End of an era : the You Yangs as a back drop to Serendip Sanctuary (pic: Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours)
MEDIA RELEASE – for immediate release
After 30 years, local wildlife tour operator, Echidna Walkabout, has pulled out of the You Yangs region and the Great Ocean Road describing Parks Victoria’s attitude t0wards wildlife tourism as naïve, ill informed, out of touch and belligerent. Five years ago Parks Victoria began working on its “You Yangs Precinct Master Plan”. Echidna Walkabout says the final Plan seriously misjudged the value of tourism to Lara and Geelong meaning that locals will lose the proven environmental and economic benefits of international wildlife tourism.
A tale of subterfuge and secrecy
Today, in a letter distributed widely to travel industry colleagues, both around the world and to local businesses, Echidna Walkabout said that it had finished accepting bookings for its one day tour and would no longer take bookings for its 3 day Great Ocean Road tour.
Roger Smith, Director Operations, explains why Echidna Walkabout made these decision:
“Since 2018 Echidna Walkabout has been involved in a significant land management project regarding the use of Serendip Sanctuary and the You Yangs to the north of Geelong.” Mr Smith said, “Both parks have been critical to our tours operating to the west of Melbourne since 1993.
“In 2018 the facilities in the two parks were degrading rapidly and Parks Victoria asked us to be involved in a plan it said would be the catalyst for our future involvement in the two parks.
“We soon discovered that Parks Victoria’s plan for the region was not only very different to ours but was also way out of line with what the community wanted.
“From the outset we had doubts about what became known as Parks Victoria’s You Yangs Precinct Master Plan; everything was secretive nor could we get them to discuss wildlife or wildlife tourism
“We were aghast at the initial approach made to us which was for a clandestine project for stakeholders only, including us.
How PV expected to get away with this for two parks the community loves is beyond me so, not surprisingly, when the community got wind of what was happening it demanded to be involved.
“That forced Parks Victoria to do something they never intended to do: engage properly with the public and produce a Draft Plan for public comment.
“Eventually, in early 2022, the final plan was released.
Secret removal of wildlife
“Shortly after, in an act of sheer bastardry, Parks Victoria secretly began removing wildlife from Serendip Sanctuary, contrary to the final Plan which clearly stated that no work was to be undertaken before a formal community consultation began or before money was allocated to implement the Plan.
“This month, after ongoing community pressure, Parks Victoria finally set up a Stakeholder Reference Group which has given Echidna Walkabout yet another slap in the face as we have not been invited to join it.
“And, although money was promised for the Plan at the last State election none has been forthcoming
“Parks Victoria likes to grandstand about how widely it has consulted with the public but had it not been for public pressure the process may never have seen the light of day; even today, the Business Case, which drove funding for the Plan, has not been released and is currently the subject of an FOI request by the Lara Care Group.
“There’s little doubt in my mind that Parks Victoria had a predetermined outcome in mind and never intended to listen to us or the public.
“The entire process has been a stuff up from start to finish but there is one thing that’s become clear: Parks Victoria has little interest in wildlife or wildlife tourism and no interest in the local community
“Since 2019 we’ve endured bushfires and Covid, which both had a substantial impact on our business, but Parks Victoria’s disastrous Master Plan has hurt the most.
“What’s so upsetting is that 30 years ago we started in this region and it helped us build a business with an international reputation as one of Australia’s top nature tourism operators. We’ve won numerous international awards that helped boost Australia’s place in the world. Against all the odds the You Yangs and Serendip became famous.
“But Parks Victoria has torn all that apart — we’ve effectively been given the boot.
“On a brighter note, other regions all over Australia are welcoming us with open arms.” said Mr Smith.
Thankyou to the regions
In its letter, Echidna Walkabout offers its appreciation to the people and businesses of the regions it’s been travelling through.
“This has been a difficult decision for Echidna Walkabout.” Mr Smith said, “We’re painfully aware that many people and a number of communities that have supported us will be impacted
“Without these people — or their businesses — we could not have achieved the amazing success that we have,” he said, “None of these people deserve what’s happened.
“I say to them: if you have any questions, talk to Parks Victoria, but be very careful, we’ve learnt the hard way that they are masters of spin.
“Of course I’m always available for a chat — we live in Staughton Vale in the City of Greater Geelong.” Mr Smith said.
For the past 5 years Echidna Walkabout has refrained from publicly denouncing the You Yangs Precinct Master Plan. However we feel that the following must be told so that others like us don’t end up in the same boat. Parks Victoria needs to be held accountable for the damage it’s done
All the following can be attributed to Roger Smith
What we did
In numerous submissions we provided substantial evidence that tourism, especially international wildlife travel, was playing a significant role in the environmental and economic development of the region.
Sadly, although we spent 5 years attempting to convince Parks Victoria of the merits of sustainable wildlife tourism, the Master Plan has failed miserably.
Here’s 2 infographics that encapsulate the dozens of written submissions and letters we submitted to the Master Plan over the past 5 years. Some of the content may be a little out of date.
24 Million Mates created to help Parks Victoria understand the value of wildlife tourism
Vision for Geelong as a Tourism Gateway – our concept for the region
Why drop the Great Ocean Road?
The two parks where our wildlife day tour, Koalas and Kangaroos in the Wild, became internationally famous are now both undesirable and unreliable destinations not just for those tours but also for the Great Ocean Road trip
It’s important to appreciate that the first day of our Great Ocean Road tour is the same as our day tour.
We were hopeful that there may be a meaningful outcome that would enable us to continue offering this trip. That was not to be the case and we now have to accept the reality that our two main attractions on Day 1 of the trip are not viable.
Another reason is Parks Victoria’s new “cattle ramp” styled viewing platform at the 12 Apostles which is an eyesore that’s out of touch with reality and with nature. Most locals initially thought it was a joke.
Rather than wait around for Parks Victoria to come to its senses, something we feel is highly unlikely, we decided the best thing to do was exit the region.
What the public did
There is no doubt about the public’s passion for the region, Serendip in particular. Here’s some examples:
- 90% of respondents to the Master Plan stated quite clearly that they did not want the wildlife displays or breeding programs removed from Serendip yet Parks Victoria went ahead and removed them
- also over 18,000 people signed a petition along the same lines.
- the Lara Care Group has worked tirelessly to bring the Plan back on track. See LCG’s revealing Save Serendip blog.
Why are we leaving – a sad timeline of events
Parks Victoria ignored the tremendous economic benefit that our 10,000 plus travellers brought into the region each year. They’ve treated the people of Lara and Geelong with arrogance and contempt that is now backfiring as locals become more aware of what’s happening, especially at the cataclysmic demise of Serendip Sanctuary.
The very long lead times the international tourism industry requires for promotion meant that we could no longer reliably continue to offer our products to it.
We saw early signs of an imminent disastrous outcome in the Draft Plan so, in 2021 we pulled out of our commitments to the cruise ship industry as it requires the longest lead times
As time went by infrastructure at Serendip and the You Yangs became such an embarrassment that we had no option but to advise the industry in early 2022 that we would pull our day tour from the region with all bookings ending in March 2023.
We put this failure down to Parks Victoria’s abysmal attitude towards the benefits of wildlife tourism which are naïve, ill informed, out of touch and, at times, belligerent.
In our submissions we made it abundantly clear that, although we had put the region on the international tourism map, we did not expect, or want, exclusive use of the region and would welcome other tourism operators.
We were stunned when PV had the gall to suggest that they did not include our suggestions as it would favour us over other users.
We’ve wasted thousands of hours and dollars on the Master Plan without making a dint in Parks Victoria’s intransigence so, sadly, it’s time to leave western Victoria.
List of impacted businesses and supporters
Indigenous support – especially from the Wathaurong Aboriginal Cooperative and all its Elders and members. To Norm Stanley and Nikki McKenzie (Wurri-Ki Culture) for their incredible art and performances on tour; Melinda King for her wonderful book “Koala Clancy of the You Yangs” and tireless work with koala research. And to all the amazing Aboriginal People, both past and present, who have helped, advised and supported us in the region over the past 30 years.
Echidna Walkabout’s staff (both present and past) who have worked so hard — for so long — to try and make the Koalas and Kangaroos and GOR jigsaw puzzles fit together.
Government and NGO tourism bodies
Australian Wildlife Journeys – as a founding member, Echidna Walkabout help set up this elite industry body that advocates for wildlife tourism.
Tourism Greater Geelong & the Bellarine – for supporting our efforts to bring about change in the You Yangs Precinct Master Plan – the battle is not over yet!
Visit Victoria (international) – for advice and support and for trying to guide Parks Victoria in the right direction
Tourism Australia – for support in promoting the You Yangs Region
Both domestic and international travel agencies – hundreds of them throughout Australia and the world, many of whom have written letters of support and continue to book our tours in very difficult times.
Special thanks to Australia Naturally Travel, Australian Geographic Travel, Insight Australia Travel, Swain Destinations, Southern World Vacations
The wonderful communities of Lara, Little River, Forrest, Port Campbell and Timboon have never stopped supporting us.
Lara Care Group – whose determination is legendary and may yet get the wildlife back to Serendip. Save Serendip Sanctuary
All our local suppliers in the above communities (dozens of them) – we know you did your best and thank you for it from the bottom of our hearts. Special mention goes to Daysy Hill Country Cottages in Port Campbell who never missed a beat. We are deeply sorry that it came to this
The Councillors of the City of Greater Geelong, especially Kylie Grzybek and Anthony Aitkin, who continue to fight to try and bring Parks Victoria into line.
Koala Clancy Foundation
Koala Clancy was born in the You Yangs and became a global icon. The not-for-profit named after him will continue to plant koala forests around the You Yangs.
The University of Sydney for supporting our koala research projects and taking them to the world (these projects are significant and will continue)
The wildlife has gone but, unbelievably, this video is still on the Parks Victoria website
Here’s a link to the letter sent to the travel industry and others today.