A quirky attraction
WITH a swag of quirky sights and a new cruise terminal that promises to bring in tourists from across Australia and overseas, Townsville is at last shedding its “Brownsville” tag.
The north Queensland city has long languished in the shadow of Cairns and the Whitsundays as both a tourism destination in its own right and an entry point to the attractions of the tropical north.
However, with a rapidly growing and multicultural population of 185,000 predicted to reach up to 325,000 in fewer than 20 years, the largest city in north Queensland is rapidly emerging, with visitor numbers up 7 per cent year-on-year.
Townsville’s attractions include Magnetic Island – 8km off the coast – the Great Barrier Reef, a string of world-class beaches and barramundi fishing in the Burdekin or Hinchinbrook rivers.
It also plays host to the wreck of the SS Yongala, rated one of the top 10 dive sites in the world, while, heading inland, it is a gateway to the old goldmining towns of Charters Towers and Ravenswood.
Despite these attractions, Tourism & Events Townsville Enterprise general manager Patricia O’Callaghan said Townsville has suffered from a reputation as a boring place – earning it the unwanted nickname “Brownsville”.
“People’s perception was that tumbleweed rolled down the street and we all went about in a horse and cart,” she said.
“But when people come up here, they can see that it’s a growing, cosmopolitan city.”
Total tourist expenditure reached $100 million last year, while several recent milestones have helped the city find to its groove. Chief among them was the opening of a new $85 million cruise terminal last year, while the growth of fly-in, fly-out mining workers and the number of defence personnel based in Townsville have ensured the city’s economy keeps on ticking over.
“We’ve invested in attractions and a revamp of the Esplanade here in town,” O’Callaghan said. “It’s just a matter of getting visitors here.”
Rather than fight Cairns and the Whitsundays for the tourist dollar, Townsville has sought to capitalise on their enduring popularity by offering visitors a relaxed, quirky alternative where they can spend a few days.
“We want people to go to Cairns, but we say make time to add a few days here,” O’Callaghan said.
It is these attractions, and the lifestyle that goes with them, that persuaded country music star Adam Brand to relocate to Townsville from the Gold Coast in January after playing a gig in the city.
“It’s a really beautiful lifestyle,” he said. “You can sit right on the edge of the water in two plastic chairs and look straight at Magnetic Island with a coffee and a gelato.
“It looks like something out of the Maldives.”
Brand, one of Australia’s most successful recording artists, is opening a new restaurant in mid-February, which he will manage in between touring. He said he is banking on the city’s continuing development to underpin the venture, named Brandy’s, which will offer a mix of woodfired pizza, pasta, tapas, paella and his own brand of coffee in an informal setting.
“My music and what I do on stage, it’s just very real, very down to earth and accessible,” he said. “The restaurant will be an extension of that.”