An interview with Josh Wilson, Deputy mayor of City of Fremantle on official visit to Korčula

Josh Wilson, newly elected Deputy mayor of City of Fremantle was recently on his official visit to Korčula as Fremantle is with Korčula in sister city relation since 1999.

He was interviewed by a local journalist Karmen Skaro.

This is your first visit to Korčula. What are the impressions like?

It’s beautiful and obviously a place where community is very close. Everybody seems to know everyone so there is a feeling of one big family. I’ve only been here for two days but already, walking this morning in the sunshine, I’ve met five or six people previously met during a dinner I had with Franc Stenek, Korčula’s Deputy Mayor and Lovro Krstulović, Korčula’s City Council chairman. It is a place where you feel very welcome and as a special guest.

Last year, wife of your predecessor Doug Thompson, Suzette, took part in Marco Polo Challenge triathlon race held in Korčula. This year City of Fremantle is sponsoring the competition with 500 Australian dolars. Can you tell us a little bit more about this sister city relation?

The City of Fremantle has always been a very multicultural place. We are lucky that our community within it has small communities from many places, particularly from Europe and southern Europe. Obviously, around the time of World War II there were migrations from Europe to Australia when a significant number of Croatians came to Fremantle as well. We are a town by the sea with shipping history and a town of rich historical heritage. If talking about first European settlements and oldest buildings, the oldest building dates 200 years back. Of course, when compared to Croatia, for you that is like a baby building because many of your buildings and sites date even 700 years back.

Nevertheless, that brings us to one more thing we have incommon. We both have this beautiful old part of the town that needs to be protected and preserved. So, with the heritage, being by the sea and Croatian community in Fremantle there is a natural connection between our two cities. Hopefully this connection will only grow stronger in future especially because we think Croatia is not so well known by people in Australia as it ought to be.

Fremantle is near Perth, in a region known for its wines. Have you perhaps tried some of Korčulas’ local wines?

Yes, I have. I was very fortunate to try Pošip, the white wine. It is delicious, of great taste and very nice bouquete, very aromatic. Also, I tried Plavac mali, the red wine. Regarding wine industry in Western Australia, although relatively new, only since 30 or 40 years ago, it is growing rather fast. And that is one other thing we have incommon- the climate. The climate in Western Australia and Dalmatia is quite similar, good for growth of quality grapes.

If the global economic crisis, that Australia seems to have luckily managed to escape, is taken into consideration together with wine tasting culture in Australia, would you say there’s room for Croatian wines on Australian market?

I think so, definitely. Although in the world of wines it takes time for new and those from other countries to get accepted and recognized. For an example 20 years ago, when Australia tried to export wine to Europe, nobody could believe it. Why would people in France, Italy or Croatia be interested in wines from Australia? But over time a good product gets recognized. I think white wines from southern part of Croatia inparticular would be a very popular drink in Australia. And again, when its new its difficult, but also, when its new its exciting. If Croatian wine gets offered at a dinner party everyone would be surpirised but a surprise would be a happy one. And of course, saying that, there are many Croatians in Fremantle and I am sure some of them already import Croatian wines and share them with their friends.

Tourism is another common thing between these two sister cities. For both of them it represents a serious source of income. Considering what you have seen and experienced so far during your visit, could you compare tourism in Fremantle and Korčula? Maybe you have some friendly advice in which direction should Korčula be further developing as a tourist destination?

I think how the most important thing for a place like Korčula is to become known in itself. Also, what I have noticed, if you are a tourist in Dubrovnik and you want to take the bus to Korčula its actually very easy. But the knowledge of the people in the Old town of Dubrovnik about the bus timetable is not very good. If you ask someone when does the bus to Korčula leave from Dubrovnik, most will say they are not sure, but they think it’s at 3 p.m. Then, you have to get on the bus that will take you to the main bus station to get the ticket, you can’t get it in the Old Town. So, just to buy the ticket, a person needs to leave the Old Town, get on the public transport and then come back to the Old Town again. Still, true challenge for Korčula is to get Australians, once asked to name some places in Croatia, except naming Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik to name Korčula as well. Citizens of Fremantle I believe are begining to hear the word Korčula, especially thanks to some publicity due to previous visits of Suzette, Doug and Brad.

The other thing Korčula might pay more attention to is the length of the tourist season. You want the season to be as long as it can be. Triathlon is a very good way to try to begin with the season as early as possible. European tourists want to come for a summer holiday when they can enjoy the sun and swim in the sea. You can’t do that if you live in London or Berlin. On the other hand, people in Australia can swim in the ocean nine months of the year. So, to come to Korčula we don’t need it to be really hot, we don’t need to be able to swim. For Australian tourists April, September or November might be interesting months to visit Korčula when its quieter and possibly cheaper. Instead of swimming and sunbathing, they can ride bikes, go walking, look at birds, visit wineries… These are all things Australians like to do on holiday. They dont need to have beach holiday. So these are all possibilities for Korčula to expand the season and get tourists from other parts of the world who dont need it to be really hot.

City of Fremantle was listed on UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010. There is an initiative within the Town of Korčula to do the same. What are your experiences and what you think Korčula should pay special attention to when applying?

Obviously , Dubrovnik is already listed and I think Korčula has the same qualities especially with the old part of the town that has been quite well preserved . There is really nothing in this part of the Korčula that has taken away the history of the buildings. The process is long and slow, but to have Korčula listed on the World Heritage List makes sense especially to have protected something you already have. Community here naturally respects the heritage and I don’t believe would allow a five storey hotel to be built at the end of the Old Town.

Fremantles’ Mayor, Brad Pettitt, is a member of Australian Greens party. What changes have occured in Fremantle once a person with an academic bacground in sustainability became its first man?

Fremantle wants to become more bicycle friendly. In Australia most roads are designed for cars and many people use cares. We believe its much better for the environment but also for the entire atmosphere of our city if there werent so many cars. More people would walk, ride bicycles and take public transport. So, the city has adopted a new bike plan. New special lanes and crossings are in plan to be built. And although a deputy mayor coming from a Labour party I nevertheless share this idea because I think its simply a good policy.

The other thing we are trying to do in Fremantle is to revitalize certain parts of the town with abandoned buildings that used to be used as storages which are now empty. So the current Mayor, myself and the Council are very keen to see some new developments in these areas that are not so, as we say, high density meaning with good, quality apartments with schools, museums, shops, train stations , restaurants etc. This would not only make our city more alive but also economically stronger. And again, it is a kind of living that is sustainable. People then wouldn’t need to have a car or two if everything in such place would be at the reach of a hand.

Thank you for your time and hopefully next year Korčula can have a team from Fremantle joining Marco Polo Challenge.

I feel like Suzzette has set quite high standard that is hard to follow, but yes, triathlon is quite popular sport in Australia so I believe many people would like the idea of coming to Korčula for a holiday and then, during the holiday, take part in Marco Polo Challenge triathlon race. That is one of the reasons too why we have decided to sponsor this years race. Over time we hope the connection between Korčula and Fremantle to grow stronger and Marco Polo Challenge can be one of the ways too.

If you would like to read this interview in Croatian – it is on following link:

http://www.korcula.hr/10274/celnik-australskog-grada-fremantla-u-posjetu-gradu-prijatelju-korculi/

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