Tuesday, October 2, 2012


 Bilbao Guggenheim

Three items in the SUN Community Newspaper of Thursday, September 27, 2012, SOUTHERN, (Gold Coast, Australia), raise three different issues. While not seeking to respond to the separate issues here in any specific detail, it is interesting to note that each has a common theme - tourism. The items all argue for action to be taken to modify places, to, it seems, make them more attractive for tourists: to bring in more tourist dollars to stimulate commercial activity. The general concept is that these places lack something.

One letter seeks to have local amenities improved with an odd argument that appears to ask for matching facilities, (toilets, picnic places, parking areas), on each side of the road at Springbrook. It is as if the road was a major motorway, when it is really little more than a sealed bush track. Another article calls for a large hotel/motel complex and a Questacon - like that in Canberra - as a project to be located at Mudgeeraba, as if Mudgeeraba was the national capital of the Gold Coast, or wants to become this. It is in fact a small country village that has sprawled to become a hinterland town passed by a highway. Then there is, yet again in another letter, the echo from the past - the call for a cable car to Springbrook. It is yet another attempt to replicate the cable car to Kuranda that has, we are continually told, won awards. There are two premises here: that Springbrook is like Kuranda: (no, it is not); and that awards given by tourist bodies mean something useful and meaningful for a place. One could highlight the self-interest and uselessness in this latter circumstance by likening such awards to those that might be given by a thief for the best bank robbery of the year, if one is willing to take this analogy for what it intends to explain, rather than extrapolate any insults from it. The cable car proposal has been rejected before. Is it seeking a ‘third time lucky’ strategy in spite of all previous rational arguments that show why it should never happen - never?

Each item/letter/article wants something extra, different, additional, that folk seem to think or hope will attract tourists, like moths to lights and bees to honey pots – added qualities that will make a place irresistible. Not one position of the three published takes into account or argues for the natural circumstance of a place that might be so interesting, or could be made or become this way, as to become a desirable destination without any special additives, distortions or quirks. It seems that Springbrook, like Mudgeeraba, has nothing natively useful or of interest to tourists. More facilities, a cable car and a hotel/science centre are apparently needed to change this situation. It is argued that businesses need this extra, well, business: but do these places need this?

While Mudgeeraba has only pieces of its history as a bush village that could intrigue, Springbrook has the international recognition of its biodiversity in its World Heritage listing. Why does it need more? Perhaps the blog, WHO OR WHAT IS A TOURIST - see http://springbrooklocale.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/who-or-what-is-tourist.html - tells us why. Tourists seek entertainments and distractions. Any potential serious appreciation of World Heritage criteria and place is apparently of no use to tourists, and has no role in attracting greater numbers of big spenders: just b-o-o-o-o-ring. So? Entertainments and distractions are proposed, along with an increase in facilities to cater for the hoped-for increase in numbers. A cable car; a science centre with hotel and more toilets, picnic areas, parking spaces are the answer - or so it seems.

The odd thing here is that new facilities are thought to attract tourists! This is perhaps why we are getting hotels of different shapes and sizes and toilet blocks that are getting more quirky. The facilities themselves become the attraction, creating a twin advantage: the twisted hotel; the hotel over the gorge; the ‘green’ toilet block etc. as well as the cable car and the Questacon. WOW!! Do folk really travel the world to experience toilet blocks, hotels - and cable cars and Questacons? Do hotels really get chosen because of their silliness? Perhaps yes. “I stayed at . . . !” - “I peed at . . . !” “I rode the . . . !” “I saw the …!” It appears that strange circumstances create talking points, with each tourist seeking to outdo those experiences of all others. “Gosh!” “Golly!” “Did you re-e-e-e-e-aly?” “WOW!”

The idea that links these three published items can be responded to with one proposition: that adding things to attract tourists will do nothing for the integrity of a place other than blandly append oddities that might attract curious tourists. This effort will, in turn, place pressure on all others in the region to match the hype of performance; such is the nature of competition. The reality of a place - its integral wonder - will not improve just because of any tourist attraction. The region merely assumes the qualities of the thing that attracts. Bilbao unfortunately has become the model for everywhere. Every place wants its ‘Guggenheim’ peculiarity - here a cable car, a Questacon and matching facilities extending to extravagance and unbelievable indulgence.

Bilbao was once a dirty little place, nowhere in particular, until it got Foster’s underground transport system, Calatrava’s bridge and Gehry’s Guggenheim. The Guggenheim is the obvious landmark called ‘icon’ that is seen to attract tourists who have changed perceptions that have turned Bilbao into a desirable destination. Only purists stand to admire the very beautiful bridge and enjoy the subterranean spaces of the new transport system. People travel to see the oddities, not what Bilbao is or was. It is all somewhat like a freak show. Indeed, Bilbao has become the idiosyncrasy because of the strange exuberance of a gleaming building/sculpture based on crumpled paper and a quick scribble that has, in spite of the absurd impossibility of it all, been constructed. It seems that even glittering titanium can still attract gold. We have computers to thank for this! There is an interesting statistic here: the top one third of the Bilbao Guggenheim indulgence could be removed without having any impact on the size of the exhibition spaces. Here, ‘form follows fantasy and fun’ rather than ‘function.’

This ‘success’ has become every place’s dream. Mudgeeraba wants its G building - its G spot - just as Springbrook must have something extra as a stimulating spotlight too, if it is to thrive; even, some say more dramatically, to survive. The proposition is supported with the dollar vision of what Bilbao has become. The developments reportedly paid for themselves very quickly - WOW! Tourists do bring change, both as difference in time and character, and as cash in dollars; but this is really trite when viewed in the context of the ordinary everyday. Local life is transformed into a service industry acting to entertain and distract visitors who, with this constant search for indulgence, seek the heights of comfort amongst everything else. More and more different facilities are demanded; and more and more different ‘red carpets,’ leaving locals trying to cater for every expectation that tourists bring - for ME: done that; what else is there? We want more hype! - a call that generates only a demand for a growth in excitement! There is a blindness here to things sensitive and meaningful,

And what does all of this do to places? They all become ‘Bilbaos’ - sites that allow tourists to congregate. The logical sense in any pressure for change lies in the enrichment of a place so as to enhance its natural presence of being - to be what it wants to be - in a way that will improve everything for the place itself, its sense and sensibility; and for its locals, first and foremost, not for strangers. Then tourists might be interested in coming to share this unique experience that will be real, with real depth, not falsely manufactured curiosities created for diversions and dollars. Dollars will come with true engagement, without false fabrications. Visitors will come to share this meaningful experience that will only strengthen and further enrich itself with such international interest in quality. It is truly a ‘win-win’ situation for all, rather than just a ‘me -win-me: on to the next one’ syndrome.

Mudgerraba will need to work at this, but Springbrook already has its presence that can attract: World Heritage biodiversity. Adding toys and games to this substance will only dilute and distract. Springbrook will improve once a real and lasting commitment is made to enhancing its World Heritage prestige, with World Heritage characteristics and qualities becoming the gauge for every decision that is made on this plateau. Then visitors will pour in, not as tourists, but as persons who are genuinely interested in their world and the understanding of it. We really do not want tourists. Anything less than this will merely turn Springbrook, and likewise, Mudgeeraba, into Bilbaos - places where quantities of dollars change hands as oddities are gawked at and played with before folk get bored and whiz off to get the next big bang.

World Heritage - what does it mean? Do we care? We lost the Bamiyan buddhas (see WORLD HERITAGE AT RISK? - http://springbrooklocale.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/world-heritage-at-risk.html ); and just today, (1st October 2012), the news tells of the loss of the medieval souk at Aleppo, burnt out after bombing (see Herald Sun: UNESCO DEPLORES ALEPPO DESTRUCTION  http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/unesco-deplores-aleppo-destruction/story-e6frf7k6-1226485701126). It is a very, very sad day indeed. We must be careful not to lose Springbrook - very careful. Like most valuable things, it is very fragile - always at threat from the philistines. World Heritage needs commitment, not tourism. Politicians must come to sense this rather than bounce about with the greatest flux of self-interest while saying, “Yes, I agree” to everyone and every idea.

It is interesting that The Australian newspaper is now running a competition promoting travel. It is called ‘ESCAPE.’ One wonders just what folk might want to escape from - or to escape to - to become a tourist?

Countdown, the British Letters and Numbers television game show, (both were copied from the original French concept), explained how the word ‘travel’ is related to ‘travail.’ When the word began to be used, travel was indeed a travail. Little seems to have changed.
1325–75; Middle English  (north and Scots), orig. the same word as travail (by shift “to toil, labor” > “to make a laborious journey”)

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