9 November 2023

Waterslides at the expense of the arts? As Winston Churchill said, it's a slippery slope

| Chris Roe
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Is it possible to celebrate both the arts and water slides?

Is it possible to celebrate both the arts and water slides? Photo: Chris Roe.

Just over a week ago Region’s Oliver Jacques, a self-confessed ‘Philistine’, had members of the Riverina arts community clutching at their pearls as he declared his preference for a water park over an arts precinct.

As a lifelong doodler, woodworker, sculptor and painter I felt compelled to respond to the scandal in defence of Australia’s favourite punching bag: the ‘yarts’!

Ever willing to stir the pot, Oliver’s opinion piece asked why residents in our largest centres of Wagga and Griffith were forced to travel to Narrandera, Leeton and Junee for decent water recreation facilities.

He argued that “the Riverina’s cultural attractions are now the envy of rural Australia” but suggested the community would get better value from a new waterslide.

READ ALSO Wagga and Griffith need a giant waterslide more than a new cultural arts hub

While Oliver copped some heat on social media, the story received plenty of favourable shares and the poll itself delivered a clear majority of those in favour of slides.

When he asked, ‘What should be council’s top priority when it comes to your town’s recreational facilities?’, a solid 66 per cent called for a water park ahead of outdoor parks and walking areas (19 per cent), galleries and museums (11 per cent) and sports ovals and centres (4 per cent).

According to our wildly unscientific poll, waterslides are a popular option. Photo: Region Riverina.

“In a battle with anything and a waterslide, the waterslide always wins!” conceded Eastern Riverina Arts (ERA) Executive Director Tim Kurylowicz in good humour.

Among those who took Oliver to task on social media, several comments objected to the idea of any more “sporting stuff” for the region and Peita Vincent described the premise of the question as “nonsense”.

READ ALSO The self-serve myth: Can we still call it ‘service’ when we’re doing all the work?

Jessica Anne was equally scathing as she took the time to respond to the “clickbait question”, telling Oliver to “do some research” to better understand the “different funding buckets” and local government budgets.

Intriguingly Robert Sheather declared, “Grow up, especially when your ownership’s interests are so blatant”, perhaps advancing a conspiracy theory that Region is in the pocket of Big Waterslide.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill and the apocryphal quote attributed to him. Photo: The Internet.

But returning to the arts, there is a popular meme that is circulated online whenever arts funding is under threat.

It claims to quote Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who, when asked to “cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied, ‘Then what are we fighting for?'”

While the quote’s historicity has been thoroughly debunked, it does echo the sentiments of the 20th century’s most quotable man who was also a passionate painter.

The meme is likely to have evolved from a story told by his daughter in which he rejected calls to ship paintings from London’s National Gallery to Canada to protect them during the German bombardment.

“No,” he declared, “bury them in caves and cellars. None must go. We are going to beat them.”

READ ALSO Do you have ideas on attracting more visitors to Wagga? Have your say on city’s tourism roadmap

On another occasion, in an address to the Royal Academy, he repeated one of his favourite lines, “It is by art man gets nearest to the angels and farthest from the animals”.

“Here you have a man with a brush and palette. With a dozen blobs of pigment, he makes a certain pattern on one or two square yards of canvas, and something is created which carries its shining message of inspiration not only to all who are living with him on the world, but across hundreds of years to generations unborn,” he declared.

“It lights the path and links the thought of one generation with another, and in the realm of price holds its own in intrinsic value with an ingot of gold.

“Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

Stirring stuff!

Surprisingly, the noted bubble bath enthusiast also had an opinion on waterslides, and it seems that he was a fan.

In this NSFW video from the French Riviera in 1934, the venerable Winston Churchill can be seen going backwards down a waterslide, only to lose his swimmers as he hits the water!

So where does that leave us in the battle between the sliders and the art lovers?

Returning to our Facebook comments, Matthew Stuckings advocated for the Old El Paso approach, echoing the little girl who ended the taco vs burrito debate when she dared to ask, “Why don’t we have both?”

Given the location of Wagga’s, The Station Arts Hub on Wollundry Lagoon, it is theoretically possible that we could literally “have both” and I’m sure the ERA team would welcome a curly slide off their back deck.

"Why don't we have both?" Photo: Screenshot/Old El Paso.

“Why don’t we have both?” Photo: Screenshot/Old El Paso.

But I’ll give the final word to Elaine Sullivan who commented wisely on our Facebook page that the Riverina’s villages benefit from the status quo by attracting day-trippers to their pools.

“I think that you will find the smaller regional towns that frequent Wagga for increased shopping options, spending money in our town to support and sustain businesses appreciate that families from Wagga visit their recreational options,” she argued.

“It would be unlikely that these parks in smaller towns would remain operational without the support of our residents taking the family out for a day trip.”

And perhaps this is where the answer lies. If we think more broadly about our regional ecosystem, and if the towns of our beautiful Riverina work together and share and promote our diverse facilities, we can have our cake and eat it too. Something of which Winston would no doubt approve.

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