You know the saying; “come to me with a solution, not a problem”. You’ve probably heard it a million times and even had it thrown back at you from time to time.
Well, Darryl Branthwaite has turned that notion into an artform. And, what’s more, he is known for reeling in his whole community along the way.
The fishing pun is intentional. But more on that a bit later.
Darryl is the head of the GAPDL – Gladstone Area Promotion and Development Limited – which is the lead promotional body for the region, located on the Queensland Coast at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s a region Darryl, and his wife Jenny, love. He takes its success, its struggles and, most of all, its community, to heart.
From the deep south of New Zealand where the rain is horizontal and the air smells of “sheep shit”, to the blue waters and warmer clime of Gladstone, Darryl has carved for himself a role in the community which is as intrinsic as it is deep-seeded local.
In a place like Gladstone, and to someone with regional business experience, necessity becomes the mother of RE-invention and innovation. A strong reliance upon the resource, mining and heavy industry sector has seen what, was once a smaller coastal fishing nook, grow into a thriving economy not unfamiliar with the cycles of boom and bust.
Through the economic cycles, big new things and growing pains, there was one constant, Darryl maintains – and that’s the Gladstone region community.
Since his days owning and operating the iconic Benaraby Roadhouse – which started out in 2088 as a Golden Fleece – Darryl has played a role in developing the community and events therein.
One of the major milestones in the coming of age of this community was the beginning of the Boyne Tannum HookUp – a fishing competition which started as a way of keeping people in town for the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend.
First attracting about 800 people, in 1995, with a prize pool of about $25,000, the event grew to one of the biggest of its kind, with a prize pool of in excess of $350,000 and 10 boats – not just in Australia, but the Southern Hemisphere – attracting, in recent years up to 4000 entries and between 10,000 people to the prize draws every night of the competition.
“It was just amazing to watch,” he said.
“It is very special and the thing with fishing, it attracts people from all walks of life – and while a lot more women are getting involved now, we used to see a lot of fishing widows, who would go shopping and sightseeing and catching up for coffee. Fishing is a hero experience and it is part of the reason why people come to Gladstone. ”
As iconic as HookUp grew to be, it is just one of the events which helped put Gladstone on the map – celebrating the good times and boosting morale through the tough times.
Darryl cites the Gladstone Harbour Festival and the 70-year-old Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race as others which meant the region “owned” Easter in a state and national tourism sense, while galvanising and bringing together the community.
But booms and massive prize pools don’t always last forever. And that is where the region’s knack for reinvention and innovation – and leadership the likes of Darryl’s comes into play.
Community resilience is something Gladstone has in spades – and it’s what gives it its cheeky sense of “why not!?”.
And for their next trick, came Cruise Ships.
Now a regular sight in the Port of Gladstone, these sea-going monsters would be tug boat-guided past the bauxite and calcite piles and harbour-side fuel tanks to the city’s Eastern Shores precinct where they were greeted by markets, local vendors and a festive atmosphere.
Once again, scaling up became a logical (if not, in this case, accidental) next step.
It all started with a one-off.
“We decided to have a practice run with the stalls and event about three weeks out from the one ship we had coming in.
“We had a drone up getting pictures and sent it all off to Carnival and they said to us, ‘oh, we don’t like this at all … we LOVE it! And we are going to send you another ship before the first one is going to arrive and then another five after that!”
As a result, a multi-faceted niche was born, and Gladstone had yet another set of colours to nail to its mast.
At the heart of this, was working together.
“In business, you have to partner or perish.
“So we partnered with our neighbours and built strong ties and watertight and trustworthy relationship with Rockhampton, Bundaberg, and others around us to make a broader Southern Great Barrier Reef alliance.
“The Gladstone Ports Corporation came on board, Tourism Events Queensland, The Gas companies and major industry – and we made it work. ”
It was also about industry. Maybe that’s not your usual tourism attraction, but Darryl said the fascination with industry and how it works, makes it an added attraction to the overall offering.
The ships also gave rise to a new tourism brand and that was attracting visitors to the greater Southern Great Barrier Reef region and offering up a cruise ship experiences, with day trips to the reef, industry tours and other regional adventures.
On a more micro scale, though, Darryl has also seen the emergence of a strong local business, innovation and entrepreneurial culture in the region.
Whether it be through the tough times when starting a business or taking a leap can amount to buying yourself a job, to the good times when a business is the passion of a husband or wife who has come to town on the back of their significant other’s career opportunity – the level of commitment, and the focus from a community mentoring perspective is high-level.
Darryl said while there was a strong culture in Gladstone, and the GAPDL provided a business mentoring arm, the transience, changeable nature and made it tricky to foster a strong entrepreneurial movement.
That’s not to say it can’t be – and isn’t being – done! Especially in light of industry downturn and the impact that world economics and industry changes.
And then, came the retrenchments.
“The confidence and the ability for people to, well, take that leap of faith I guess, and really back themselves; that’s quite difficult.
“So we had the business advisory service for some time which was a good mechanism for fostering these things and getting them off the ground. But that couldn’t last for ever and now we are seeing industry picking that up.
“They were mentoring and sitting down with them and working with them.
“But there are a lot of people out there who might be too scared to link with people like big industry.”
So how do you reach those people? How do you shift mindset and make things easier?
“Well it might be providing more services, it might be council cutting red tape.
“But industry is a massive part of our world here and tourism has to play its role in the liveability to the region, and attract people to live here, stay here and play here.
“Now, we have some traction and we are moving forward at 100 miles an hour.”
Darryl reckons this is about adapting, partnering and looking at what people need – and taking advantage of the events and opportunities on offer.
Enter the cruise ships again.
“I have had people come and tell me, oh your markets aren’t really good because I didn’t sell anything – to which, I would reply, well maybe you don’t have the kind of thing cruise ship passengers want.
“And that’s what it’s about. You need to be able to adapt and know what people want.”
It all sounds like a road paved in glory. But it hasn’t been always easy.
Darryl has had his battles to fight and win – and even lose – but every one of them was a learning.
One of the crystalising moments for him, was what a business coach had to say.
“I was sitting down with him one day and I said, so where was the new stuff he was going to show me? Where was the new information? I am doing all this, I know all this.
“You know what he said? ‘But you’re not doing it, Darryl’ and he was right.”
Innovation, hard work, thinking outside the box, adapting, having your dreams and aspirations – they’re all part of the journey and all critical ingredients in making things happen.
That’s whether it’s in your own business or in the broader community.
You just have to own it.
And Darryl Branthwaite – and his impact on the Gladstone and Southern Reef community – is a testament to the fact that’s true.