THE BOURSE WHISPERER: Twenty years ago Geoffrey Stokes came up with the idea of holding a mining conference in the iconic mining town of Kalgoorlie.
A delegation of 150 mining-minded types attended the first conference in 1992, which has evolved into one of the mining industry’s mandatory calendar event hosting crowd numbers reaching well above 2000 for the three-day and three-night event.
The candles on the Diggers and Dealers birthday cake may be set alight in Kalgoorlie for the last time this August however, with news the city’s Goldfield’s Arts Centre may be closing, forcing the conference to find a new venue.
The Goldfields Arts Centre is currently administered by Curtin University, which no longer views the Arts Centre to be part of its core business of education and training.
Curtin has apparently been in negotiations with the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder for a number of years for the city to take over the management of the Arts Centre.
“The week before last, we received a letter from Curtin saying they have been unable to reach agreement with the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder,” John Langford director of Palace Securities, the company that owns Diggers and Dealers told The Roadhouse.
The City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder has put a condition on taking over the management of the Arts Centre requiring funding of around $17 million.
The Roadhouse understands around $9 million dollars of that is required to upgrade the Arts Centre, with another $7 million to cover ongoing operating costs.
“Curtin has advised the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder that if they don’t reach agreement by 30 April they will announce that the Arts Centre will close effective from 31 August, so they will keep it open until the last day of Diggers and Dealers this year,” Langford explained.
Apparently the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder applied for funding through the Western Australia state government’s Royalties for Regions scheme but had its request knocked back.
The City said the refusal of the state government funding means it can no longer afford to operate the Goldfields Arts Centre.
One glimmer of hope emerged when WA Premier Colin Barnett was ambushed by journalists saying he was unaware of the request for extra funding.
Barnett said his government provided support for conference centres around WA and would look at any funding request to keep the Goldfield Arts Centre open.
“Diggers and Dealers is very much identified with being in Kalgoorlie, the heart of the gold mining and nickel district, and I guess the historic and iconic start of the mining industry in Western Australia, so that’s where it needs to be,” he told journalists.
Barnett told the ABC he didn’t know all the details but he is of the opinion Diggers and Dealers needed to remain in Kalgoorlie.
“Diggers and Dealers will not work in Perth.” he said.
Curtin University will relinquish its role as manager of the Arts Centre when the current contract expires at the end of the year.
According to the university the centre will close if new management isn’t confirmed by the end of May.
“We have written to the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder saying that we have to have certainty on a venue,” Langford said.
“Logistically we need to know before Diggers and Dealers [this year] because people start to book their accommodation for the year ahead.
“We have told Council that we need some certainty by 31 May.”
The location of Kalgoorlie as host city for the Diggers and Dealers is part of the character of the event and is a major reason many delegates return each year.
Having to relocate such a well-established event would no doubt have some effect on its success.
“It would become more like all the other conferences and certainly loose its uniqueness,” BC Iron managing director Mike Young told The Roadhouse.
“I would like to see it stay in Kalgoorlie.
“There is no doubt that the local economy receives a boost during the week and with all the talk of mining not supporting the regions, which is untrue, this adds fuel to that argument as well.”
Young’s sentiments were echoed by Atlas Iron chairman and product of the Kalgoorlie School of Mines David Flanagan.
“It would be a shame if Diggers and Dealers would have to leave Kalgoorlie as I feel there is a close connection between the conference and the local community,” Flanagan said.
Langford said the preference of the conference organisers is very much to stay in Kalgoorlie as the conference works well in Kalgoorlie, and is a major event on the city’s calendar.
“We need the facilities in the Arts Centre,” he continued.
“In Kalgoorlie there is nowhere else for us to go. If we can’t get that certainty [from the Council] then we will need to find a location for Diggers and Dealers.
“We’re not taking that decision lightly. We’re not offering any threats. Either we do have a venue or we don’t.”
Langford stressed that the conference organisers had no qualms with the decision taken by Curtin University as they understand running the Arts Centre is not part of its core business.
“To be honest with you, it is a decision for the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Whether they want to have an Arts Centre.,” Langford said.
“We’re a willing tenant there for a week but we certainly aren’t in a position to offer comment with respect to whether Kalgoorlie can have a viable Arts Centre for the rest of the year.”
Langford said the most common question conference organisers have been asked over the last 20 years by journalists has been, ‘is it true that Diggers and Dealers is looking at moving away from Kalgoorlie?’
He said that until the last week that has never been a point of discussion at Diggers and Dealers.
Now it looks like it could become a reality.