South Australian Wooden Boat Festival stays afloat for 2021

Full steam ahead: Plans are now in place for the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival to go ahead in 2021, following a $65,000 funding commitment by Alexandrina Council. Photo: Supplied.
Full steam ahead: Plans are now in place for the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival to go ahead in 2021, following a $65,000 funding commitment by Alexandrina Council. Photo: Supplied.

The South Australian Wooden Boat Festival has been kept afloat despite some stormy weather, with Alexandrina Council pledging $65,000 in funding for next year's event.

The nationally-renowned festival which is hosted in Goolwa every two years, is a huge tourist draw-card for the region, being one of the largest events on the Fleurieu.

In 2019, the festival attracted more than 14,000 people across two days.

Last year it was recognised as South Australia's Best Festival at the 2019 SA Tourism Awards and plans are now being put in place to stage the event on April 17-18 in 2021.

Some doubts were held over the festival going ahead in 2021, with the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival Committee (SAWBFC) raising concerns over the ability to secure sponsorship in the current economic climate.

Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of Alexandrina's elected members were also skeptical of committing $65,000 to the event.

At Alexandrina's June council meeting, councillor James Stewart who is also a member of the SAWBFC, moved a motion relating to Alexandrina's significant investment in the festival, which opened discussion.

"As much as anything we needed this to come to the chamber, because it is still fairly unclear whether we're pushing ahead," Cr Stewart said.

"We really need to know which way we are heading."

Councillor Michael Scott said he found it hard to commit $65,000 to the event.

"It's mind boggling that we commit this amount of ratepayer's money to this for a two day event every two years... there is a certain sameness about the event," Cr Scott said.

"There will be lots of ratepayers who have no interest in this festival at all...is this really the best way of doing it?

"We also need to think who are the beneficiaries? Food, beverage and accommodation, plus maybe some boat businesses and shops in the Mainstreet, as well as pop ups who then take that money away.

"I don't think it's our function to go on and on with this."

Councillor Keily said he supported the motion, but was concerned that such a large chunk of council funds went to one event, potentially limiting support for new events, such as a hot air balloon festival.

A majority of elected members put their doubts aside however, voting to commit funding to the event, with the SAWBFC now set to continue planning arrangements.

The committee will work on collaborating with wharf stakeholders, vendors, exhibitors and community groups, encouraging increased involvement and participation, with a strong intent to elevate the economic benefits to businesses and clubs.

A focus will be placed on attracting local and regional participants, especially given that overseas and interstate travel restrictions currently remain unclear.

Councillor Melissa Rebbeck said COVID-19 restrictions on travel may help drive more South Australians to the festival and that communities needed tourist events now more than ever.

Councillor Bronwyn Lewis said the event was a draw-card for the region.

"When I first came here, I was amazed at this event," Cr Lewis said.

"For a small community, this is a lovely, connected event which has been nominated for national awards.

"In country areas, 14,000 people is a massive turn out and I do think the momentum is there for this event to develop... it's a fantastic event that sings out exactly what the Fleurieu is about."

Councillor Stewart agreed.

"If this event attracts 14,000 people all the community benefits in one way or another," he said.