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  The centre of the universeDavid Nelson
 
  White-lipped tree-frog (Artwork: Claire Souter)  
 
  White-lipped tree-frog (Artwork: Claire Souter)  

The Ravenshoe Visitor Centre opened its doors in June 1996 with the cooperative efforts of numerous volunteers, Herberton Shire Council, the Wet Tropics Management Authority, the Queensland Government and local business houses.

To this day the Visitor Centre is staffed and managed by volunteers and was the first to be accredited in the tropical north. Our committee of seven has a combined business experience of over 300 years and the staff, both front of house and behind the scenes, come from almost every background imaginable – from industrial chemist to horticulturalist, shopkeeper, train driver, publicist, rock’n’roll dance champion, grazier, ex-army, school teacher, entertainer, nurse, farmer and a hotelier thrown in to balance the mix.

We open every day except Christmas Day and two of the volunteers have even tried that. One year Geoff used opening the centre as an excuse to leave the family gathering that he was not enjoying. He opened the centre, sold a lot of chocolate-coated coffee beans as last minute Christmas presents and avoided bloodshed at the family gathering.

The second time, Adrian was running a Christmas lunch for Meals on Wheels clients at The Mountains Institute next door and the only visitors he got were optimistic people who thought, mistakenly, that there would be somewhere to have lunch without a booking in our magical part of the great Australian bush. They got fed, they got to see the Visitor Centre and they left without leaving a tip or even a thank you of any kind. We don’t open at Christmas anymore.

One of our volunteers on Tuesdays was also a councillor on Herberton Shire Council. People with drums to beat or points of view to express soon lined up at the centre. Like petitioners at an old fashioned European court they had her trapped. Eventually the pressure got too much and a substitute volunteer was found for Tuesdays.

In the early days the management team simply evolved. There were no elections. Those interested attended at 7am on the third Tuesday of the month and the ship was steered. When democracy raised its head there was a round of interviews and kafuffle and the first Annual General Meeting was held with an amazing roll-out of interested parties and volunteers. There was still some unhappiness from those not elected to office and they chose to attend the monthly management meetings as observers to ‘keep the bastards honest’. That led to a change in the rules on when ‘visitors’ could attend the meetings.

Circumstances exterior to the Centre of the Universe (the phrase coined for the centre by now Ravenshoe State School Principal, Henry Condon, and adopted by ABC Radio announcer, Pat Morrish) change the centre’s personnel from time to time and the bastards are now keeping themselves honest.

 
  Ravenshoe Visitor Centre (Photo: WTMA)  
 
  Ravenshoe Visitor Centre (Photo: WTMA)  

ABC Radio has used the front verandah of the centre for an outside broadcasting location on two occasions with a fascinating guest list made up entirely of Ravenshoe residents. On the same front verandah we have presented a talk by Dr John Winter on the habits of the twelve species of possums to be found in our immediate vicinity. Another talk was given by our local Queensland Parks and Wildlife Officer, Col O’Keefe, regarding the now completed upgrade to the walking tracks at Millstream National Park. Harry Kunz also gave a talk on the many species of wildlife treated at Eagles Nest Wildlife Hospital.

We welcomed the addition of the Nganyaji Interpretive Centre to provide insights into the life of our local Jirrbal people. From a practical point of view, it also removed a certain vulnerability from the rear of the building where there used to be two louvre windows flanking the back door. The need for a chocolate-coated coffee bean (the only edibles in the premises) would often entice the local children to come in for a night time snack, guaranteed to keep them wide-eyed for hours.

Representatives of the Centre of the Universe are to be found at any gathering of Visitor Information Centre managers and are part of the community development team formed by Tablelands Regional Council. Not forgetting promoting our town, initiatives of the centre are the Made in Ravenshoe Trade Fair, the Ravenshoe Monthly Markets, the Good Service Awards with the Chamber of Commerce, the centre’s website and, this year, the Sir Rufous Bettong Award for services to wildlife.

We do what we do and we do it very well for Ravenshoe, the Wet Tropics, Queensland, the world and the universe.

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David Nelson

David is the chairman of the Management Committee of Ravenshoe Visitor Centre and has been a willing volunteer there for many years. He is also a delegate to the annual Queensland Information Centres Association. David and his partner, Anne, moved to Ravenshoe in 1996 after 15 years of running pubs in Papua New Guinea and they set up The Pond Cottage B&B on Tully Falls Road, Ravenshoe. David has been president of the Bed and Breakfast and Farmstay Association of Far North Queensland since 2002.

Claire Souter

Claire was born in Toowoomba Queensland in 1950, but grew up in the mallee scrub outside of Dimboola in rural Victoria. She moved to Cairns with her husband in 2002, having already established herself as an artist in the south, exhibiting her work widely over the last 20 years. Claire’s paintings and exhibitions are a continual reflection of her personal life which has involved family life (3 children), women’s issues, spiritual themes and a close observance of the natural world. She has received numerous awards for her work. She has also lectured in visual arts at TAFE for many years. Claire has found inspiration in the plants and animals of the tropical rainforest and now runs her own gallery in Kuranda.

 
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