Ararat – The changing fortunes of a small Australian Town

This was a project I did for the ABC (Australian National Broadcaster) in 2004. It was done in flash format as bandwidth couldn’t handle video back then. This is the first of a four part series that follows the fortunes of the country town of my birth. As flash format is about to become obsolete, I decided to convert it to a movie format, to save it as a historical archive. Ken Love the illustrator, passed away during the project due to liver cancer. He was one of those amazing artists who could draw a accurate caricature of a person in five minutes of meeting them.

Ararat, the Australian Town founded by Chinese! Pt.1

Ararat is not much different from a hundred other small country towns you may pass through to get from one place to another. Next time you stop over for a break, spare a thought for Ararat’s rich history.

Ararat got it’s name when the rather poetic explorer Horatio Wills proclaimed to his travel party, on choosing a nearby mountain on which to camp, “We will call it Mount Ararat, for like the Ark we rested here”

It wasn’t until the chance finding of gold, by 700 traveling Chinese, some 17 years later in 1857, that the township of Ararat was born. People from all over Australia, and for that matter the world, rushed to the local area in the hope of making their fortune. Many, like my own Irish ancestors stayed on to become farmers long after golden dreams ran dry.

Ararat, Australia’s Golden Town Dies! Pt.2

What does a Town do when both its major public and private sector employers close shop around the same time? The town dies, people leave in the search for work, the community is destroyed and its people demoralized.
This is what happened to Ararat in the early 1990’s.
All up, roughly one thousand public sector jobs were lost from the closure of the Psychiatric Hospital, the Railways and Telecom. A downturn in manufacturing was also the death knell for the town’s biggest private sector employer, Packard/CTA.

Ararat, Victoria ~ the comeback kid!

Mark Shea returned to Ararat after living away for fifteen years and was amazed at the turnaround in the Town after the crushing blow of industry shutdown.

Through community spirit the Town has managed to find new ways to continue and thrive.

Tourism and Training are two initiatives that have helped put the Township back on its feet.

When a town loses its main employment source, change for the better doesn’t occur overnight. There must be a belief in the town’s people that, step by step, things will improve. And no better example of this can be seen in the work of the Ararat Regional Development Board. The original Board was made up of twelve business leaders from fields as diverse as manufacturing to agriculture. Its work was instrumental in getting Ararat back on its feet after the staggering blow of industry shutdown. The Board worked tirelessly behind the scenes to awaken Ararat from its punch drunk state. Some of the members have mentioned an amazing synergy in the group. In times of trouble leaders must step forward, and the Board, shoulder to shoulder, took on the challenge to lift Ararat out of the doldrums. Some people are ahead of their time, their ideas even grander than the ideas of their own governments. Don Reynolds had a dream to establish strong ties with China and to build a museum celebrating the unique fact that Ararat was founded by Chinese gold prospectors. China, the sleeping giant, is awakening, its people starting to experience prosperity. Slowly, slowly, like the trickling stream where gold was first found in Ararat, Chinese visitors are starting to arrive. In twenty years, Don Reynolds may well be viewed as a visionary. The most astounding story of Ararat’s turnaround comes from within the Community itself. When word was put out that JWard, the old bluestone Gaol and former Institute for the Criminally Insane could be bulldozed, the townspeople joined together to protect their history. A group of volunteers decided to try opening JWard to the public as a tourist attraction in the hope of saving it. Success was theirs, and to this day JWard is still run by volunteers and is one of the State’s premier tourist attractions.

Ararat, Victoria – The Bush Spirit that keeps the country going!

Aussies in the Bush are an ingenious bunch, making the most of every opportunity. Without rural entrepreneurs many country towns would lose their lifeblood.

Mark Shea looked at three success stories ranging from manufacturing to farming.

A presentation of three successful rural businesses, and all three used different methods to achieve success. Value Adding – Every lambing season there is a loss. Some lambs won’t survive their first days. Seizing an opportunity, Ben and Simon Greene set up a business collecting dead lambs, removing their skins, and selling them overseas where they are transformed into gloves, vests, and kiddie’s toys. They employ up to seven local people in the process. Niche Markets – Globalization has put great strains on the Australian manufacturing industry. We just can’t compete with Asia’s cheaper wage rates. Unless of course, as Peter Carthew did, you cater for a niche. After the collapse of Packard/CTA (as seen in ‘Death of a Country Town’), Peter brushed himself off and set up AME Systems with twenty seven of his best employees. In a truly inspirational story of success, Peter has turned AME Systems into a $27.5 million dollar business employing two hundred and seventy staff. He has done this by catering for the Australian truck industry. The Aussie environment is tough on trucks and the electrical harnesses AME Systems build, stand tall when put to the test. Diversification – The hardships the Australian wool industry has faced for the last ten years with drought and low prices, has decimated stock numbers. The true believers who have kept their breeding stock, have done so at great economic cost. But out of this hardship has come ingenuity and new opportunities. Shelley and Alan Green had a sheep property that required them to both work off farm in order to make a living. They loved the farm and wanted to find a way to make it sustainable. Taking a huge risk they went into free range eggs, something new to the district. After a long period of working seven days a week, things are looking rosy for the Greens. They are just about to double production and can now afford to put on a manager and have a much needed Queensland holiday.

Ararat Region, Australian Travel Video Guide

Learn about what tourism activities one can do around the Ararat Region.

All the people featured in this video, including hosts Jarrod and Karina live in the region.

Featured in this video are: The Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre, Jward, Lake Bolac Eel Festival, Neil Murray, Grampians Lavender Patch, Vines Cafe, Langi Ghiran Winery, Jillian Wines, Blaze Rock Retreat, Moyston Tom Wills Monument, Chalambar Golf Club and Grampians Soaring Club.

Thank you to David Nicholson for providing footage of the Lake Bolac Eel Festival.

Returning Home – A Story of Ararat 4

The Bush Spirit
Aussies in the Bush are an ingenious bunch, making the most of every opportunity. Without rural entrepreneurs many country towns would lose their lifeblood.

Mark Shea looked at three success stories ranging from manufacturing to farming.

Returning Home – A Story of Ararat 3

The Turnaround

Mark Shea returned to Ararat after living away for fifteen years and was amazed at the turnaround in the Town after the crushing blow of industry shutdown.

Through community spirit the Town has managed to find new ways to continue and thrive.

Tourism and Training are two initiatives that have helped put the Township back on its feet.

Watch Returning Home – A Story of Ararat Part 4

Returning Home – A Story of Ararat 2

Death of a country town

After the Gold Rush, Ararat became a farming district and very much a government town, housing a Mental Asylum, Prison and acting as a railway hub, with lines stretching out in five different directions. Ararat also developed quite a manufacturing industry, particularly with regard to textiles.

In the early 1990’s the closure of many of the Government institutions such as the Psychiatric Hospital and the Railways, together with a downturn in manufacturing lead to huge job losses.

The population of the town shrank by ten percent over a five-year period.

Watch Returning Home – A Story of Ararat Part 3

Returning Home – A Story of Ararat

Returning Home is a series of four short Flash format documentaries about the changing fortunes of Ararat, a small rural town in the Western District of Victoria.

Like the Ark – Part One

Ararat is the town of Mark Shea’s youth, where his Irish ancestors settled five generations ago as farmers. Ararat was founded by gold prospecting Chinese in 1857. Trekking overland from South Australia the Chinese discovered the Canton Lead, the world’s richest shallow alluvial goldfield.

The goldrush that followed was one of the biggest Australia has seen, with estimates of between 30,000 and 50,000 people living on the Ararat Goldfields within a couple of months

To understand Ararat’s place in the world, one must first know its history.

Watch Returning Home – A Story of Ararat Part 2