Ex-Sydneysider STUART PEARSON looks at Bathurst and its future from the perspective of a new resident.
A VERY significant and exceedingly rare event will occur in the heavens above Bathurst in 2028.
At precisely 2pm on July 22, the afternoon sky will turn dark and thousands of people will experience something that occurs, on average, once every 500 years.
The event is known as a total eclipse of the sun, where the sun is completely obscured by the path of the moon. A total eclipse lasts for just several minutes but for anyone lucky enough to witness it, the experience will last a lifetime.
The previous time this occurred over Bathurst during daylight hours was in 1608 - a time when the Wiradyuri crossed the land. They told stories about the male moon completely covering the female sun while he makes love to her.
Industry experts speculate that there might be as many as 50,000 people coming to Bathurst to witness this event in 2028. If so, then there will be more folks here for the solar eclipse than turn up to watch the Bathurst 1000.
Global astronomical events, such as solar eclipses, meteor showers and auroras, are drawing more visitors each year. For example, domestic and international tourists in their tens of thousands descended on Cairns in 2012 to witness a total eclipse of the sun, pumping an estimated $30 million into the local economy.
A recently published report for Destination NSW - the peak tourism body of the NSW Government - highlighted the prospect of astro-tourism becoming a new and lucrative tourism product for inland NSW.
But first, let's define what astro-tourism is. It is using the unpolluted night skies as a natural resource to inform tourists of the scientific, cultural, spiritual and astronomical significance of our universe.
Astro-tourism is uniquely suited to outback Australia because you need clear skies that don't have the atmospheric pollution of capital cities. As it turns out, there are already a string of well-resourced observatories spread throughout inland NSW that are at high elevation and away from sources of atmospheric contamination.
Finally, by blending astro-tourism with First Nations heritage and storytelling, it means that astro-tourism could generate more visitors, more spending and more jobs to the regions than many other forms of tourism, such as sports tourism.
Overseas, astro-tourism is booming. Research shows that the market is expanding by a staggering 165 per cent annually. In Australia, astro-tourism is still nascent, but indications are that growth here will be just as strong (if not stronger) than in the northern hemisphere, which suffers from more pollutants in its atmosphere.
The overseas astro-tourism market tends to be populated by seniors who are highly educated and travel in small groups. This demographic reinforces last month's column, in which I pointed out that the fastest-growing cultural tourism market in Australia is filled by "wealthy, educated, grey nomads".
Hence, there is already a large and enthusiastic demographic in Australia waiting to experience this new offering.
Currently, there are a few ideas for the development of astro-tourism in regional NSW, but nothing concrete. However, the opportunity to create a new market is compelling and overwhelming.
In my humble opinion, there are two tourist opportunities begging to be developed.
The first is a return rail trip on the Sydney to Broken Hill XPLORER to experience the desert night skies. The other is a circuitous round trip via coach from Sydney to the observatories of Bathurst, Orange, Parkes, Dubbo, Coonabarabran and return to Sydney via Mudgee.
The dark skies of inland Australia are waiting for a whole new group of people eager to learn about the mysteries and marvels of the cosmos - to be inspired and learn from the stories of the First Nations through to explanations by modern scientists.
Whether it be the Dreamtime or the intergalactic world of astrophysics, a whole universe awaits.