Issue Sixteen


Changing Communities

WORDS & PHOTOS x Damian Breach

11 January 2017
Part One

Positive Change

Tasmania is a long way away from the rest of the world yet that isolation isn’t hindering it slowly becoming a global mountain bike destination; and a prime example of the positive change that mountain bike tourism can bring. A change that is also helping small communities find new identities.

Part Two

A brief History

Tasmania was first named Anthoonij van Diemenslandt by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman when first discovered in 1642. However, Tasmania has a rich indigenous history which stretches back some 40,000 years and extends to a time when it was joined to mainland Australia. Since that first discovery by Europeans, Tasmania has gone through many changes – from colonisation and use as a penal colony by the British (who named it Van Diemen’s Land), conflict and decimation of the indigenous population, development of rich mining and forestry industries, growth of the “green” movement and recognition of the environmental significance of Tasmania’s natural resources, to a modern tourism-driven economy.

Part Three

A Changing Economy

However, more recent changes in Tasmania’s economy and the reduction of traditional primary industries has left some small communities struggling to find new futures. Jobs have slowly eroded as mines and forestry becomes less economically (or environmentally) viable; populations have moved to the larger cities in search of jobs and opportunities, shops and services have closed, and communities and local economies have ground to a halt. The economic and human impact of a shifting global economy leaves once thriving towns shadows of their former selves and often fading into extinction.

What can a community do? How can they rebuild?

Part Four

Rebuilding with MTB

They say that you either adapt or die, and following the tourism and service dollar is a logical choice. For some this choice has followed a relatively safe route and is attracting tourism dollars – provided primarily by the travelling grey nomads (retirees) – by creating townships full of cafes and crafted goods. However other small brave communities are taking a different path and mountain biking is providing a bright light and slowly injecting life into those regions.

Once such example is the small township of Derby, in north-east Tasmania. Since the closure of the local mine in 1948 Derby has been left to slowly die. Only a couple years ago the main street was nearly a ghost town with the population hovering around 200 people. However, the multi-million dollar development of world-class mountain bike trails in 2015 (and continuing today) was a bold move that has proven to be very successful.

Driven from a vision that recognises the region’s natural beauty, unique ecosystem and environmental significance, the local councils and governments were successfully persuaded to divert taxpayer funds into building a mountain biking destination. It wasn’t just about building “trails”. It was about building a “destination” where the visiting mountain biker could get to ride in a location not replicated in other parts of Australia (or even the world). It was about showcasing everything that was unique – from the rivers and streams, to the forests and fauna. Of course, this was all supported on the base of some of the best designed and built trails in the world.

Only a couple of years into a much longer-term plan, Derby has started to revive. Cafes are opening, real-estate values are increasing, new business ventures are starting, local jobs are being born, and people are coming – not only from across Australia, but from around the world. Some might say it’s happened too quickly, as the town struggles to physically accommodate and find services for the increase in visitors, but such quick success could never be planned for – only hoped for. Even the hard-lined old-guard locals who resisted or questioned the development are coming on-board and not only accepting, but even participating in business and even taking up riding. Simplistically, it’s a success story as the millions of dollars poured into the project will continue to be returned in many, many ways.

Part Five

The Bigger Picture

But the story of mountain biking in Tasmania is about more than Derby, it’s about how other towns and regions are also positioning themselves on the global map of mountain bike tourist/travel destinations. As another example, the west coast region around Queenstown is also a depressed economy hanging onto a mining past and recently the local powers-to-be have begun exploring opening up the very unique area to mountain biking. Again though, the plans are about capturing what’s unique about the west coast, not replicating what can be found in other locations. With a landscape that is more reminiscent of parts of New Zealand the region will arguably bring the most unique mountain bike trails to Australia.

And that seems to be the key in creating a successful Tasmania destination – having diversity and using each area’s strength to their advantage. From the unique landscapes in and around Hobart in the south, to exploring the small and lesser known towns that are close to World Heritage landscapes, it’s about it all. And it’s not only about building new things as mountain biking has been part of Tasmania for many years, it’s also about incorporating and improving the existing and about making the small island a location in which mountain bike smiles can last for weeks of travel, not just days.

Part Six

Our Part

In the economies of old, we would indirectly support these communities. From the wood for the construction of our homes, to the lead, zinc, or copper mineral used in our consumables, in some way we would help keep the communities alive – and most often without even knowing it. Now, we can have a more direct effect. When we travel to mountain bike towns and locations (and spend money) we help drive their economies and in-turn bring communities alive. We provide employment for local people and help establish and maintain businesses. We give hope. This is a conscious choice we make. Yes, the trails give us stoke and the emersion in nature fuels our soul, but the simple act of buying a beer and burger and filling up the car with petrol before the drive to the next destination provides way more to the people of the town.

Part Seven

If The Building it, Go

This is a story that is probably replicated in many other places around the world. Small, once rich communities, which used to once thrive off the back of mining, forestry, or manufacturing slowly drift off the map as those industries slow down and/or die. Communities that are, at times, left behind as the speed of change is far too great to follow. Mountain biking isn’t saving these communities on its own, but is just one small piece of a puzzle to rebuild and change.

Find them, travel to them, and help them.

Issue Sixteen

Thanks to Rob Potter for all your hard work. Rhys Atkinson from World Trail, and Buck and Jude from Vertigo Shuttles. Your help and time made it all happen.

The carbon footprint for the travel for the production of this Issue has been offset by a contribution of $10 to the Eskapee Carbon Offset Fund.

The End
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