Season 1, Episode 13

Tourism Tropical North Queensland

Benjamin Starr talks with Wendy Morris, the Chair of Tourism Tropical North Queensland about the booming tourism industry and the environment in Tropical North Queensland.

Hosts & Guests

Benjamin Starr

Wendy Morris

Read the transcript

Ben: We are Driving are Own Adventure, we’re in far North Queensland and we are lucky enough to have Wendy Morris joining us who is the Chair and Appointed Director of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, what a cool gig that is. What is that all about?

Wendy: You are right, I’m very lucky! So, I’m able to work with the primary regional tourism organization. We have a team that, that spreads for the promotion of the area the whole way from the Torres Straits to the Northern Territory border and all the way down to Cardwell.

Ben: The hardest part of your job I think would be trying to satisfy everyone’s needs.

Wendy: Well in fact it’s pretty easy because in fact we have got so many different things, we have something for every visitor who comes up here.

Ben: Yeah.

Wendy: Obviously with the great gateway to the Great Barrier Reef we have the world’s oldest rainforest, we have extraordinary outback and you can do all of those things hundred different ways. For most of the locals, if you ask them, a lot of them will say, certainly I would answer that in fact that what’s called the wet season is my favourite time of the year.

Ben: And why is that?

Wendy: And the reason is it’s when the place really becomes alive. So, our rainforest is at its best, we have a lot of migratory birds coming, there’s nothing like being in this wonderful warm wet rain in the rivers and just exploring the whole region, so it’s an exciting time!

Ben: One of the perceptions that we have when we live in cities is that governments decide on how things will be, state governments run everything.  From what I’ve learned up here and my interviews that I’ve done it’s the complete opposite. These guys are ahead of government. 

Wendy: Ha ha, I think you are right there.  We are a pioneering spirit, we are entrepreneurial, we have been through very tough times from back in the late 1880s when we had the first settlers here. Obviously, it’s been tough for indigenous cultures up here in pretty tough country forever, but our early pioneers were exactly that and I think we don’t ask others to do it for us we get out there and do it for ourselves.

Ben: You are world leaders in caring for your surroundings, I mean everybody that we’ve spoken to, everybody has a moral obligation as part of their business to protect the nature, to protect the ocean.

Wendy: Here we’ve got these very special places that we are not only passionate about but we’re looking after, almost with an institutional ecosystem.  So we have our marine park managers, wet  tropics management authority, we have the  researchers through our universities, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, but we have the communities and the  NFP’s all working together to look after everything with our natural environment from removing plastics through to  being carbon neutral. So, we are absolutely passionate up here, all of us.

Ben: Yeah we’re over at the aquarium yesterday and the lovely gentleman was showing us around and   we got to come face to face with the sea turtle who is in remission from dying, and this poor thing, thirty five years old, she’d swallowed a few plastic bags, couldn’t get down enough in the waters,  she had barnacles all over her and she was on one road, extinction for her. And it’s amazing to see that  how different she was after she’s had this operation and people really do care up here. There seems to be a real I care here, more so than you see in any other capital city.

Wendy: I think that’s right and as far as the turtles go, we’ve got one of the world’s best turtle rehabilitation centres out at Fitzroy Island with Jenny Gilbert. But I think what you’re saying is absolutely right so whether you are a tourism operator or whether you’re just somebody, you know a businessperson, we all care, and I think that is what does set us apart here.

Ben: Now for people that are coming up to this region there’s so much to see and do. You can’t do it in  a week,  that’s the first thing because the drives are long, the drive are scenic and you’ve got to experience those drives, but everywhere you go takes you to a different destination so what are your top three things besides the Barrier Reef and people should go and see?

Wendy: Well my background is as a marine biologist and I’m absolutely passionate about the reef, so I’d say go to the reef three times, but that’s me ha ha ha. But I truly think if you’re a family you really must go out to the reef and there’s some great even half day trips out to some of the islands here if you don’t want to go for a full day. I know it’s hard with little ones.

Ben: Yeah.

Wendy: But I would definitely go explore a rainforest as well. You don’t have to pay a lot of money, in fact at all and national parks you can go into virtually for free.

Ben: Yeah. 

Wendy: So, go exploring our rain forest and then I think we’ve got some wonderful beaches that you need to explore.

Ben: Yes.  

Wendy: And great ways to explore our indigenous cultures as well, so a whole variety.

Ben: Now what advice do you have for people that are listening in, who may be thinking you know,  I’m going to do a sea change and I’m going to get into ecotourism or tourism. What advice do you have for those types of people?

Wendy: Come up and have a look.

Ben: Yeah.

Wendy: Come explore, spend at least a couple of weeks up here ah mm. Talk to us up here and come decide and I think  anybody who lasts, we have a saying anybody who last one wet season here is addicted to us forever because it is absolutely the most  engaging place when you see it through a whole yearly cycle.

Ben: Yeah, I can imagine it would be. Now caravanning is a huge thing, some people are into it some people aren’t, but I mean motor homes now becoming like palaces on wheels.  They’re everywhere up here.

Wendy: They are, and it’s a really important part of and not only our economy but our community. So, we love having visitors come through and they are great explorers and it’s amazing where you see people who have been in a caravan so well with your family or a grey nomad so to speak, we love love having these people here.

Ben: One of the things that we noticed on all our interviews is every company, every company is focused on educating the youth, they obviously see the youth as the turning point to everything else that is going on. In capital cities people argue yes global warming – majority go – not happening. That’s the way cities think cities don’t understand that they’ve already changed their natural environment.  Cities and mother nature are now trying to cope with all this over development.  But the environment and, and global warming seems to be the catch phrase that they’re all going for with the youth. From your perspective as a marine biologist is it as bad as what people say, or is it just a cycle that’s happening?

Wendy: I think climate change is something that no matter what is happening how much is anthropogenic we don’t know but I truly believe that no matter what we should be treading lightly on the earth and  I think our youth are extremely important because they are aware of environment and I  really believe that this area up here is natures  medicine.  So, we have, we’ve lost our connection, our true spiritual and heart of connection with nature. When you come back up here particularly if you turn around to live up here, you can reconnect and have that marvellous connection with something that’s greater than yourself, put down the iPhone, put down the  iPad, get out into nature and I would like to think that something that we can help share a lot more from this region with the whole world, particularly the youth.

Ben: You hope on Skyrail; you go across the tops of trees you see a different perspective. You hop on the railway line and you come back down, and you also see a different perspective.  I was sad to hear at the aquarium of so many species of things that are becoming non-existent and we don’t know who the impacts of all these things, like little lizards and all those types of things. 

Wendy: There’s no question things are changing, and we are seeing certainly over the recent years what   appears to be a warmer environment. 

Ben: Sure.

Wendy: And so, we are seeing in mountain tops for example many species migrate higher up that mountain top to a cooler altitude.  

Ben: Yes.

Wendy: But while it it truly astounds me how much we have learned in the last 50 years,

Ben: Yeah.

Wendy: What astounds me even beyond that is how little we still understand about the natural world and I will say that our nature is incredibly resilient. I’ve seen with my own eyes the cycles on a coral reef over 40 odd years and whether its cyclones or bleaching, or crown of thorns starfish I’ve watched the regeneration as well. But nature is complex and it’s constantly changing in space and in time. 

Ben: Yes.

Wendy: Particularly on a coral reef but also in a rainforest.

Ben: Yeah.

Wendy:  So, the most important thing that we can do is to locally create resilience through ensuring that there are no pests that are untoward such as Crown of Thorn Starfish.

Ben: Yeah.

Wendy: Or pigs in a rainforest, and also to ensure that our water, our air is as clean as possible. So, it’s a little bit like a sick patient.

Ben: Yes.

Wendy: You want to give them the best food, the best care, the best nurturing to ensure that they can recover on their own as quickly and as fully as possible.

Ben: And in this region here, when you go right up to the top of the mountains you see it’s very very flat but it could also run the risk of  over development, and that would have a major impact wouldn’t it all these beautiful mangrove swamps, and everything else.  I mean that’s a filtration system on itself.

Wendy: Well certainly the mangroves are a filtration system, but the controls the environmental controls in Australia are absolutely extraordinary.

Ben: Really?

Wendy: Absolutely.

Ben: Wow.

So, we, our tourism industry for example, we have the safest and most regulated tourism industry in the world. But the same with our development control. So, you know, while we hear a lot in the media around over development and certainly there are places that are living in through older policy cycles. 

Ben: Sure.

Wendy: There are incredible environmental controls now through state and federal government that prevent most of the serious opportunities for bad development to occur.

Ben: Sure, well I love the fact that people can come up, they can join your association and then opens them up to a whole network all of other people that they can connect with within the tourism industry, and what advice do you think you could give to people that may be listening in to, kids that are thinking about, you know what I’m coming up to the end of my HSC, I want to do something with my life.  There seems to be definitely a growth industry here for our kids that really want to get involved in helping the environment. There seems to be so many different organisations out there that are now focusing on this. Everyone seeking money of course, but they are all focusing on it.

Wendy: I think that’s exactly right that we have so many opportunities here for young people to participate in the hospitality industry, but in other industries as well and to be part of the environment there’s a whole range of volunteer groups that you can get involved with. But there are also citizen science projects as well that are very much a part of the whole scene. So, lots of opportunities and we generally are short of staff in hospitality industry up here. 

Ben: Right, there you go! 

Wendy: So, there are absolutely are opportunities to come up here and you might, who knows you might want to work on one of the boats and be out at the reef every day. 

Ben: Exactly. Well look we were in Port Douglas last night and it was booming, beautiful restaurants.  The food was amazing, the ambience was amazing. It was just like being in another like a fairy world. But I’m absolutely blown away by the passion and the dedication from people up here I think what you’re doing a great job and I think to be honest on all of you should be very proud of this because I mean you’re doing it really without a lot of government handouts,  it’s not like they come up here and throw millions.

Wendy:  No, that’s exactly right.  We we would like a little bit more of a hand, but at the same time  we’re used to working to  whatever we have, and we work together that part of the fun of it and  we’re very proud of what we have in our environment here and also in the marvellous tourism industry.

Ben: What’s the website Wendy, people can go to your association? 

Wendy: It’s tourism Tropical North Queensland or Explore Tropical North Queensland.

Ben: Fantastic! Chatting to Wendy Morris today, fantastic interview thanks you very very much for your time.

Wendy: That’s great thanks so much Ben.     

Related Episodes

Episode 16 – Fraser Coast Tourism Events

Benjamin Starr chats with Tourism Development Manager, Mark Juppenlatz and Visitor Services Manager, Andrew Ellis from Fraser Coast Tourism about the beauty on our doorstep and all that the Fraser Coast has to offer!
From whale watching, outdoor experiences to the “must do” restaurants and places to dine, everything you need to know about the Fraser Coast and Hervey Bay is covered in this episode.

read more

Episode 17 | Hill of Promise Winery

Join Benjamin Starr as he interviews Mary from Hill of Promise Winery and Cellar Door . Mary shares how she and her husband started growing grapes and producing wine in an area that is located in the heartland of sugarcane farms.

You’ll want to add this area to your ‘explore list’ after listening to and learning from Mary about this diverse region.

read more

Episode 18 | Bargara Brewing Company

Join Benjamin Starr as he chats with Jack Milbank who shares his journey from Zimbabwe to Bundaberg and how; by combining his knowledge of chemistry and microbiology he was able to start the Bargara Brewing Company.

read more