Blessing Of The Bikes 2017 – Where To Now?

After three great years of the Blessing of the Bikes, I have to sadly note that it will no longer be held in Mirboo North. With everything having gone very quiet for this year’s event, I recently asked Marcel from Inline 4 Cafe, what was happening, as there were rumours suggesting that there wasn’t to be a 2017 event. Regrettably, it’s become just too difficult and stressful to try and run a fourth Blessing of the Bikes in Mirboo North, given the limited resources and lack of wider support. I know from what I’ve personally heard around the traps that there are elements in Mirboo North that have vehemently opposed this event from the very beginning and there also seems to be a general lack of interest from local businesses, as well as the South Gippsland Shire. Though this doesn’t apply to all, as there have been individuals and others that have provided solid support throughout the last three years.

Sabine (left), supporter (centre) and Marcel (right) - Blessing of the Bikes 2015 - Mirboo North Victoria

Sabine (left), supporter (centre) and Marcel (right) – Blessing of the Bikes 2015 – Mirboo North Victoria

I can already predict the champagne bottles popping as the naysayers cheer the demise of this amazing event, but I would suggest that those people have been looking at things far too narrowly. From a number of perspectives, the event has put Mirboo North on the map and, while it attracted many bike riders on the day, it also made many others who were not aware of this great countryside come to have a look and pass on their experiences. That means that while the Blessing of the Bikes brought a large group together for one day it has also brought visitors, new and old, on a continuous basis throughout the year and this comes from talking to visitors at each of the last three events. It’s the secondary impact that’s of the greatest benefit because it provides ongoing visitors, which makes the town more vibrant and not just a one hit wonder and then back to being a sleepy hollow.

2016 Blessing of the Bikes - Mirboo North Victoria

2016 Blessing of the Bikes – Mirboo North Victoria

2016 Blessing of the Bikes - Mirboo North Victoria

2016 Blessing of the Bikes – Mirboo North Victoria

In 2016 I wrote about Tarwin Lower and Unify. Tarwin Lower is a much smaller town than Mirboo North, but has welcomed a three day heavy metal music festival into its heart and benefited immensely. So why is it that a much larger town appears to hold such disdain and even despises a half day event such as the Blessing of the Bikes? If the Blessing of the Bikes was something that brought disrepute and unrest to the town, I could understand any concerns that anyone had, but the nature of the event and the people attending is one of well-behaved and normal people. I’ve talked to many who have attended each year and it’s not like it’s riotous gangs descending onto Mirboo North, any more than the heavy metal music fans going to Unify are out to destroy Tarwin Lower.

Andy and Val from Leongatha - Blessing of the Bikes 2015 Mirboo North Victoria

Andy and Val from Leongatha – Blessing of the Bikes 2015 Mirboo North Victoria

Andrew from Morwell with 64 Enfield- Blessing of the Bikes 2015 Mirboo North Victoria

Andrew from Morwell with 64 Enfield- Blessing of the Bikes 2015 Mirboo North Victoria

Caiden, Collette, Ryan, Matt, Scott, Georgio and Drew (in no particular order) from the Mornington Peninsular - UNIFY 2016 Tarwin Lower Victoria

Caiden, Collette, Ryan, Matt, Scott, Georgio and Drew (in no particular order) from the Mornington Peninsular – UNIFY 2016 Tarwin Lower Victoria

Maz from Tarwin Lower and Ang from Mirboo North - UNIFY 2016 Tarwin Lower Victoria

Maz from Tarwin Lower and Ang from Mirboo North – UNIFY 2016 Tarwin Lower Victoria

VicRoads was apparently inundated with complaints about the road closure and parking during last year’s event, but no one seems to complain about the main street being closed for three or whatever hours for the Mother’s Day Arty Gras festival and parade which, by the way, doesn’t seem to bring in any significant numbers of tourists or the like to Mirboo North. On the other hand, the Mirboo North Italian Festa brings in a huge number of people and clogs the streets with cars, so I wondered when that event would raise protesting cries by those who oppose things that don’t meet with their approval. Inevitably, it didn’t take long at all, as I understand that some aspects of the Italian Festa have already been criticised and complained about by some thin skinned residents or businesses. Should the Italian Festa also move elsewhere to appease a few naysayers?

Italian Festa 2017 - Mirboo North Victoria

Italian Festa 2017 – Mirboo North Victoria

Food and crowds - Mirboo North Italian Festa

Food and crowds – Mirboo North Italian Festa

We have numerous events hosted by surrounding townships such as the potato festival at Thorpdale, the garlic festival at Meeniyan (which reportedly had an estimated $600,000 economic benefit to the town and net profit of over $29,000) and Unify at Tarwin Lower (with the footy club benefiting significantly), and these events seem to be welcomed by the townships and their residents. Yet when we have two unique Australian events in Mirboo North, one which is a special cultural celebration and the other that’s become a major event in the country’s motorcycling racing calendar, they fail to receive the same level of support, and they get petty complaints to boot. And given that Mirboo North is the home of the offices for Destination Gippsland in the old shire hall where the Mirboo North Times resides, you have to wonder about their reason for existence.

The new Mirboo North Times

The new Mirboo North Times – old facilities become a new home

Yet despite the difficulties, Marcel and Sabine are still pursuing alternative venues where the Blessing of the Bikes could be held. I’m hoping that one nearby township that would be ideally suited to host this event and has been given the option, sees the value and takes up this once in a lifetime opportunity to put themselves well and truly on the map and reap the ongoing benefits. It’s an event that’s long been celebrated in Europe and the US, and South Gippsland is the only place in the Southern Hemisphere where it’s been held, so it would be a gross shame if pettiness and parochialism caused its demise. This is one event that World + Dog in the motorcycle racing calendar and elsewhere will be keeping their eye on and hoping that it continues to flourish.

The Blessing of the Bike

Bikes fill the main street – Mirboo North Victoria

2016 Blessing of the Bikes - Mirboo North Victoria

2016 Blessing of the Bikes – Mirboo North Victoria

So for all of you riders and others that have supported the Blessing of the Bikes for the last three years, if you’re wondering what’s happening this year, well, nothing is happening unless a new home is found. But keep riding through and enjoying the great countryside that’s on offer until that too is denied you. I guess the difference is that you’re not riding a treadly and dressed in Lycra, else everything would be open to you and every effort made to look after you, including road closures. I’ll be keeping in touch with Marcel and Sabine to see how they are faring and will provide updates as things unfold.

Addendum: I spoke with Marcel after his Facebook announcement, and the comments that I’ve received here, and one thing became apparent is that when Marcel mentioned ‘the broader Mirboo North community’, he really meant the broader Mirboo North business community as well as the South Gippsland Shire. The Blessing of the Bikes has grown to become a much larger event than ever anticipated, and I think will grow even larger, and clearly that requires greater support from  local businesses and community groups, as well as the Shire, as the costs must escalate commensurately. Unfortunately, even the likes of the Bendigo Bank withdrew support for whatever reason, yet I personally know of businesses that don’t benefit at all from the event, but still support it fully. The community, the residents, do seem to overwhelmingly support the event, given everyone that I’ve spoken to over the years, though the minority do seem to have the loudest voice. Sadly, I think the ship has sailed and is now headed to other ports.

Update 1: I saw the following article in the Mirboo North Times and felt that it was worthy of posting and giving it some analysis.

First off, there are always two sides to a story and the truth always lies somewhere in-between. Language can often be misinterpreted and emotions can run wild, especially when it comes to social media such as Facebook. Many people have taken the Facebook post in the most literal sense, without giving any thought that maybe it wasn’t the whitewash some interpreted and perhaps some just wanted to use it as a basis on which to be offended.

Secondly, the comments made about Inline 4 Café not engaging with the community is, at least from what I understand and have observed, not quite accurate. Given that there were some businesses, churches, the Mirboo Country Development Inc, the Shire, VicRoads, TAC, the local member Danny O’Brien, the Bendigo Bank and others involved (but with diminishing interest), does not indicate lack of community engagement. But what does seem to be evident is that the community groups that Deb Williams talks about never approached Inline 4 Café so that they would not be ‘alienated’.

Thirdly, when I spoke to Marcel and Sabine, there was very little personal engagement from many of the local businesses. It’s quite disingenuous to blame Inline 4 Café for not engaging with the community, when apparently a fair proportion made no effort to engage with them when Inline 4 Café said they tried. Again, this is a two way street, newcomers should be made welcome to a community, not be ‘alienated’, and so the burden of introduction should not be theirs entirely. Ever has it thus been in any country community that I’ve known.

Finally, the Mirboo North Times is being disingenuous about Inline 4 Café not engaging with the community. As a newspaper, they have made no apparent effort themselves to get Inline 4 Café’s side of the story and even boycotted one of the events, which raised the ire of one of our Reverends. It’s all well and good to report one side of a story but, as I said at the beginning, there are always two sides to a story. Perhaps sometimes it’s just easier to promote one side and confirm whatever bias exists.

Having worked in the news industry for many years and covered many stories, and continuing to do so now in Gippsland, I despair when I see such things as this happening. What I observe from all of this is that a cry for help was completely ignored and now we see the results. No one is a winner in situations like this and playing the moral high ground or a blame game benefits no one. If this event was considered important to Mirboo North, then why didn’t those who profess to know how it’s done, reach out and save it?

Mirboo North Times article on the Blessing of the Bikes 2017

Mirboo North Times article on the Blessing of the Bikes 2017

And all too often life imitates art, or is it art imitates life? Please read all the links.

Update 2: I’m very heartened to read two letters submitted to and published in the Mirboo North Times that reflect much of what I wrote regarding the comments made about ‘process’ over outcomes, and the treatment of Inline 4 Cafe. Both point out the old adage that comes from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7, Verses 1 to 5, to wit:

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

John and Carolyn Robertson were kind enough to allow me to re-post their letters sent to the Mirboo North Times, which I think balances out some of the comments made in regards to this unfortunate saga.

Dear Madam,

At the end of the 2016 Blessing of the Bikes as I farewelled, along with the 15 chaplains, the best part of 12,000 bikers.  I was amazed at what had just happened that day.  12,000 people who do not live in this town came to visit and discover what a beautiful place this is.

On that day 12,000 motorcyclists roared into town, and amazingly, there was not one arrest, not one display of drunkenness or other anti-social behaviour, not one broken beer bottle, not one cigarette butt thrown into the gutter, not even a piece of chewing gum spat onto the street… there was an incredible sense of brotherhood and peace.  They were here for something far more important… The Blessing… and it happened in our town… of all the towns in which it could happen!

When I go to Melbourne for private and company business, all I need to say to explain where I come from…”Where the Blessing of the Bikes is held”… and their eyes light up.  The experience has really touched thousands… and they have spread the word.

Guess what?  Throughout the year many come back, this time with their friends and they spend their money in this town….. and I might add, not just in the one café , but in all the shops, cafes and bars.. and even bought property!

This town has now become a destination for many a weekend ride or weekend drive all because on a particular day in October 12,000 visitors came to this small country town for one thing and one thing only.  And why? Even blind Freddie can see it is because of the Blessing of Bikes, which really has become a blessing to all of us.
But it appears our blessing is going to be short lived – Vic Roads will not close the main street for this year’s Blessing of the Bikes.  There will be no Blessing of the Bikes in Mirboo North this year.

Are we going to stand by and let this incredible event that has truly put Mirboo North on the Map slip away from us because of a few vociferous, miserable, small minded nay sayers?

Are we going to let the Blessing of the bikes go to another town while we slip back into back water and die a death of a thousand cuts?

Think about it.. It is the Blessing of the Bikes that has made us internationally known.

These 12,000 visitors come from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, professions and business.  I can’t but help feel that as a town, we are on the cusp of growing this beautiful town into an even greater town.  I see it every Saturday morning – strangers looking at the Real Estate windows.  People who will bring new skills and new vision.

You do not learn anything looking into a mirror.  We do not have the answers on how to grow this town bigger – hey, even to just keep us alive!  It needs more business, it needs more people.  We need to look to others… look outward.  Cities grow because they are magnets for people – because they have the potential to realise big dreams.  We need to become a magnet.

I believe that an integral part of the magnet that attracts people to this town, are the festivals we hold.  All of them!  The most successful to date are the Blessing of the Bikes and the Italian Festival. We should be looking at organising even more.  Could a beer festival be on the cards?
There is no future in Mirboo North if we are about keeping this place to ourselves.. Mirboo North needs to be a destination that travellers/tourists come to enjoy our pristine landscape. Some enjoy it so much they even look at buying house here to live in, or for a weekend retreat.
People are not going to come here unless there is something to come to.

Pastor John Robertson
Mirboo North Christian Centre

Dear Madam,

In last week’s Times – on page 3 was an article?/editorial? (I don’t know which because it was anonymous) on the Blessing of the Bikes.

Many people in Mirboo North have been in the loop from the beginning. Many of us have supported the Blessing from its inception. Perhaps we should also be examining the other reasons for the ‘failure’ of this event (though how one could call it a failure confuses me). That Marcel and Sabine were new to town means that their ideas were naturally viewed as ‘suspicious’ (note the difficulties the previous owners of the newsagency had). Marcel and Sabine are ‘foreigners’ – we could have extended grace to people who come from a different culture and have a different way of speaking and doing things. We were one of the people who went to Marcel and Sabine to ask about their dream, about their vision, about what was being planned. Instead of criticising them for ‘not following our processes’, do we make our processes clearly and obviously known? We, all of us, as individuals need to ask ourselves: Did we extended a hand of support and advice or did we sit back and wait for them to somehow divine who the ‘power brokers’ in town are?

I really don’t think the Blessing can be compared to the Italian Festival (which has been in this town for many years) nor the University of the Third Age initiatives (which will take place in the Community Shed). I guess for some people, like the writer of that article, events in this town are about social connectedness but that is also insular. We can be connected to wider community that exists beyond Mirboo North. A small town will remain a small town if it is only about internal connectedness. But perhaps that is exactly what those who have opposed the blessing are about.

I don’t see any reason to rejoice in the fact that The Blessing has left town….

Ps Carolyn Robertson
Mirboo North Christian Centre

Update 2: And we have a winner.

Update 3: I also found out that John and Carolyn are moving to NSW. Apparently it has to do with John’s work, but I hope it hasn’t been influenced by their support of the Blessing of the Bikes and subsequent ire from some townsfolk.

14 thoughts on “Blessing Of The Bikes 2017 – Where To Now?

  1. Les Watson

    Unfortunately no matter where you live,there will always be snivel libertarians and bloody doo-gooders. These people cannot see the wood for the trees. I for one have enjoyed every one of the blessings over the years,and my wife and I have spent our money in the town as well,so I hope something can be arranged for this year to stick it those snooty bastards.

    1. Ray Post author

      Thanks Les

      I really don’t know what the issue is, but I think your views reflects how those who have attended the Blessing feel about the situation, including many residents of Mirboo North.

      1. Joannne bell

        So sad to hear Ray as it’s a wonderful event talked about by many riders who enjoyed the day . Our town is small and quiet on Sundays and is quite open to festivals and holds events with the main st closed off for these occasions , we are in Ballan a beautiful country town just off the highway , close to Ballarat , Daylesford, feeling and Melbourne . A suggestion for your event , wishing you goodluck and am available for any help required , cheers Jo

        1. Ray Post author

          Thanks Joanne

          It is sad, especially given the location, which is a rider’s dream, but such is life. I used to go through Ballan many times when I lived in Melbourne and know the area well.

  2. Carrie Catswold

    Thank you for sharing your blog, Ray. I didn’t know that the Blessing of the Bikes would not be held at Mirboo North this year. And what a great shame that will be.

    I live just out of our little township and over Christmas and the new year I was blessed to have my brother from England staying with me. He is a bit of a recluse at times but was totally charmed by Mirboo North and spent a great deal of his time there. In particular he loved the In Line 4 Cafe, the Hotel and the friendliness of all the shop owners. Even the willingness of the Pharmacy staff to go out of their way to befriend and help a total (and somewhat wacky stranger) left a great impression on him.

    When I showed him the photos & the write up of last year’s Blessing of the Bikes, he started making plans to come back again to experience it himself this year. He will be devastated by this news and sadly I fear his visit may well be postponed now.

    What a sad indictment this is for all the wonderful people of the town who have put so much into making this amazing event happen.

    1. Ray Post author

      Thanks Carrie and keep your fingers crossed. Marcel is working very hard at trying to find a local township that would be willing to take over this great event. Given all the Facebook comments, the support is heartening and revealing as to how many truly are in support of this event.

  3. Shawn K.

    Sad news for your community. As you said, these are the kinds of events that have an impact long after the formal dates. What better way to help people find what they’ve been missing, and bring some financial support along, too?

    I’m unfamiliar with how your local government works. Was there a hearing or some other meeting where the event was discussed, or was permission for the event withheld, without explanation?

    1. Ray Post author

      It’s not that the event has been banned by our local council, but it’s that there is little broader support to enable the continuation of the event. To hold an event like this in Mirboo North, being a major thoroughfare north and south, requires a fair degree of traffic management, road closures etc. The council, our state government roads body, the police all find it too much effort overall without the rest of the community giving their full support. These organisations have supported the event in the previous years, but they have indicated that they really don’t wish to be involved given the issues. Then there are those in the community that complain about a one day (more of a half-day) event.

      What’s needed is a township that has little affect on major traffic (but has good access), has a suitable venue (such as a large football oval/s), has people that are experienced in running such events and is a township that is willing to support the event. I have absolutely no doubt that any township that holds this event will benefit immensely both in the long and short term. When you have 5000-8000 visitors coming to your town and willing to spend money to do so, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that the town will benefit.

  4. Shawn K.

    Oh, I thought there was an event permit denied. Traffic control is a pain for any event of that size. Wherever it ends up, maybe the local law enforcement agency would be more agreeable if they were augmented by more volunteers. That works well in my area, since it allows officers to focus on major intersections, and the volunteers can work along the route/perimeter to keep non-participants from driving into the area. I’m not sure if volunteers can legally function in that way for you, but they’re a big help here.

    It seems the Mirboo Northians aren’t seeing the big picture with regard to the follow-on benefits of this kind of event. There’s an annual car show & swap meet near me that has grown over 50 years to become a huge draw to the area, and very beneficial to local businesses. All the town has to do is grant access to the fairgrounds (for which they’re paid), and provide traffic control for a few hours for a parade. The three day event fills hotels, restaurants, stores, campgrounds, and fuel stations. The Blessing event sounds like it has similar benefits, in addition to introducing new riders to the area, probably leading to future visits.

    Good luck to the organizers. They’ve established a strong event, so I hope finding a new venue won’t be too difficult.

    1. Ray Post author

      We did have lots of volunteers, but when the authorities indicate that they aren’t interested, it becomes difficult. We had semitrailers driving through the main street in the narrow gap available, with thousands of people everywhere (as you can see from the photos). Our local Arty Gras has traffic diverted via a parallel back street, which bypasses the main street and avoids all issues, but for some reason this can’t be done for this event.

  5. phillip

    there’s a simple strategy. put the word out as to which business’ support riders and organise ride days and support those business premises. take up all the parking in the street, one bike per car park, and smile and say good day to everyone who walks past.

    1. Ray Post author

      There are many good people that support the event, so in many respects you’d be cutting your nose to spite your face by exacerbating things. One simple solution would have been to hold the event on the football grounds, which would have taken the vast majority of bikes and people off the main street and solved the traffic problems. But for some reason, from what I understand, that wasn’t offered as an option. If it was welcome, I’m sure that the football/netball club would have scrambled by now to make such an offer.

  6. Bob Eliason

    Is it “The Blessing of the BIKES”, or is it really “The BLESSING of the bikes”

    1. Ray Post author

      If you’re talking about the poster, I think the words have just been emphasised by the graphic artist that designed the poster. Call it artistic license.

      In my story, I capitalise ‘Blessing of the Bikes’ as these refer to a very specific event, not blessings and bikes in general.

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