FROGS and STEPS help transform Gulf Station
Gulf Station, in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, is one of Australia’s oldest farm complexes and was once a thriving community and tourism asset. While not affected by the 2009 Victorian bushfires, it came within 200 meters of being destroyed, but was saved by local volunteers who battled ember attacks.
Prior to the fires, Gulf Station was running at a loss and it was clear that the current operating model was unstainable, so it closed in 2009. In 2012, in keeping with its remit of preserving our history, The National Trust set about trying to find a sustainable, financially viable long-term funding solution. As part of this process, FROGS was formed (Friends and Relatives of Gulf Station). This volunteer group looks after Gulf Station, tending the gardens, conducting guided tours, school holiday and educational activities, etc.
Grant revitalises iconic community landmark
In 2013, FRRR’s Skills, Training, Engagement & Practical Support (STEPS) program granted FROGS request to fund a Volunteer Coordinator for 12 months. The STEPS program was joint initiative between the FRRR and Regional Development Victoria that supported communities affected by the 2009 Victorian bushfires. It ran from July 2011 to May 2014. It had five themes, one of which was to provide practical human resource support.
The original aim of this project was for the Coordinator to come on board and support volunteers, helping to upskill them so that they could confidently run the site. However, the role morphed into a coordinator for the Station, with a remit to find ongoing funding for the position.
A strategy was developed involving a mix of commercial, tourism and community activities. The volunteers were reengaged and became excited at plans to re-open the site. Many had felt fatigued and psychologically affected post the fires, and this passionate community was very pleased with this new support model.
This approach has been extremely successful. The Coordinator has continued in this role and is setting Gulf Station up with a sustainable and viable operating model to take them well into the future.
Tourism supports operating expenses
Gulf Station is once again a vibrant community hub and tourist attraction, with a calendar of events and activities that has reengaged the community and brought visitors to the area. The team of volunteers have the appropriate skills and are still engaged with Gulf Station. The model is generating income to support a Property Manager and meet core running expenses.
Without a doubt, the significant commitment of the volunteers and broader community, with a little help from the STEPS grant, has made this successful comeback possible and ensured the conservation of this historic Australian landmark.
As Alexandra Hill from The National Trust said, “The relaunch of Gulf Station reaffirmed the enormous importance of community involvement and commitment to the site. Moreso than at other properties, the success of the projects and programs live or die by the Yarra Glen community’s engagement. Without the significant commitment of the volunteers and broader community none of the ongoing programs of events and conservation would be possible.”