Big thinking required if we are to go forward as a region
AT A corporate gathering a few years ago I was asked to talk about regional journalism and present a "big idea" that would drive both circulation and digital subscriptions.
It was an audience of about 300 NewsCorp corporate types and I thought I'd explain who I was and where I was from.
"Hi, I'm the editor of The Northern Star based in Lismore - Goonellabah, actually - which is on the Northern Rivers of NSW."
I could see from the blank looks on their faces I would have to dig a little deeper and do some further explaining.
"For those that don't know where the Northern Rivers is, jump in your car and head north along the Pacific Highway from Sydney and keep driving until you hit the Big Prawn, then hang a left," I said.
We have a lot of big things on the Northern Rivers. We have the Big Turkey in Kyogle, a whopping big lighthouse in Byron Bay, and Norco is toying with the idea of building a Big Ice Cream at its headquarters in Lismore.
And it is going to take some big thinking to put aside all the differences we have as a region, each in our own little silos, and make the Northern Rivers operate as a whole entity and one that is easily recognisable.
Everyone knows where the Gold Coast is, or the Sunshine Coast, or even the Central Coast or the Snowy Mountains, for that matter.
But the Northern Rivers remains an abstract concept, five or six local government areas, spread over a wide area, each with a big town plonked in the middle, fighting and sometimes competing with its neighbouring town for the same stuff.
Now I am not saying that I want the Northern Rivers to become like the Gold Coast.
Far from it. And it's not really like we can claim to be a secret, when 2.1 million visitors turn up in Byron Bay each year.
But how do we turn those many millions of visitors inland and share the love around? Is it a rail trail? Men and women in lycra? Is it a light rail system on the old Casino to Murwillumbah rail line? Is it a combination of both?
And there are many more big things we need to tackle as a region, such as our future water supply and waste and recycling services.
We could and should be punching above our weight.
We could and should be demanding more services and infrastructure.
But I don't see Future Northern Rivers as simply providing politicians with a potential shopping list for ribbon cutting projects. It's much more than that.
It's about articulating a vision for the future so we can all sit back in 15 or 30 years' time and marvel at what has collectively been created over that period.