Future of Tunarama uncertain after second straight cancellation

PARADE: Sharon Humenick, Paris Dickson and Jan Regan wave to the crowd in the parade during the last Bendigo Bank Tunarama Festival in 2020. Photo from file.
PARADE: Sharon Humenick, Paris Dickson and Jan Regan wave to the crowd in the parade during the last Bendigo Bank Tunarama Festival in 2020. Photo from file.

COVID has once again claimed Port Lincoln's Bendigo Bank Tunarama Festival with the future of the event, like a tuna in the Tuna Toss, now up in the air however there is optimism from the committee for a return in 2023.

The Port Lincoln Tunarama Committee decided at its meeting on Tuesday evening to cancel the 2022 Tunarama Festival, which was planned to take place on January 21-23.

This announcement came after it was announced on the Tunarama Festival Facebook page the Best of Eyre dinner was cancelled due to COVID restrictions, as well as the cancellation of rides on the foreshore due to the Victorian-based company involved pulling out due to travel risks.

Tunarama president Sharon Humenick, who is also the Port Lincoln City Council's 2022 Citizen of the Year, said the safety of the community was of great concern to us and the committee was genuinely worried the festival could become a super-spreader event.

"We certainly don't want to add to the COVID problem in our region," she said.

"We are literally heartbroken that the thousands of hours that have already gone into making the 2022 festival, from staff and volunteers alike, had to be put aside for the second year running."

Tunarama coordinator Jane Intini also described the decision as "heartbreaking" and said the loss of sponsors from events being cancelled and restrictions for indoor events had contributed to the decision being made, especially as Tunarama relied 95 per cent on sponsorship.

"What can you do?," she said.

"You're facing capacity restrictions for indoor events so you can't run these at 25 per cent capacity, then you've got issues around the rising number of COVID cases in the community and fear from the community of getting involved in events like this, the cost of infrastructure to keep the event COVID-safe and when you lose sponsors you lose everything."

Ms Intini said there were critical windows to work around when planning an event of this scale, and for the past two years these windows were hit significantly by COVID and uncertainty with restrictions.

For 2021 it was restrictions around the outbreak in SA that was centred around the Woodville Pizza Bar in November 2020 and for 2022 it was the borders reopening and the rise of cases across the state.

Ms Intini said Tunarama was a significant event for Port Lincoln which had a flow-on effect across the community.

"SATC figures for 2020 Tunarama stated Tunarama was responsible for generating between 600-800 jobs in Port Lincoln and had a conservative economic injection of $3 million into the community," she said.

"This is not about rides being cancelled, this is about a business that has a massive impact in the community that cannot go ahead."

Port Lincoln mayor Brad Flaherty expressed his disappointment at the event not going ahead for 2022 but understood why the decision was made and was hopeful for the event's full return in 2023.

"It's extremely disappointing but understandable with the current COVID situation, considering we now have had cases on the Peninsula," he said.

"In one way this means come 2023 we can have a full Tunarama again, which is what I'm hoping for."

Major sponsor Bendigo Community Bank Port Lincoln has shared its disappointment at the cancellation of the event but is standing behind the committee as a proud supporter of the event.

The bank's business development manager David Stoeckel said it was sad to see the event would not go ahead, especially after all the hard work and planning that had been done by the team behind it.

"We thank the organising team on behalf of the whole community," he said.

"We look forward to a more conducive situation for the next Tunarama, and getting back to strong community participation for a great celebration of 60 years of Tunarama in Port Lincoln."

South Australian Tourism Commission executive director of events South Australia Hitaf Rasheed also expressed disappointment for Tunarama's cancellation and said the commission had spoken to event organisers today to discuss what help might be offered.

"Tunarama is an important event for the region and one we have supported through our Regional Event Fund for many years," she said.

"We continue to work with and be available to our state's events sector to support wherever we can in the delivery of COVID-safe events for South Australia in 2022.

"In addition, we have shared information with all event organisers regarding the financial support made available by the State Government for cancelled or postponed events during this period."

There is some good news as the Tunarama Ambassador Quest winner will still be announced with judging to be done shortly and the winner to be revealed by the end of the month.

The committee has thanked all sponsors, supporters, staff, volunteers and the community for their continued and unwavering support of the iconic festival.

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This story Tunarama cancelled for second straight year first appeared on Port Lincoln Times.