EDITORIAL: Telling truth about danger isn't a tourism fail
COFFEES in hand, a retired couple from Brisbane rest against the white railing on the decking just a few steps down from Hervey Bay's iconic pier and look out towards the glassy millpond.
On this perfect Fraser Coast winter's day, a grandchild darts restlessly between them, licking melting remains of ice cream from a paddle-pop stick and pleading to go for a swim.
The grandmother sighs. It's warm enough but she's "still too scared of all the sharks".
A conversation referencing the recent at attack on nearby Fraser Island follows.
Here lies the challenge in a region like ours.
Many locals believe speaking about death or close-calls in our piece of paradise damages tourism.
The truth is, not speaking about it and failing to point out certain factors, uncomfortable/potentially insensitive as they may seem, can do the greatest damage of all.
Highlighting deadly dangers in wild environments, no matter how big of a drawcard that environment is, should not be seen as trying to kill tourism nor should it be dismissed as disrespectful to a life lost.
In fact, these conversations are essential if we are to not only ensure history doesn't repeat but also provide context for visitors unfamiliar with our region
We shouldn't shy away from big, bold warning signs - if images (and many a headline) featuring crocodiles, jellyfish, dingoes and the dangers of driving on sand don't deter visitors from flocking to Fraser, shark warning signs won't either.
The island's wild side is a big part of its appeal.
We should also not shy away from pointing out that Hervey Bay's foreshore is a different environment entirely to Fraser Island despite the fact that you can see one from the other.
No-one is suggesting there is an underwater traffic sign midway between the two which reads "no sharks beyond this point".
Entering the ocean, where sharks live, always carries an element of risk no matter where you are in the world (and yes, it's worth investigating why that risk seems to have increased along the east coast of Australia in general). Indian Head however (and pretty much anywhere on the surf side of Fraser Island) is known to be treacherous and teaming with schools of fish and subsequently, large sharks.
On a clear day, it would be rare to look down and not see finned shadows lurking below.
There is almost as much of a chance of running into a shark there as there is of mixing with crocs during a dip in the Darwin River. It does not make the loss of a husband, father, son and brother any less tragic.
Those closest to him have been open about his love of spear fishing and the risks he accepted.
No amount of tourism dollars is worth risking lives but we should be able to be honest about why this tragedy was far more likely there than it would have been for that couple's grandchild had she gone for a paddle in Urangan.
It has been almost a century since a shark attack was recorded in Hervey Bay and while many a local angler or paddle boarder would be able to tell you tales about shark encounters, there is no reason to believe wading out into the shallows poses any greater threat of harm here than anywhere else in the world.
The absence of crashing surf and rips means it's even more appealing for families.
In its most recent Hervey Bay promo video, the Channel 7 Weekender program, which has generously featured our region several times this year, boasts "with safe, calm beaches, it's the perfect spot for a relaxing coastal escape".
Nothing has changed.