Due to volunteer issues and time constraints, I ended up working in the morning of my day off. To make up for this, my hosts allowed me to have the mid-afternoon off the next day, which was pretty convenient considering this meant I could make it to the grand opening of Beerwah Village.
Beerwah is a small town in the glasshouse mountains with a population of around 1500. Its recently been going through a massive renovation bringing in a giant shopping park with things like Target, IGA, Coffee Club and a host of small boutiques. In honour of its opening, they were having a huge open day with various events, and a guest appearance by the Irwin family, Beerwah’s most famous residents.
I couldn’t help but be struck by how different the smaller suberbs in the countryside of Australia do things. I’ve gone to plenty of openings to shopping centres, parks, buildings, you name it – and they all have a pretty standard modus operandi. Fast food, lots of sweets, raffles for charity, maybe the local radio station if the event is big enough – but every single event is made to make money. The food stalls make a killing, charity’s sell of thousands of tickets, and sometimes you even have an entry fee.
Not so much here. For one thing, everything was free. A company that provides ice cones, candy floss and popcorn were on hand providing free refreshments, and there were 2 coolers to the side filled with fruit juice or water that were free for anyone to take. The local radio station was there too, offering song requests, and performing the 3 raffles….which were all free. People were grabbing several tickets to try their luck. And the prizes weren’t half bad – I ended up getting a free pizza, so dinner’s sorted sometime next week.
Even the cake, that the owner of the complex cut after the local priest blessed the area was free to anyone who wanted it! This giant slab cake, which back home would be reserved just for the guests of honour, was distributed throughout the crowd.
I think its probably to do with being such a small community. Everyone knows everyone, and an event like this is less like a new business opening and more like a big family celebration. Asking people to pay to celebrate their community being improved would be like asking someone to pay to come to their child’s birthday.
Finally, once the cake was crumbs and the speeches were over, in came Terri Irwin and her 2 children, accompanied with a python wrapped around young Robert’s neck. She spoke about Beerwah, and of course Steve Irwin’s family, how they built the park and eventually, how she and Steve met…and married after spending approximately 6 weeks together. It could have been corny, but with Bindi and Robert interrupting every few minutes with a story or anecdote it actually came across as rather sweet. Especially the one where Steve dragged Bindi out of a maths test to go climb Mt. Tibrogargan and did so with 2 year old Robert clinging to his shoulders.
The Irwins were off to New Zealand that day, but as they left, a host of animals took their place, including a cockatoo, koala, wombat, barking owl and an echidna. You could touch and take photos, and it didn’t cost a penny. Considering what it costs in most places, I was pretty damn impressed.
When I left (with 4 pieces of chocolate cake wrapped up in napkins for those who had been working and unable to attend!), it was with a feeling of satisfaction and contentment. The lack of monetary gain and general feeling of celebration at the shopping centre was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, and I wish Beerwah the best with their new development.