Change of Watch at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival
Paul Cullen is stepping down as the Australian Wooden Boat Festival’s General Manager.
Mr Cullen, has run the last four festivals and taken the four-day event from strength to strength since he came aboard in 2011. He says he is leaving on entirely amicable terms to focus on another of his Big Ideas, Hobart’s biennial Australian Antarctic Festival, which has doubled in size since it was launched by the Mawson’s Huts Foundation in 2016 with Cullen as director. Trying to run two very large and complex festivals from one tiny Hobart office was perhaps rather too ambitious, even for someone with Paul Cullen’s unbounded energy and undoubted talent.
He explained that there was “no whiff of dissatisfaction” behind his decision to hand on his job as the Wooden Boat Festival’s GM. “On the contrary,” he told me, “I have enjoyed every minute of my time with the AWBF.”
When Cullen first put his hand up for the Wooden Boat Festival’s top job he was candid enough to admit that he knew nothing about wooden boats and could scarcely distinguish the sharp end from the blunt end. Although that might have caused some to look askance at the ebullient Irishman, it can now be seen as a distinct advantage because it allowed him to question everything and in the process to reinvigorate the festival. Cullen quickly realised that with the Wooden Boat Festival generating 200,000 visitors it could no longer simply be left to the goodwill of volunteers. To go on being successful, the organisation had to be professionalised and it has been. The army of volunteers are still at its core but now key functions like food and beverage and site management are run by highly skilled and experienced people who are regarded as some of the best in the country.
The Wooden Boat Festival Board lost no time in beginning its national search for Cullen’s replacement. I asked him about the key qualities needed by his successor. “I really don’t know,” he said. “But passion will certainly have to be one of them. I am sure that a good candidate will emerge and when they do they will no doubt bring their own particular qualities and capabilities to the task. The festival continues to grow and I see no reason why that growth should not continue. Everyone loves wooden boats and no where is that more evident than in Hobart. The interesting thing about the festival now is that 54 per cent of its visitors come either from interstate or overseas. People are coming because of the quality of the vessels on display. These are vessels that cannot be seen in such numbers anywhere else in Australia and I think that augers well for the future.”