Tourism is not something that can best be imposed from outside.
It is something that is most successfully promoted by the enthusiasm of those who live in a place, people who demonstrate that where they live has special interest and charm and is worth spending time in and returning to, or at least telling others about their experience. Word of mouth means a lot.
We have a lot of people who come to Armidale for reasons other than tourism. We can all help the image of Armidale by being aware that it is in our interest to be proud of where we live, to show it off to best advantage and to encourage people to visit at least some of the ‘special’ places during their visit. Every extra few hours spent happily can benefit everyone if visitors become ambassadors for the place.
One of my favourite ‘musts’ for people I meet is to urge them to take the time for a trip out to Dangars Gorge and Falls. It is just 21 km from Armidale along the Dangarsleigh Road, past historic Palmerston, now Peterson’s Wines.
The Gorge is spectacular and, with or without much water, it never fails to genuinely awe people.
National Parks Ranger Don Hardman is a fund of information.
The pools at the bottom of the falls are home to eels, which are reputed to make an epic trip to near New Caledonia to breed. Their offspring then return up the ranges to those same pools.
The Gorge area is also home to the rare Brushtailed Rock Wallaby, best seen at dusk, and also to the rare Eastern Quoll. As well, many bird species, from the great Wedgetailed Eagle, to Rosellas, Thornbills, Finches and Peregrine Falcons are to be found.
There are rare wattles and a variety of trees on both short and longer walks.
To just be there is to have a most tremendous feeling of place. The area has been visited over millennia by the various aboriginal peoples who travelled from the coast and inland to meet and trade. Today’s visitors mostly come to marvel at the power and wonder of nature.
And this is such an easily accessible taste of just one of the National Parks so near Armidale.
On top of all these attractions I have to admit to a personal fascination with the true story of the visit of Signor Vertelli to the Gorge in 1866. Recorded in the Armidale Express, his visit has so many romantic aspects, but has sadly been down played by National Parks, perhaps in a misguided fear of copycats. Nobody banned guns because Thunderbolt used them, and Vertelli was certainly no criminal!
Vertelli was the ultimate small businessman – he advertised his visit ahead of time and invited the public to see him cross the Gorge on a wire. He tried to get a band from Uralla, which couldn’t make it. But over 200 tourists from the district did take up his invitation and arrived by horse, buggy, etc. through the bush, carrying picnics.
His wire wasn’t long enough so he added some rope (which stretched and he had to walk uphill for the last bit). He walked across, 600 feet in the air, then again pushing a wheelbarrow, then somersaulted across.
He did what he’d advertised and received “about eleven pounds”, collected from the crowd.
The Express reported that “a pleasant time was passed. There was an extensive series of picnics among the rocks, and the scenery being very fine, people enjoyed themselves heartily”.
Vertelli then continued on his way, leaving Australia at Cooktown.
Some people may remember that some years ago I had contact with Philippe Petit, the man who, among other feats, walked a wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. He was keen to come to Armidale and we exchanged correspondence about a project for a while. In the end – the usual long story – it didn’t happen, but it was exciting while it lasted!
However our indefatigable local MP Richard Torbay did consent to re-enact the walk at The Creativity Have-a-Ball at NERAM, supported by other prominent locals in the performance. He made a marvellous Signor Vertelli!
Let’s bring Vertelli back into our tourist equation. I believe in do-able New Year resolutions, and that’s one of mine.
Vertelli’s story is Icing on the Cake!
P.S. The extraordinary tourist experience with Fleet Helicopters over the gorge county deserves a column of its own. A tourism operator from the Bungle Bungles envied the closeness to town of the Armidale gorges and said that his flourishing business would be three times the size if he had the same natural tourist advantages we have.
Let’s celebrate the gorges and their wonders.