K-TOWN BOOM: Tiny town geared to embrace major growth
THE tide is turning for a once-forgotten town that now finds itself in the middle of a tourist boom that is gaining unprecedented momentum.
When Beverley Ruskey built a tiny tea house in the hills of Killarney 16 years ago, people told her she was crazy.
Now she is seeing a remarkable change in attitude among Killarney residents, who are determined to grasp tourism and opportunities for growth with both hands.
Proving small towns will play a crucial role leading in the region forward, a huge number of Killarney residents provided input during community consultation for the new Southern Downs Regional Council planning scheme.
Compared with around 20 people from Warwick, and 15 from Stanthorpe, 49 Killarney residents showed up to have their say on Shaping Southern Downs at a meeting last month.
The transformation in attitude has been inspiring for the woman behind Killarney's now-iconic Spring Creek Mountain Cafe.
"There used to be a lot of negativity around Killarney but we just kept on pushing," Ms Ruskey said.
Thousands of travellers now stream into the region each year for weekend holidays, scenic drives and events such as the Killarney Bonfire Night and the Killarney Trail Ride.
With tickets now sold out, this weekend's Waddle Saddle and Pedal is another tell-tale sign of a boom.
"It's absolutely amazing," Ms Ruskey said.
"To go from a little event like that to being completely sold out in a few years."
Geared up for growth
As president of the Killarney Area Promotions Association Ms Ruskey put the town's growing success down to shifting sentiments in the community.
"Now we have such progressive people who are realising the real potential we have," Ms Ruskey said.
"Everything is just getting bigger and better every year and now they have confidence in what they are doing and they want to keep going."
Southern Downs Queensland Country Tourism CEO Mary-Clare Power said rural and regional tourism was on the rise.
"Killarney is mobilising as a community and that is where you have the opportunity to get good results," she said.
Flood zones the next challenge
Ms Power said going forward, the key would be to create more opportunities for tourists to stay and spend money in Killarney.
Convincing the community to embrace tourism and growth would be essential to ensuring Killarney's future, Heritage Society member Tony Pearson said.
"The only thing these little towns have left is tourism to keep their dollars going, so you have got to change," he said.
"You have got to ride with it or it will eventually become a ghost town."
With improvements to major highways in the pipeline, Ms Ruskey expects further expansion of tourist traffic in the town.
But the flood-prone location of the town's main street will be a barrier to attracting new business, Ms Ruskey said.
"The town is just waiting to happen but we have got these empty shops that no one is going to invest while it floods," she said.
Ms Ruskey said she would continue to lobby state and federal government to have the township moved to higher ground and have the area re-zoned as a flood zone.