Warrnambool’s Fun4Kids festival is no longer.
The city council this week revealed it would not stage the winter school holiday event for a 20th year, citing financial pressures and dwindling ticket sales. The decision was met with disappointment and surprise on The Standard’s Facebook page. The thinking from many was that the city was killing a golden goose.
The reality is the festival did well to survive as long as it did.
The concept of holding a major event to draw visitors to the city in the middle of winter was smart. Instead of businesses and tourism operators thriving in summer and almost dying in winter (unless a whale or two appeared at Logan’s Beach), the festival helped drive a more sustainable tourism calendar. It worked in its formative years, not only in drawing tourists but giving the city immeasurable publicity as well as great times for children.
But community support fluctuated. The joyous cries from excited children were muted by persistent claims the festival hurt Liebig Street traders because the temporary site closed off part of the street and food and drink vendors inside the venue took trade from long-term operators outside. There were cries the festival cost too much and questions about its economic return. There were repeated questions about the venue and suggestions of alternative sites, complaints about ticket prices.
Despite this, the people kept coming, children kept smiling, volunteers highlighted our strong community spirit and there was a good vibe despite the usual gloomy weather.
But the decline in numbers in recent years – especially from people within the south-west – sealed the festival’s fate.
Locals complained when they had the festival and then this week complained that it’s gone.
The festival was a classic example of not appreciating a good thing when we had it. The council has made the right choice, as hard as it would have been to make. But at a cost of $450,000, ratepayers had every reason to expect more from their money.
The council says it is working on an events strategy that will deliver a bigger return and be better for the city. And the council says it wants the community to decide on a replacement for Fun4Kids.
The ball is in our court. We cannot criticise an event when we do not patronise an event. Now is the time to speak up.