When it comes to big picture ideas the sky’s the limit for Mildura Regional Development (MRD) CEO Brett Millington.
And he reckons that the time is right to establish some fantastic new attractions in our region.
Primary among those ideas, is an installation similar to the ‘Fields of Light’, for both Wentworth and Mildura, and an ‘inland surf park.’
Another item on the wish list would be a five-star luxury hotel and conference centre, complementing the inland surf park initiative.
A recently completed surf park operated by URBNSURF, near Tullamarine Airport, is proving to be a huge attraction for Melburnian’s eager to catch a wave without having to travel to a surf beach.
Mr Millington said that MRD is in the process of evaluating these ideas and developing business cases to evaluate each of them.
“Absolutely we are looking at some big projects. In regard to the surf park, there are a number of different ones already operating in Australia, and the first one we have looked at is based on the Gold Coast’s Surf Lakes model, but we are also evaluating several other operations as well,” he said.
“The business case evaluation for each will indicate which option would best suit Mildura. “We have already received the concept designs for this region from internationally celebrated artist Bruce Munro for a project similar to the Fields of Light – the project he established at Uluru in the Northern Territory – and we are currently developing the business case around that, identifying what the funding requirements will be and what the ongoing operating model will encompass.”
Mr Millington said that MRD was currently working with both Wentworth Shire Council and Mildura Rural City Council to progress the project.
“The idea will be to have a night-time light installation on either side of the river, activating a tourist attraction similar to the one at Uluru, which has been incredibly popular, and helps generate an increase in ‘night-stays’ within the region,” he said.
“The location for each of the light displays is yet to be determined, but it needs to be somewhere that is away from urban light pollution to get the full effect – very dark – just as is required for astronomy.
“The sort of designs that Bruce Munro has created, lend themselves to being positioned amongst national park landscapes. The Perry Sandhill’s in Wentworth for example may be a suitable area to establish this attraction.”
“For the Mildura side, we believe you can consider two options. One could be to put on a riverside escarpment, or potentially, something you could walk through. For example, it could be out at Lake Cullulleraine where you have some existing tourist amenities already established.”
“In that instance, you could then operate bus tours to and from Mildura which would include an outdoor dinner overlooking the Fields of Light and people could do the Victorian side one night, and the NSW side the next; as a result they would be extending their overnight stay period in the region.”
Mr Millington said now was the time for Mildura to be exploring some bold initiatives, more importantly, to take advantage of the opportunities COVID created which will see a big rise in domestic travel within Australia.
“We have an existing hero-product with the Murray River, which already attracts people to our region, but what is it that differentiates us from other river towns like Echuca and Swan Hill?” he said.
“Yes the river is wider here, but Echuca’s closer proximity to Melbourne and Bendigo gives it a travel time advantage over Mildura and so we need some alternative big attractions up here.
“The advantage of the local lights experience for the domestic Victorian traveller is the close proximity Melbourne to Mildura offers, incorporating the outback skies and landscapes.”
Mr Millington said that the likelihood of the surf park going ahead would be dependent on whether the business case and consumer perceptions research deliver supporting evidence.
“We don’t see this idea as one that will come to fruition in the next year or two – it’s more likely a longer term project, but the Fields of Light is something that can be achieved certainly within a much shorter time frame” he said.
The inland surf park requires a land area of 10 hectares and 50 megalitres of water. Then you add the infrastructure to generate the waves – similar to the wave pool at Mildura Waves, but on a much larger scale.
Mr Millington said the concept of becoming the inland surf capital of Australia is something very special and is certainly achievable.
“Having said that, if the business case doesn’t stack up, then you wouldn’t go down that path, but undertaking the business case evaluation may tell us that a water theme park or some other theme park may be viable in the Mildura region.” he said.
“Our customer perception research which is currently underway, will give us insight into where we should be trying to focus.”
The URBN Surf Park in Melbourne is a $30 million investment and Surf Lakes on the Gold Coast cost in the vicinity of $20 million. These are big-ticket items, whereas the Field of Lights is in the scope of a total of three million dollars for both sites.
To progress the business case evaluations MRD has employed the services of some specialist in this field to carry out the preliminary work.
“These are specialist who do designs for theme parks and other attractions all over the world,” Mr Millington said.
“They will provide us with the costing side of the projects and their operations. A separate company was engaged to undertake the customer perception research which will also be included in the business cases.”
“Some initial, on the ground surveys were undertaken with visitors and locals during the most recent school holidays, these results will assist the broader research findings conducted to both Melbourne and Adelaide target markets.”
Mr Millington said that the five-star hotel and conference centre is also a very real possibility.
“As a package we believe the conference facility, five star hotel and these two hero products are an attractive proposition for private and public investment.”