To celebrate Burrinjuck Dam’s centenary, State Water Corporation (SWC), in partnership with Sauce Communications, developed a comprehensive events program under the banner ‘Back to Burrinjuck’ (BTB). The program was designed to engage Yass residents and downstream communities in recognising the significance of NSW’s first major irrigation dam and the contribution of the people connected to it. This included promoting SWC’s role in managing and maintaining the dam and acknowledging its role in creating the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA).
BTB events ranged from a reunion dinner dance, film festival and memorabilia exhibition, to a cocktail event, plaque unveiling and schools program. By far the most moving event was a church service to commemorate those who died during construction.
The pinnacle of the program was the opening of the dam wall to the public for the first time in 20 years, with demand so high that the scheduled tour program was doubled.
Despite the dam’s remote location and significant logistical and safety challenges, BTB exceeded expectations - bringing together over 4500 people, generating much excitement and a shared sense of community pride.
In 2009, Burrinjuck became the first of SWC’s dams to celebrate its centenary. Burrinjuck Dam’s construction represented the birth of downstream irrigation communities and the MIA.
SWC contracted Sauce Communications to deliver a program of events from 19 to 25 October 2009 to mark the historic milestone and recognise the interests of stakeholders, past and present. SWC was undergoing a significant period of organisation restructure at the time, so the celebrations also provided an opportunity to acknowledge its people and their significant role in the history of inland NSW.
However, the program was not without its challenges. After several months of careful planning, the two key employees behind BTB’s vision left SWC. This left Sauce Communications charged with driving the original concept in close liaison with remaining SWC employees.
The dam’s location also posed significant logistical issues. Access was via a treacherous road, no more than one car-width in places, the area was prone to rock falls and there were limited on-site facilities to cater for even small-scale events. It also became clear early in the planning stages that BTB was going to attract an elderly stakeholder demographic.
There was a strong push from SWC’s longest-serving engineers to celebrate Burrinjuck’s centenary. SWC’s in-house communications team developed several options and engaged Sauce Communications to provide event management expertise, strategic communication support and an understanding of the needs of MIA-based stakeholders.
The first planning meeting was held on-site in 2008 between SWC, Yass Visitors Information Centre and Sauce Communications representatives. This meeting served to map out the target stakeholders and their interests and assess potential events that the group thought might be suitable.
It soon became clear that the diversity of stakeholders, together with community expectations, demanded a range of events and that special consideration needed to be given to engaging downstream communities. With the involvement of event management experts, local staff also realised that many of the events originally proposed were logistically unrealistic.
Subsequent research demonstrated demand for an event showpiece. As a result, emphasis was placed on providing public access to the dam wall – a strategy designed to glean support from all stakeholders as the area had been closed for two decades and this was likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In conjunction with SWC, Sauce Communications’ strategy to deliver on the program’s objectives included:
Developing and delivering a calendar of inclusive centenary-related events:
Given the diversity of stakeholder groups, a suite of events was developed to cater for different needs, comprising:
• Burrinjuck Dam Wall Tours.
• Reunion Dinner and Dance.
• Centenary Plaque Unveiling Ceremony.
• SWC Board and Sponsors Cocktail Event.
• Commemorative Church Service.
• Themed Short Film Festival.
• Memorabilia Exhibition.
This mix provided opportunities to reconnect and reminisce; to educate; to acknowledge sponsors and dignitaries; and to foster wider community engagement through established events.
Driving downstream engagement:
BTB’s downstream engagement program focused on highlighting the link between the dam and MIA at every opportunity and in all collateral, including exhibition, commemorative and media materials. Additional tactics included:
• Targeted sponsorship and tour programs.
• The inclusion of MIA industry leaders in a DVD on the dam’s history.
• A dedicated BTB Schools Program that helped students to understand the link between Burrinjuck and their community.
Executing a comprehensive promotional plan:
To raise awareness and drive attendance across stakeholders and events, multiple communications channels were used, including media relations; direct mail; print and radio advertising; secondary promotion via sponsors; and internal staff updates and briefings.
Messaging was tailored for audiences, but consistently articulated BTB’s values and objectives.
Due to the strong interest anticipated, SWC developed a dedicated BTB website. This included a ‘register of interest’, allowing SWC to track and engage potential participants.
Securing relevant sponsorship:
A comprehensive sponsorship program underpinned BTB, linking targeted industry sectors to key events and stakeholders.
The successful execution of BTB involved significant collaboration between SWC, Sauce Communications and the local community, and relied on both detailed planning and the ability to manage issues as they arose during the event.
• Sauce developed and managed the BTB sponsorship program, developing a detailed sponsorship prospectus and identifying and engaging sponsors to partner with SWC (see Appendix A).
• Sponsorship by SWC of a BTB-themed film festival was also arranged.
Downstream stakeholder engagement
• Sauce developed a BTB schools program, including delivery of education materials, art competitions and dam wall tours (see Appendix A).
• A commemorative documentary was produced, focusing on the dam’s history and intrinsic link to the MIA (see attached DVD).
• Targeted media, advertising and direct mail were executed to drive awareness and encourage BTB attendance.
• The scope of events, remote locations and lack of facilities meant detailed planning was critical.
• Sauce Communications engaged 23 suppliers to deliver the events across four venues.
• On SWC’s behalf, Sauce secured local church leaders’ support for the Commemorative Church Service, and a BTB Memorabilia Display in Yass.
• Three face-to-face meetings, including two on-site, were held.
• Regular phone meetings between Sauce, SWC and dam staff were vital to address issues, keep this large project on track and ensure the shared project vision was achieved.
Safety on site
Sauce Communications worked closely with SWC to identify safety requirements, including:
• Road access and signage.
• Fencing off kilometres of area to avoid rock falls.
• Parking supervision.
• Volunteer program and induction.
• Sauce Communications worked with SWC to coordinate a team of 17 SWC staff across various locations to execute seven events.
• Detailed run sheets underpinned each event (see Appendix A).
• Volunteers were coordinated for parking and catering, with SWC managing media.
• The single largest event was the dam wall tours, which involved 15 tour operators across three days. Timing was crucial to ensure tours did not overlap as space was limited and safety paramount.
On the ground, flexibility and team work were required to troubleshoot issues, including:
• Relocating the opening ceremony 30 minutes before it started after strong winds jeopardised the safety of marquees.
• Transporting elderly visitors to and from the dam wall.
• Doubling the dam tour schedule to cope with strong public demand.
BTB delivered community engagement beyond SWC’s expectations, with more than 4500 people participating in the week-long events program, and thousands more reached through downstream activities.
• Six key regional sponsors were secured, committing $5,000-$10,000 each.
• 18 schools (comprising 3200 pupils) registered for the BTB Schools Program.
• All events were well attended, including:
• 3000 people touring the dam wall over three days.
• Standing room only at the Commemorative Church Service.
• A further 262 people participated in private dam tours, including school groups, historical societies and sponsors, with over 50% from the MIA.
• All identified stakeholder groups participated in BTB, with strong attendance from Yass, MIA, Canberra and Sydney, and others travelling from as far afield as Queensland.
• SWC enjoyed substantial media coverage and positive feedback on the event’s success.
In addition, BTB created a permanent legacy for SWC via:
• A DVD profiling the dam’s history and present-day links to the MIA.
• A collection of historic stories, including tales from former Burrinjuck Village residents. (See Appendix A)