Changes in legislation have led to a reduction in logging quota of about 50% in Victoria’s Far East Gippsland, which understandably has had an economic impact on the small town of Orbost – population approx. 2000, servicing around 4,500 from the surrounding region – which was already struggling to survive.
Local veterinarian and keen cyclist, Liz Mitchell, recognised the cycling potential in the three National Parks around Orbost and came up with the idea of a fully supported four day wilderness bike ride through the spectacular scenery between the Errinundera plateau and the Snowy River to help the rebuilding process. Liz and husband Dave, also a vet and keen cyclist, had moved to Orbost with their young family from NSW, five years earlier.
In 12 months a concept group/steering committee involving representatives from Orbost Regional Health, the Dept of Sustainability & Environment, the Police, the School plus other community members organized, staged and won the Best Event in Regional Tourism for 2004. The event attracted 135 riders and 70 local volunteers helped out.
Every cyclist dreams of roads with fantastic scenery, a decent surface and long downhill runs. Add good company, plenty of great food and a hot shower at the end of each day and our cyclists think they’ve died and gone to heaven… “It was the best thing I’ve ever done in Australia” says Klaus Joost, Germany, April 2004.
What did they do for funding and did they have it before they started planning? Liz’s idea received enthusiastic community support in February 2003 and applications for funding were away by June. Liz says she was probably ‘just na?ve’ but the ‘big guns’ thought the project would attract grants so they just steamed ahead! The Gippsland Area Consultative Committee CEO, Rod Smith, was very helpful with the applications, a process completely new to Liz, and funds did finally come – from the Commonwealth Sustainable Regions Programme, from Vic Health and East Gippsland Shire. It took 12 months for funding to ‘materialise’.
Judging by results to date the event should be self-sustaining by 2006. The 2004 ride was 50% subsidised; in 2005 the numbers will be capped at 250 so as not to destroy the ‘wilderness quality’ and the event will operate on a 10% subsidy.
Insurance was probably the biggest hurdle the bike ride faced. Bicycle Victoria initially said they may not find an insurer at all. Liz went on the Great Vic Bike Ride (with 3000 riders) as a volunteer in the route control vehicle to learn how they managed the event and with her own cycling experience was able to help design a good risk management strategy. Liz says riders were required ‘to sign a very big piece of paper that essentially said… “If I die it’s not your fault”‘, so, although they had to pay $15,000 for it, the Wilderness Bike Ride did obtain insurance from QBE.
Liz & offsider Taimi Clinch, who has a Human Resource/Management background worked as event co-managers from September 2003 till the inaugural ride in April 2004: website; database; administration; marketing. Regional ABC was very helpful, with radio presenter Mark de Bono making the personal choice to go on the ride and broadcast daily!
To promote the event posters & brochures sent to cycling clubs, ads were placed in cycling magazines and kids wore promotional tee shirts on the Great Vic Bike Ride, which actually passed through Gippsland that year. All this was effective says Liz, but the newspaper ads they placed were a waste.
The feedback on how much the volunteers and community got out of the event was a huge buzz for the organizers and they learnt lots of little things that will lead to greater efficiencies in managing future events. Guess what these organisers do to unwind? They go bike riding of course, far away from computers, phones and pieces of paper to write on!
For more information you can visit www.wildernessbikeride.com.au or contact Liz Mitchell at email@example.com