Mao's Last Dancer underlines essence of Australian difference at Top Tourist Parks conference

November 01, 2007
Mao's Last Dancer underlines essence of Australian difference at Top Tourist Parks conference

By Garth Morrison Editor GoSeeAustralia and New Zealand

As the 20th Top Tourist Parks of Australia Conference at the Stamford Grand Hotel, Adelaide looks at the essence of success True Blue shines through. But what contrast. The mix amazes. It is so Now Australia.

The contrasts are Chris Edwards who made a start with husband Frank in a bare paddock, Tony Smith who sells the family cattle herd and farms eco tourism, Bill Gribble who gambles on bluff and wins and Li Cunxin, Chinese peasant who soars in ballet on the world stage.

Each shares their story with us at the Glenelg beachside conference. This is Australia. This is our nation now. We live in a cultural collision which is acceptable and now normal. But what makes Top Tourist Park members unique is their acceptance of Li Cunxin's difference.

His book Mao's Last Dancer is a jarring insight into dreadful Chinese poverty. The runt kid with spaghetti legs is ridiculed by his teachers but soars to be a master artist in ballet.

Published in 2003 his book Mao's Last Dancer is a best seller.

Li speaks of the power of determination, passion, integrity and love of family.

He makes some of us in his audience quail with embarrassment. Our generation of Australian men does not easily, if ever share such emotions.

But the women love him and rush to buy his book after his passionate delivery of his tale. That's an Australian norm too. And our women often discuss this emotional block with us.

But our young men, 19 to 25 years of age, don't rise to the standing ovation Li's delivery draws.

The ovation is led by their appreciative elders but, raised in the individual Australian way, they are free to disagree and exercise that right.

Much latter, after a few drinks, they discuss their confusion at the standing ovation response. Thank God for this difference. As long as we treasure it there will always be a place in our Australian world for anyone with good intentions and the will to contribute.

Li Cunxin dancer and stockbroker
Li Cunxin dancer and stockbroker

A question from among the 200 parkies in the audience to Li Cunxin nails the elegance of the Australian difference. Why (did you) come to Australia? Well Li's wife is Rockhampton born ballet star Mary McKendry and he loves her. It's the best reason. Lucky man.

In 1995 they moved to Melbourne. Li ranks as an exquisitely trained classical male dancer. He proves that in his roles as principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.

But ballet days past, now he is a senior stockbroker with a major Australian firm. He succeeded, once again with hard yakka. It is a regime of 5am ballet barre work and 8am to noon stock exchange study.

So the great Australian ballet has continued since Cook and then the First Fleet brought European settlement to Sydney in convict chains. Change is our national touchstone.

Chris and Frank Edwards now own and run Austin Tourist Park, one of the best award winning caravan parks in Australia. It's a Tamworth icon in the NSW Golden Country Music Guitar city. Its value is far beyond the three and a half Star rating Automobile Association assessor put on it.

And again, in something which is so Australian, its value to Tamworth tourism is not really appreciated by some of the leading lights at the local Visitor Information Centre.

Chris and Frank know struggle, hard work, sacrifice, dedication, failure, floods, illness and the value of family. They began in a bare paddock. Their home and office was a caravan. The canvas annex was both office and nursery.

Riverbank foundations Austin TP Tamworth
Riverbank foundations Austin TP Tamworth

Like most caravan park owners and managers Frank never stops. He is rebuilding the flood damaged riverbank now. He and his work team are putting tonnes of eco-approved concrete into stabilising the land to improve the outstanding business he and his family have forged.

But Australian again - part of the work incentive scheme includes slabs of beer. As multi-skilled Chris says - It's amazing how much you can get done with a slab of beer.

Bill Gribble of Top Tourist Parks icon member Lake Wendouree Tourist Park at Ballarat in Victoria bluffed his way into the park which is now worth millions.

He got Lake Wendouree Tourist Park with a submission to the local Council based on nothing more than belief in himself. He quit his job as a tour bus driver to be in Ballarat in time to apply for the then council owned caravan park's lease.

He and his family invested sweat and imagination. There is always a price. We Australians sing about it sometimes in that Advance Australia Fair national anthem some of us are still unsure off. You know - the wealth for toil bit.

WA State Director Donna Cocking of Mandurah Caravan & Tourist Park
WA State Director Donna Cocking of Mandurah Caravan Tourist Park

Gribble family child-care was often done on the job with the family dog as overseerer. The hours and effort which brought the rewards which go with the caravan park which he bought when the Ballarat Council later put it up for sale are the sweaty price of success, Bill says.

That kind of self-belief is wealth beyond measure. All that is needed to make it bloom is opportunity, courage and the wit to recognise it when it comes.

Tony Smith of award winner Rawnsley Park Station, South Australia is another example of that. His parents gave him opportunity when they passed their small, battling property to him.

But Tony took his courage and future in both hands, sold the cattle and turned to tourism.

Rawnsley Park is in the Flinders Ranges with the raw majesty of Wilpina Pound as the backdrop. It is hard country in the driest state in the driest continent in the world. Risky, you bet!

At first accommodation was outback authentic. Kerosene heater and the bed basics. Now straw bale eco lodges with the walls sealed with 10 tonnes of render per house come with all comforts. Only the scenery remains the same in the Smith vision of Outback accommodation - it is stunning.

ContACT team work with industry
ContACT team work with industry

The challenges continue and the solutions are Australian in their inventive originality. Water is a critical need. So a big dam catches all it can from the meagre yearly rainfall and seaps its contents into an acquifer which feeds a bore which supplies Rawnsley. 4WD, walking and horse riding reveal an ancient compelling landscape.

The horse riding almost fell to ridiculously high insurance premiums a few year ago, but things got better and Tony says the premiums are now manageable and guests can enjoy time in the saddle.

So Chris and Frank Edwards, Li Cunxin, Bill Gribble and Tony Smith give a similar message to Top Tourist Parks of Australia members now in Adelaide.

Li Cunxin spells it out: It's the hard moments in life, how you react to them, that counts.

Editor's note: And of course it is essential to be in a country where those reactions can grow to the full potential.

Editor's Note: Also See features which relate to Top Tourist Parks of Australia-

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