The 'Ludwig Leichhardt Expedition Exposition'
– ‘Food, fun, facts and friends’
The “Leichhardt Expo” (21-26 September 2004) was an outstanding success, thanks in large part to the core funding provided by the Queensland Government through its Events Regional Development Program.
On 1 October 2004, Councillor Ross Thornton, Chairman of the Steering Committee, Leichhardt Expo, submitted the final report on the week-long events – this is an edited and abridged version. (Our thanks to retired Taroom Shire Council executive John Jennings for this summary, and our acknowledgements to the local councils involved, many of which no longer exist in their previous forms.)
Organisers of the complex, five-day program could be forgiven for repeating the explorer’s words at the end of his epic journey from Jimbour Station in Southeast Queensland to the far-flung, isolated northern outpost of Port Essington, NT: “I was deeply affected in finding myself again in civilised society and could hardly speak, the words growing big with tears and emotion.”
One guest speaker summed up the 2004 journey along the first 450 km section of the 1844-46 Leichhardt Trail 160 years later: “It took the explorer 14 months to reach his destination while the organisers of the Leichhardt Expo took two years to set up this event.”
With five council areas, eight meals, one breakfast, ten guest speakers eight major stopovers, four MPs and a series of visits from 21 to 26 September, ranging from Dalby’s retail heart to the magnificent splendour of Jimbour House and the spartan isolation of Expedition National Park, the 234 paying participants got their money’s worth.
The state government’s $25,000 commitment was matched by the same amount, collectively, from the five participating local councils – Dalby, Wambo, Chinchilla, Murilla and Taroom – and the program budget came in very close to the combined total. (A modest shortfall was met by the member councils.)
The Expo also received generous support from sponsors including Telstra Country Wide, the RACQ, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Santos Limited, the National Australia Bank, Leichhardt Country Beef Bonanza (Wandoan), Elders, Landmark, Pioneer Permanent and Wagners.
This financial backing was coupled with substantial assistance from Jimbour Station, the Toowoomba and Golden West Regional Tourism Association, Leichhardt Highway Promotions Association plus all Visitor Information Centres along the way.
The program ran on time and as scheduled, with no disruptions or any difficulties created by the weather. All guest speakers from overseas – Germany, the UK and USA – and interstate representatives gave their best to the events, a number of them attracting considerable media attention in their own right.
The Expo attracted a total of 234 paid delegates plus guest speakers and VIPs, including four MPs, for a total of 250 official delegates. The peak attendance figure was the noon segment at Jimbour House with a total of 450 people including paid delegates, VIPs, a coachload of 50 from the motor home convention in Toowoomba, other visitors, plus local residents who enjoyed the lunch, speeches and entertainment. Dalby and Wambo Council assisted Jimbour with the arrangements; this was a spectacular centrepiece of the Expo and reflected great credit on the owners and staff of Jimbour Station.
At the official opening ceremony in Chinchilla, the Minister for Local Government, the Hon. Desley Boyle, representing the Premier, acknowledged the Queensland Events funding plus $3,000 from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service – a total state government commitment to the Expo of $28,000.
The Mayor of Leichhardt Municipality in Sydney, Cr Alice Murphy, made a civic call on Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman before the Expo, while the Lord Mayor of Darwin, Peter Adamson, sent greetings to the Expo via a CD. (Sydney was the starting point for Leichhardt’s 1844-45 journey and Port Essington, near Darwin, was the finishing point.)
The Courier-Mail and The Sunday Mail published items on their respective Travel pages beforehand and then the editor of The Courier-Mail decided to fully cover the Expo itself with journalists and a photographer, the result being generous coverage on page 3 in one edition and page 6 in another. This coverage generated strong enquiries from radio, both the ABC and commercial broadcasters, and Expo organisers were called on to provide daily, on-the-spot live-to-air bulletins as the Expo proceeded. (There were also late enquiries from potential delegates which regretfully had to be declined.)
The ABC played a very strong supporting role from the start of the project with regular news and talk items. They also sent one of their top radio executives, well-known Colin Munro, from Sydney, as a paying delegate. Colin set the scene for the rest of the Expo with his excellent first-night presentation at the Jandowae dinner on 21 September. The RACQ, which came on board as a major and influential sponsor, including promotional assistance at the Brisbane Travel Show and the club magazine, and arranged for Channel 7 to film the event beforehand, from start to finish, for its Queensland Weekender program. This was telecast on 21 July, and led to several dozen additional ticket sales.
Poetry in motion
Warwick poet Marco Gliori found the right words to honor Ludwig Leichhardt in a poem he prepared specially for the Expo. Two verses caught the mood of the spellbound
“Sugared tea and slabs of fatcake, lazy lizards for each meal;
Strips of salted beef and honey, could you get a better deal?
‘Use the land’ was Leichhardt’s motto, like the natives in that part
Who in history’s feeble contest, plunged a spear through Gilbert’s heart.”
“Prince of Explorers, where you rest we cannot yet deliver
Though the trees are marked with ‘L’ along the Maranoa River,
Your mystery lays scattered now, the answers have departed,
And your destiny unlike those tracks, remains today uncharted.”
After the event finished at Taroom on 26 September, a number of participants lodged Expo Survey Forms and written comments, representing more than 70 delegates. Most marked the event as a “5” - the highest approval rating (some noted “5+”). Many named their favorite guest speakers or particular venues and most promised to return to the region, naming the places within the Expo boundaries they intend to visit in the future.
Reports from participating councils indicated they were very satisfied with the event and the way it was run. Here are some of the comments:
Dalby Mayor Cr Warwick Geisel: Our council was very pleased to be part of the huge project. Since the Expo I have spoken to the Honorary German Consul Mr Detlef Sulzer, of Brisbane, who said he was very impressed with the Western Downs area. Mr Sulzer escorted the German Ambassador, Dr Klaus-Peter Klaiber, to the Expo where Dr Klaiber performed the official opening and was presented with a substantial painting as a gift from the artist Dean Reilly and this community to the Embassy in Canberra. (This painting has remained on display in the Embassy.)
Wambo Mayor Cr Mick Cosgrove, who attended most Expo events: We were very pleased with our program at Jandowae, Jimbour and Warra. A number of delegates told me how much they enjoyed the atmosphere of the cattle sale at Wandoan and the Taroom Cup race meeting.
Chinchilla Mayor Cr Bill McCutcheon: I was extremely impressed with the enthusiasm of all participants. The guests themselves made up a diverse and interesting group and it was obvious they enjoyed the varied program. We all learnt a huge amount about Leichhardt during the presentations at Chinchilla which included a range of expert speakers and an excellent display.
Murilla CEO Phil Berting: The Expo, in terms of the five councils working together, has provided a blueprint for the future. The various events at Miles – the Historic Village open day, a silver-service dinner in the Leichhardt Room, the hot breakfast and the Serendipity Display at Dogwood Crossing – were very successful.
Taroom Shire Mayor Cr Don Stiller, who attended most Expo events: The Expo was an unbelievable success and it is hard to imagine how it could have been done much better. I felt that the Taroom finale, with its open air interdenominational church service with five clergy including a Bishop, together with the Queensland Youth Orchestra Big Band ,was a special highlight for me. The unveiling ceremony of a memorial to John Gilbert, in the form of a directional marker and plaque, capped off the program in our Shire.
On the final day, delegates were queuing up to thank the Taroom mayor and it was evident all visitors were extremely pleased with the outcome. History has been made in this area and a new benchmark has been set in terms of a combined regional promotion and the part played by Queensland Events is most appreciated.
The Western Downs can also rest easy, knowing that a major study and tourism event into Australia’s history has now formed part of Queensland history.
Left: Taroom Shire Council executive John Jennings (L) with then-Honorary Consul of Germany Detlef Sulzer (R) at Jimbour Station during the Expo.
(Courtesy John Jennings)