“We are Geelong and tonight we shine”

Thus concluded an editorial in Saturday’s Geelong Advertiser (the “Addie”). It referred to the opening of a new stand at Geelong Cats’ Simonds Stadium in Kardinia Park together with four spectacular lighting towers which will enable night matches to be played for the first time.

It was a big deal for club and city, attended by PM Gillard, Victorian Premier Denis Napthine and a host of dignitaries. The event assumed particular importance as a symbol of the city’s commitment to the future, following the recent announcement that Ford, a leading local employer, would be ending production in Australia in 2016.

HE Paul Madden at BioLab, Geelong

HE Paul Madden at BioLab, Geelong

Geelong, like cities in the UK with strong manufacturing traditions, has been facing up to the challenges of evolving industrial structures for some time. On previous visits to the town I have been impressed with the way the city comes together to join up efforts to promote and develop the local economy, through organisations like the Committee for Geelong, at whose invitation I was visiting, along with a few other diplomats.

We had a really interesting discussion over dinner with local MP, Richard Marles (who has become a good friend during his time as Parliamentary Secretary at DFAT), and representatives of other local bodies including Mayor Keith Fagg.

Investment in high tech R&D is clearly a priority, and it was fascinating to visit Deakin University’s Tech Precinct and see their work on Haptics. This was a new word for me. It’s basically about technology which gives the user a sense of touch in virtual simulations or remote control.

We saw a researcher being jolted about on the end of a robotic arm as he experienced flight simulation. The excitement of science doesn’t always come through in school classrooms, and both Britain and Australia are working hard to find ways to get more kids to stick with science and maths.

We visited BioLab at Bellmont High School, a state-wide resource providing opportunities for school students to get their hands on expensive kit, to which they wouldn’t normally have access, to perform experiments linked to real-world situations. We watched them performing drug tests on simulated blood.

Geelong

Later, we also had discussions with tourism industry representatives about the way Geelong is promoting its role as gateway to the world-famous Great Ocean Road. They said Britain was still their largest source of tourists.

And the footy match? It couldn’t have been better for Geelong. The Gold Coast Suns, led by former Geelong favourite son Gary Ablett, pressed them hard for the first three quarters to keep the fans on their toes, then the Cats went on a scoring spree with 9 goals in the last quarter that left a satisfied grin on the faces of the large crowd.

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