Peter Bailey’s passion for his local community and desire to see regional communities grow led him to initiate Country Week, a series of expos promoting the benefits of country living to city residents. Peter tells us all about the expos and his vision for the future of the region.
> When and how did you come up with the Country Week idea?
I had always been involved with my community. When I lived in Tamworth I was involved in APEX and was the President of APEX, and then I got involved with the Chamber of Commerce and became President of the Chamber of Commerce. We had businesses in both Tamworth and Armidale, so I could basically decide to run the business from where I liked. Our daughter was going into high school, and we had a son at TAS already boarding and it was easier for us to come up here and save a second lot of boarding fees. So we moved and I got involved with the Development Corporation.
I always thought the best view of Sydney was when coming out, through the rear vision mirror as you left the place and came up here. The problem was that we had this influx of people going into Sydney and it was hurting not only Armidale and Tamworth, but most inland cities and communities. So I decided after I sold my previous business, which was called ‘Peter Bailey Office Network’, that it was time to do something about it. So I convinced my wife to put a mortgage across the house – we thought that it was too expensive to market Armidale in Sydney on its own, so I came up with the concept of running an expo in Sydney called Country Week. It’s an event where we bring about 50 country communities and promote the virtues of people leaving the city to come and live in the country, or invest or relocate.
> How does Country Week work?
Basically what we do is run an event, and we run an expo. We sell sites to communities and government departments and corporations, and then we run a marketing campaign in Sydney; that’s the market we’re targeting. And that marketing campaign is targeted at encouraging people that want a sea or a tree change to come out to Country Week. As they walk in the door, they register and we record their name and address and occupation.
They are given a card with their name on it, and as they stop at a stand they get their card swiped. Then the exhibitors get a spreadsheet at the end of the expo with all the details of the people who are interested in what they have to offer, and they follow it up.
What we’ve found is that there is an absolute ignorance of regional NSW. We’ve got so much to offer in terms of communities, and with 14 interest rate rises and longer and longer commute times, we know that about 25 per cent of people from Sydney would live in the country if they could. But if you think about the story that we’ve told people in Sydney for the last 5 years – we’ve told them about our droughts, our floods, that there’s no broadband out here and that there’s no mobile coverage and all the mobile coverage is useless. Every time something goes wrong we’re on the metropolitan radio bleating. And then we wonder why no-one moves here.
It’s not a good message. And I’m not suggesting that we should stop complaining about the problems we face, but we need to balance that story with promoting what’s good about the country.
> What are the benefits of living in the country?
I think the country can be whatever you want it to be. If you want to go and live up the pole at the top of Black Mountain, you can do that. If you want to play farmer and buy 50 acres and run 5 head of cattle you can do that. If you want a sophisticated lifestyle with the art galleries and the great coffee and the great theatre and the great music we have in this town you can have that too. And you can have that in most parts of country NSW.
Country NSW is Pandora’s Box and you can do what you like with it. It’s just a matter of getting involved and doing it. We think probably one of the most important things is that if you come from the city and you want to enjoy the community, you have to get involved. If you sit at home and wait for people to come knocking at your door, it won’t happen.
> Are you looking for more participants?
We’re always looking for more participants. The greatest problem that is holding back Armidale and the rest of the state are skills shortages. If you walk in the door at Country Week the first thing you will see is 500 jobs on the job board. It’s just like a big notice board showing jobs for plumbers and tradesman, accountants, solicitors, doctors and nurses. And under them is an indication of where those jobs are and people can go and talk to those communities. So what we are trying to do is to actively encourage people that do have skills shortages to talk to people like Harold Ritch at Jobs Australia, or Speedie Staff Solutions and tell them so they can come down to Country Week looking for people coming through. We know the sorts of people coming through. There’s accountants and engineers, there’s all sorts of people. What we’ve got to do is give businesses the marketing tool.
> What’s involved in organising Country Week?
The biggest thing I’ve got to do is go around and talk to communities. In NSW alone we do about 40,000 km a year, and in Queensland we do about 60,000 km a year. There’s an expectation that when you attend an event such as this at 5 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, within 3 months BHP’s going to move to town and 50 people are going to relocate. But it doesn’t work like that, it’s bloody hard work. The average person coming into the event from Sydney has no idea whether Armidale is two hours from Sydney or 50 hours from Sydney. I’d challenge your readers, next time they’re talking to friends from Sydney, to give them a quiz and ask them where certain places are.
I’m not suggesting that you ask them about the smaller centres like Tinga. Even ask people how far Tamworth or Armidale are from Sydney. How big are they? What do they have to offer? We’re very good at selling a dead sheep in the dam, but we’re not good at selling the great things about the country.
> Who has been particularly supportive of Country Week?
Stuart Allardice and Shane Burns from the Council. The support they’ve provided has been outstanding. Richard Torbay, Kevin Abey have been great supporters of Country Week. Then you’ve got people such as Peter Georkas from Hutchinson & Harlow. Pip Warwick from TAS and the team at NEGS, particularly Mary Wright, as well as PLC, and we’ve had great support from the people at the University. Probably the greatest support that I’ve also had is from Anthony Fox who’s one of the partners at Abbott Pardy & Jenkins. He has mentored me through the process, and has been a great support.
> Are there any particular success stories?
Well, I was speaking to Harold Ritch and he told me that 9 families have moved up since last expo. One of the things I find fascinating about communities such as ours is that often people say, “We’re large enough as it is”. But I’ll challenge the following statements. Firstly, would NEGS and PLC and even TAS have struggled for numbers if we’d have grown as we should have and been 35,000 now instead of 23,000? Would we still have a second airline flying if we had the critical mass of numbers? Would NERAM have been in the financial trouble that it was in if we had a larger population and a bigger council that had a larger rates base that allowed us to do more? If we want better hospitals and more doctors and a greater variety of doctors and access to services, that comes with growth.
> Are there any exciting new editions this year?
Yes, probably the greatest excitement this year is what we call ‘Careers Friday’. We’re targeting undergraduates in the university and TAFE system, to encourage them to come over to find out about rural jobs and opportunities. The message we’ll be giving young undergraduates is, ‘Accelerate your career, come to Country Week. Try the country experience for two or three years’.
We’ll have things there such as scholarships, internships and holiday work. So we’re trying to evolve the event because if we can get more young people there, a lot of them will come back.
> What are the dates for the next expos?
The 8th to the 10th of August at Rosehill racecourse. I would encourage people to look at the website, www.countryweek.com.au
> Thank you Peter.