By Jenne Brammer, The West Australian
The Fitzroy Valley in WA’s Kimberley could attract up to $43 million more in tourist spending annually if action to protect the region’s natural and cultural values is taken, according to report released today.
The report written by Curtin University’s Tourism Research Cluster, and commissioned by Environs Kimberly, assesses tourism potential in the valley.
Credit: Tourism WA
Indigenous and environmental groups have been at loggerheads with pastoralists in the region, including cattle and mining baron Gina Rinehart, who want to access surplus water from the Fitzroy River to build upon pastoralism in the area.
The State Government has already given a 2017 pre-election commitment to create a national park north and east of Fitzroy Crossing, with an announcement expected in coming months. But the report says there is potential to capture further value from protecting the whole of the Fitzroy River area.
The report found that a national park, in collaboration with traditional owners, would conserve biological diversity, cultural richness and values of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River, while increasing economic development. Domestic visits would grow by up to 9 per cent and up to 160 full time jobs would be created.
An online survey of 2976 potential visitors were included as part of the report, with participants saying the main attractions were the the striking landscapes, rich biodiversity, geographical significance, and particularly the cultural diversity and Aboriginal traditions.
Report lead author associate professor Michael Volgger said the report demonstrated the Fitzroy Valley could make a substantial contribution to ensuring the unique Kimberley region could achieve its full potential.
“I would like to stress the economic perspective. As of (just before COVID hit) the Kimberley had an unemployment rate of 16 per cent, clearly indicating job creation is a priority. Tourism can make a big contribution,” he said.
“About $563m is spent in the Kimberley each year on tourism, but 70 per cent of that is concentrated in Broome. We believe, and our study shows, there is greater potential for an inland destination, and this report aims to investigate potential in the Fitzroy Valley.”
About $80m a year is spent on tourism in near Fitzroy Valley, some 400km east of Broome, but this could increase by up to $43m if natural and cultural values were protected, the report says. Attractions include Geike Gorge, Mimbi Caves, St George Ranges, Tunnel Creek, and Windjana Gorge.
Prof. Volgger said recommendations to ensure a sensitive and beneficial development included declaring the Fitzroy Valley a national park, enabling traditional owners to take leadership in tourism development, improving perceived safety and security and expanding the number and quality of attractions.
Environs Kimberley director Martin Pritchard said the results showed that there was potential for economic growth and job creation in the Fitzroy Valley that protected the environment, supported traditional owners’ aspirations, and did not risk the health of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River.
But Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said for more than a century, pastoralism has proven to be the most successful and sustainable industry in the Kimberley. Mr Seabrook said a study by the CSIRO showed surface water catchment during high flow years could support 180,000 hectares of irrigation, creating 5000 additional jobs, boosting the economy by $1.2 billion a year.