I rise tonight to reflect on and to honour my very good friend, tourism identity and business leader Charles Woodward. Charlie passed away on 18 May 2017 after a battle with cancer, and I certainly was profoundly saddened when I heard the news. He was such a lively character and had a generous spirit, and I am really going to miss him turning up to events in his pith hat-and his quirky sense of humour. My thoughts are with his wife, Pip; his sons, Michael, Ben and Peter; his extended family; and the wide network of friends, staff and contacts.
No-one could dispute that Charlie was a visionary whose amazing business acumen and leadership helped shape Far North Queensland's tourism industry into what it is today. In the early 1980s, Charlie successfully lobbied for the Cairns Airport to become an international gateway, and he continued to focus on building capability through his work on the board of the Cairns Port Authority. Today the airport boasts unrivalled connectivity for a regional city. In fact, it has recently been identified as No. 7 in the top 13 international regional airports, so it is doing extremely well.
Charlie had the foresight to recognise the potential of the Japanese tourism market and was a key player in its development, working in the market to attract investment and visitors to Cairns. He was one of the first to identify the potential of the Chinese market, as far back as the mid-1990s, and had worked since then to ensure Cairns can successfully meet the travel needs of the burgeoning Chinese middle class.
I have known Charlie personally since the days of the Orange Blossom Balls in Kuranda, back in the early 1980s. Charlie and Pip purchased the disused Mountain Grove orange orchard and, through their vision, turned it into a world-class tourism facility with the opening of the Rainforestation Nature Park back in 1976.
Under Charles and Pip's leadership, CaPTA Group now consists of Rainforestation, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome, Jungle Tours & Trekking, Tropic Wings Cairns Tours and Charters, the Wildlife Habitat, Careers Training Centre and ABC Sales & Maintenance.
While the innovative range of tourism products they established has paid amazing economic dividends for our city, it would not have been possible without the relationships they formed along the way.
Charlie's strong social conscience was especially evident through his work in addressing inequality for local Indigenous people. From early on, he worked closely with Indigenous elders on a shared vision for the betterment of communities, focused on training and employment. His desire to ensure that authentic Indigenous heritage was shared with visitors led to the establishment of the Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience at Rainforestation in 1993.
The strength of the relationship formed between the Woodward family and the Yirrganydji people is demonstrated by the longevity of employment of the guides and the performers at Pamagirri. Some team members have been there since the opening, 24 years ago, and have subsequently seen their children employed in the same place.
Charlie's community spirit meant that he was first to put his hand up to offer support for local charity appeals and disaster assistance. This was most evident through the founding of the Committee for Oncology Unit at Cairns Hospital, or COUCH. COUCH came about because Charlie and Pip saw how their dear friend Liz Plummer, who was undergoing treatment for cancer, had suffered through the absence of an oncology unit in Cairns.
Charlie and Pip were the driving force in rallying the community and corporate and political support. This determination, that people in Cairns should not endure the lack of services, was the genesis of the establishment of the Liz Plummer Cancer Care Centre in 2011. The community will again benefit from the generosity of the Woodward family through their donation of a significant parcel of land for the COUCH Cancer Help & Wellness Centre. COUCH has now raised much of the money needed to build stage 1, a remarkable achievement. Sadly, it has come too late for Charlie.
Over recent decades, Charlie, Pip and the CaPTA group have received many awards for their work in tourism, business, community and Indigenous engagement. Last year, Charlie received life membership of TTNQ, and this year was named Cairns Regional Council's Citizen of the Year for the second time.
I valued Charlie as a dear friend, a trusted adviser and an absolutely inspirational leader in our community. He will be missed on so many levels. He was one of a kind, and we should continue to reflect on him as somebody who made such a difference to our community in his lifetime. Long after he is gone, he will live on in so many ways, particularly in the work he has done in COUCH and the wonderful infrastructure and support that he established.