Tree of Knowledge fest fight

Differing opinions on what Barcaldine's Tree of Knowledge festival should contain have erupted in a public spat


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Conflagration: The 2016 Tree of Knowledge Festival included a re-enactment of the 1891 Shearers' Strike. Picture: Sally Cripps.

Conflagration: The 2016 Tree of Knowledge Festival included a re-enactment of the 1891 Shearers' Strike. Picture: Sally Cripps.

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A tried and tested entertainment formula versus a program that honours the historic events that took place in 1891 is at the core of the latest dispute in Barcaldine.

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A tried and tested entertainment formula versus a program that honours the historic events that took place in 1891 is at the core of the latest dispute in Barcaldine.

While it might not be as protracted as the Great Shearers Strike, the two groups that have been fighting for the preferred format for the town’s annual festival believe in their cause as strongly as any pastoralist or rouseabout.

On the one hand is Barcaldine Community Events, the group given the responsibility of putting on the annual Tree of Knowledge Festival for its 125th anniversary, last year, and on the other is the Barcaldine Regional Council, which says it has endorsement from both the community and Tourism Events Queensland to operate the 2017 program.

Graham Connors was the headline act at last year's festival.

Graham Connors was the headline act at last year's festival.

At stake has been $100,000 offered by the Palaszczuk government, half of which was used to run last year’s festival and the other half available for the 2017 event.

BCE spokeswoman Cheryl Thompson said the letter of offer for the money had been “advocated for” by her organisation, and was granted as a funding agreement between BCE and the Barcaldine Regional Council.

Barcaldine mayor Rob Chandler said a local business group had run the signature festival for many years, handing over to BCE late in 2015, and while “from the outside looking in” they had run a very good festival, “the community had walked away” from the organisation.

“Sixty-four people came to me as mayor and said, this is not working. The festival was being organised by the BCE management committee without any consultation.”

He said the council had taken over the coordination of the Tree of Knowledge Festival from April 28-May 1, and he had spent an hour in Brisbane this week speaking with Tourism Events Queensland about this year’s event.

This had confirmed council’s position as the body responsible for acquittal of funds, according to Cr Chandler, as well as the decision to spend $15,000 on a five-year strategy and marketing plan.

“At the last advisory committee meeting, everyone was invited to put their events in for funding,” Cr Chandler said. “BCE told us last night they’d pulled out of the 2017 festival.”

Cheryl said BCE had 60 to 70 per cent of the festival program lined up, including Fred Brophy and the Crack-Up Sisters, but they made the decision to shut it all down upon learning they would have to compete for the remaining pool of $20,000.

“We were told $25,000 had been committed to an Elvis tribute show. I don’t know what that’s got to do with the Tree of Knowledge.

“How could we be true to the Tree itself and its core values when the council utilises funding for Elvis.”

A balloon release sent a strong message during the NRL game held in Barcaldine last year.

A balloon release sent a strong message during the NRL game held in Barcaldine last year.

Cheryl said her group would now sit back and regroup, and assess the best way of utilising the land it had leased on the northern side of the town’s railway station, around which it hoped to create a Western Terminus tourism display.

“We want to create a Chinatown, and a Shearers’ Strike camp – it will be a fantastic set-up, that will stop travellers all year round, not just for a festival.”

She rued the decision by the group to cease its own funding application last year, based on what she said was advice from TEQ that what they’d assumed was a jointly managed grant would take precedence.

“If we’d said no, and applied for money, that would have come directly to us,” she said.

Saying the group would now seek funding from a number of sources, Cheryl said it was unfortunate the festival would go back to the past this year, “back to Revfest, footy and Elvis”.

Cr Chandler said there were more than 20 people on the advisory committee representing many community groups, who all wanted the best for local business.

“It’s unfortunate that there’s been a lot of criticism of council for taking on the coordination,” he said. “Now there’s a guarantee that the 2017 festival will be a wonderful event, and council will ensure that anyone who wants to play a part, can.”

He said the four-day festival would culminate on May Day with a celebration of the 1891 Shearers’ Strike, and would be all about the local children.

The story Tree of Knowledge fest fight first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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