Looking back to help Ballarat move forward

What a wonderfully thought provoking experience our Leaders Forum days are proving to be. We were fortunate to recently hear from an impressive line-up of speakers focusing on Ballarat’s culture, heritage, arts and tourism. We started our day early at Sovereign Hill, journeying back in time to marvel at our rich history which has been so eloquently frozen in time.

Sovereign Hill is completely independent, employs 380 people along with 250 volunteers and contributes $225 million a year to the Victorian economy. The costumed school program is a world leader and is doing amazing work with researchers in the fields of ADHD, autism and dementia.

We were privileged to spend time with Sovereign Hill chief executive Jeremy Johnson, whose main philosophy is simple – admit if you’re not good at something and then surround yourself with talented people and resources in that area of skill and expertise.  He encouraged us to consider the “uniqueness” of Ballarat and it’s richness of culture and history.

This was echoed by Visit Ballarat chief Noel Dempsey, who shared his thoughts on the need for Ballarat to define its brand. He suggested we might be the “capital of the west” and encouraged us to think about big picture ideas, considering “what is uniquely Ballarat – how do we bring the heritage alive?” We have a growing calendar of events such as pop-up restaurants, Spring Fashion Week and White Night Ballarat, and Visit Ballarat is looking at ways to plan strategically over the next five to 10 years. 

Craig Dent, chief executive of State Trustees, discussed authentic leadership. He reminded us that character is one of the main ingredients of authentic leadership, along with transparency and accountability. 

He encouraged us to delve into our own “genuineness” to become more self-aware. As leaders, we should consistently practice self-awareness and reflection, develop and empower employees and those around us, while also seeking honest feedback. 

The afternoon was spent at the magnificent Art Gallery of Ballarat, where we enjoyed a vibrant panel discussion about the role of arts in shaping our region. The panel included Julie Collins and Andrew Walsh (Biennale of Australian Art); Malcolm Sanders (Regional Arts Victoria), Gordon Morrison (Art Gallery of Ballarat) and Bryce Ives (Federation University’s Arts Academy).

We heard a wealth of information, from the history of the gallery founded in 1884 to the exciting new B.O.A.A, which Ms Collins spoke passionately about. Mr Ives’ presentation was particularly inspiring when he explained how, as a 10-year-old, he rode his bike in midwinter to knock on the door of a radio studio to stand up for something he believed in. He encouraged us to either be the person who gets on their bike or the person that opens the door.

Finally, we heard from Ballarat council’s Susan Fayed and Federation University’s David McGuinness on Historic Urban Landscapes, discussing a framework to help centralise our history and culture. With Ballarat’s population to increase 60 per cent by 2040, we need to adopt a smart city mentality to develop sustainably.

The day proved the need for leaders to work with the community to develop big ideas to grow our historic and culture-rich city. To borrow the words of Mr Ives: “Ballarat is a city that wants to leap forward and everyone is poised … ready to jump”.

Kym Edwards is a participant in the Leaders Forum, Leadership Ballarat & Western Region’s annual experiential learning program for emerging leaders.