I have been reading our paper, the letters, blogs and chatter online and it appears that one major gripe that people have at the moment is Cairns' lack of identity. The fact that we threw all of our eggs in the one 'tourism' basket in the Warren Entch days and with the Global Financial Crisis being exactly that, people in the area are now wishing we had diversified. We need different industries and businesses here and more investment from all. To get that, we need a brand, an 'identity'.
I really don't care if Cairns does not have an identity.....I would prefer it to be known for it's personality. We used to be the place that everyone Australia wide wanted to be. The place where Victorians came for a holiday and loved it so much, they are now locals. It used to be that we were known just as much for our laid back, casual people as we were for the reef and rainforest. We welcomed strangers and gave them such a great holiday that even if they did go home, they came back, time and time again. It gave us the complete package, our environment and our people; our vibrant personality.
We seem now to be less proud of our beautiful spot in the world, less inclined to bragg, less willing to show others which parts we like the best, or why. It's kind of like a mid life crisis for the locals. We are disillusioned, feeling ripped off and some are just plain angry.
This all started long before the Financial Crisis. I have lived here almost my entire life and I think it started about 10 years ago. Somewhere around the time we became the subject of a well known American song. It was the day the music died. Cairns once had a tremendously well patronised local, live music scene. Friday nights at the Crown watching Mangrove Jack, Saturday nights at Johnno's Blues Bar and Sunday sessions at Ellis Beach. And those were the regular ones. Snake Gully performed all over the place, as did Mangrove Jack, Andy Collins and Johnno, just to name a few. Younger bands thrived, with a Battle of the Bands event held every few months in Port Douglas, Yungaburrah and Munro Martin Park. Festival Cairns was called Fun in The Sun and it all kicked off with a free concert by some great local acts. All venues worth their salt had a live band Friday Nights, even the Big O (which most people will not remember and those who do, will groan) had a great live scene.
Some bands had fans that followed them to every gig, some won awards for song writing and travelled the world with their music but when they came home, they still played at the local pubs and the people came to watch. Most of these venues were standing room only and boasted sticky floors from fallen beers. There were dodgy folk who came for a fight and were promptly kicked in the butt by the bouncer, families who's children slept under the tables after meeting new friends and chasing each other around the tables till tired and the music lovers, who knew all the words to all the songs, bought the albums and turned up every time to buy the band a beer.
Now maybe my reminiscing will not change things, it won't help make things here in Cairns different and there is no way we could go back to those days anyway. So, what exactly is the point of all this then? In Cairns today we still have that same artistic base. We still have the artists, the singers, the songwriters and the performers. Almost all shows at the Tanks Art Space are sold out. Time OUT, put on by the Cairns Post is very well patronised and features several local performers who battle it out for the privilege. Local artisans show their work at the new art spaces in the City Place and on opening night, there is always a crowd.
THIS is Cairns personality, it is who we are. We are not all artistic or musical but those who aren't are the audience. We all love a good party and Cairns was always famous for it's nightlife and it's talented people, almost as much as for it's 'tourist' attractions.
With the added extras of the wonderful food we now produce, the dairy products, the chocolate, the coffee and the wine, who would want to leave?
Through initiatives like the Ukulele Festival and the Cairns Cultural Precinct we have the opportunity to re-claim our persona and to once again be the ones famous for our joyous celebration of life. Stop being stodgy, stick in the muds, with more gripes than a baby with colic and get out there and enjoy your life. Most of Australia is in the same boat as us financially and while our unemployment levels are ridiculously high, it's all about to change. We are on the verge of great new things and each one of these major developments will create jobs, wealth, security, and as the line in that terrible Kevin Costner baseball movie goes...'if you build it....they will come'.
And while we are at it, could we please change the name of Festival Cairns BACK to Fun in The Sun? We really loved it and if Raintrees can do it...........