7 June 2022

Pilgrims to Goulburn's Old Cathedral to lift local economy

| John Thistleton
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Four people in front of a Sts Peter and Paul's sign

(Left to right) consultant Joe Zabar, Goulburn Mulwaree Council coordinator marketing events Jessica Price, Goulburn Chamber of Commerce president Darrell Weekes and restoration committee chair Ursula Stephens at the launch of an economic benefits study for Sts Peter and Paul’s Old Cathedral. Photo: John Thistleton.

Sts Peter and Paul’s Old Cathedral will re-open at the end of this year bringing substantial new investment into Goulburn following a landmark heritage restoration project.

The project will likely generate millions of dollars in additional tourism spending in coming years as international pilgrims join domestic tourists visiting the old cathedral precinct.

An economic benefits study forecasts 86,000 tourists coming by 2030, spending more than $10 million on overnight accommodation, hospitality and other services.

The project has already generated jobs over the past few months while the cathedral has been closed and stripped of stained glass windows, pews and ceiling timber. These are being repaired and restored, along with the parquetry flooring and plaster walls.

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Restoration committee chair Ursula Stephens said an application for a basilica had been approved by the bishops all around Australia.

The cathedral precinct would be Australia’s sixth basilica and the only one in regional NSW.

“A basilica has some very significant associations with the Vatican and the Pope,” she said.

“When it is declared a basilica we will have very significant connections for Catholics worldwide who engage in global pilgrimages.”

Consultant and former economist for Catholic Social Services Australia Joe Zabar said the project had economic and social value beyond the Catholic community.

As an outsider, Goulburn had struck him as the City of Churches and quite special to the region.

“Heritage matters now,” he said.

“Heritage will be one of the biggest drivers of tourism in Australia for some time.

“It will take time to get there, but we need to remember the people who do the heritage runs are the more affluent; they have money to burn.”

Interior of church with scaffolding

An interior view of the Old Cathedral, stripped of its pews and with scaffolding to enable re-plastering. Photo: Old Cathedral Restoration project.

Mr Zabar said once the basilica status had been declared, Goulburn, being 40 km from Penrose (and the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy), would become attractive for pilgrimage tours.

Looking at the overnight spending of tourists from abroad, Victoria and NSW it would be an opportunity of a lifetime for Goulburn businesses.

Region Media Group Editor Genevieve Jacobs, a member of the restoration committee, hosted a forum of ideas to complement the release of the economic study.

Drawing on her other roles in ACT arts and heritage organisations, Ms Jacobs said the thinking in Canberra was that arts, heritage and culture were huge drivers of tourism for the region in the future. They would powerfully influence people’s decision making, particularly for staying longer, accessing accommodation and hospitality and coming to regard Goulburn not as a stop-over but a destination.

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This played into the Canberra vision significantly where work was underway on a new, bigger theatre to accommodate big stage shows and productions. Travellers from the southeast coming to see this entertainment would find Goulburn and other destinations around Canberra attractive for multiple events and extending their stays.

Mr Zabar said major events in the ACT, even Parliament sittings sent accommodation prices through the roof, making Goulburn an attractive alternative for overnight stays.

Goulburn Chamber of Commerce president Darrell Weekes said the strong likelihood of brides wanting to marry in a basilica would create a new market.

“You look at some of the affluent Catholics; they will spend $75,000 to $125,000 on the wedding,” he said.

“My question here is, how do we attract those people and what infrastructure do we need to support them and have them say ‘I want to be married here because this is a significant place in my faith.”

Goulburn Mulwaree councillor Jason Shepherd said while the city had three and four-star accommodation covered, it needed to look at higher-end accommodation to take advantage of a basilica.

Exterior of church with scaffolding

An exterior view of the repairs underway on the old cathedral’s roof. Photo: John Thistleton.

Goulburn Mulwaree Council marketing events coordinator Jessica Price said completion of the old cathedral project would give tourism another rich heritage experience to promote.

“Accommodation is an issue,” Ms Price said.

“We only have 1400 beds in Goulburn and regularly book out concurrent events, particularly sporting events, which we actively bid for.”

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