.  Traders and sponsors were very happy with their results and our special Dutch guests were over the moon with their adventures.  The beautiful BM 16m2, which was built at the Wooden Boat Centre in Franklin by a young Dutch team of shipwrights, sold to a great new owner after a lively auction on site.

AWBF will be sending representation to the USA in September, to attend the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival in Washington State.  This is the largest wooden boat festival in the US and draws enthusiasts from all over North America.  We have plenty of friends there already, excited about the decision to welcome the USA as our guest nation in 2019.  We will be presenting highlights of the Hobart festival and encouraging boat owners and their friends to make the trip to Tasmania in February 2019.  We’ll try to overcome the perception that Tasmania is located at the far end of the earth and is very difficult to reach (an opinion that’s not unknown in Sydney, for that matter!) by pointing out that Honolulu is halfway across the Pacific and makes a convenient stopover.

We are very pleased that the Tasmanian Government through Events Tasmania has confirmed support for the festival through 2019 and 2021.  Premier Will Hodgman recently acknowledged that the festival is a major contributor to the Tasmanian economy and a welcome part of the campaign to turn Tasmania into the events capital of Australia, with the aim to bring 1.5 million visitors by 2020.  As long as some of them bring their wooden boats, we’ll vote for that.

GM’s Log – March 2017

We’ve had a big month, there’s no denying!

It may seem a little poignant, when the last wooden boat sails out into the Derwent to make its way home, and crowds of happy patrons and their kids in their strollers begin to head up the hill and the banners start to come down and the musicians pack up their instruments after another successful MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival, but in fact, that’s when we get down to work.  Our site crew and contractors are racing to pull down the infrastructure and return public spaces to their normal use.  We have containers to pack and exhibitions to close.  We have press releases to write and thousands of photographs to process and about a million ‘thank you’ letters to send out. Not to mention a stack of invoices to pay and dozens of reports to prepare.  It takes a good 4-6 weeks just to take care of the basics, before we can say ‘it’s over for another two years’.  And of course, we’ve already had our first early meetings to discuss the 2019 festival with the key players.

The action ‘behind the scenes’ is in many ways just as exciting as what the public sees and it is what brings back our army of volunteers and project leaders for every event.  We’re very proud of what we produce in our small capital city with a pretty waterfront, on an isolated island at the end of the earth.  Increasingly, people around the world have heard about, or experienced first hand what many say is the most exciting wooden boat festival in the world. “You have to get to Hobart” we hear more frequently in the magazines and web forums, “You won’t believe what they put on there”. That we present this show on as a free community event almost entirely run by volunteers is quite an amazing accomplishment when you think about it.  There are no gates, no tickets, no fences – it’s literally free for everyone.

Of course, electricity isn’t free, or equipment hire or portable toilets or stage lighting – and we need a lot of those things – but our generous sponsors in government, in the private sector and in the maritime community make it possible to undertake this major event.  Our exhibitors and vendors and community groups help, too, to generate the money we need for production and marketing and printing and a dozen other things.  Somehow, we make it happen and when it’s over, we generally have big, sleepy grins on our faces.

To our unbelievably loyal corps of AWBF volunteers, to our amazingly talented and hard-working project leaders, to our supportive all-volunteer Board, to the wonderful boat owners who contribute so much and to the hundreds of thousands of happy patrons who come to see us – thank you!  It’s been a great one.

Paul Cullen

General Manager

Australian Wooden Boat Festival, Inc.