IT has been a shaggy dog success story but it’s time the state government chipped in to continue saving Warrnambool’s Middle Island penguins. That’s the call from the city’s mayor Michael Neoh who says news that a movie is to be made about the project will give Victoria’s tourism industry a huge, free publicity boost.
Cr Neoh said the city council and local community Coastcare Landcare volunteers, along with some corporate support, had kept the unique experiment running since 2006 with assistance from government wildlife officers. “It would be hypocritical for the government to come out now and cite the success without putting some skin on it,” he told The Standard. “Flora and fauna should be the responsibility of state government. I call on the Premier and government to support our Middle Island penguin colony. There’s always a risk of further predator attacks on the penguins and I don’t think the government should wait till that happens. It’s been a great story with worldwide interest and a free leg-up for the government.”
Yesterday a spokesman for the Minister for Tourism and Major Events Louise Asher said the Premier would be making an announcement next week. The council has approved a further 12-month extension of the project at an estimated cost of $67,270 with hopes of fresh corporate sponsorship.
Warrnambool tourism services manager Peter Abbott is confident the upcoming movie, Oddball starring Shane Jacobson, will bring worldwide fame for the city and Victoria. Major funding for the production was approved by Screen Australia last week and Film Victoria has provided $29,500. “People will want to come and see how the program works,” Mr Abbott said yesterday. We get a lot of direction from the government, but no money.”
Mr Abbott said there would be opportunity for visitors to see the Maremmas which are kennelled at Flagstaff Hill, but island visits would be limited to guided tours. “I can assure you there won’t be film crews trampling on the burrows,” he said yesterday.
Oddball is the story of how local chook farmer Allan ‘Swampy’ Marsh volunteered his two Maremmas Oddball and Missy to ward off marauding foxes and dogs which had reduced the little penguin population from more than 600 to less than 10 in 2005. The dog trial in 2006 was organised and Cr Neoh recalled there was some community skepticism. “Some people may have said it was a waste of money, but in hindsight it was a great success,” he said.“There was criticism about the island being locked up. But there would be no story to tell if it hadn’t been a success.”
Filming for the comedy-drama is scheduled to start in April and its release is expected by 2016.