The Courier: Editorial

Cleland koalas

It’s often the case that people fail to realise the treasures they have on their own doorstep.
Many South Australians are guilty of taking our beautiful State for granted.
There are few cities in the world that can offer their own equivalent of natural bushland and native animals within half an hour’s drive of the CBD.
Adelaide can.
Research shows the city’s mix of metropolitan facilities and proximity to an authentic Australian bush experience is appreciated by the growing Chinese tourism market.
But perhaps what we have to offer isn’t packaged appropriately for international visitors.
The State Government is trying to change that as part of multi-country trade mission it is kicking off this weekend.
Among the range of big projects about to be spruiked to would-be foreign investors is a master plan for a koala centre combined with a five-star luxury resort at the Cleland Wildlife Park.
The centre would be a leading hub of research and education on koala health and habitat while offering treetop walks to see koalas in their natural environment plus koala handling experiences.
The resort would offer luxury accommodation and fine dining, hopefully taking advantage of Mt Lofty Summit’s stunning views and SA’s top quality food and wine.
It sounds ambitious and with a $100m price tag it is certainly expensive which is why foreign investment is needed.
This is beyond our means.
Besides the problem of finding the cash, the Government will also have to negotiate a maze of planning and environmental concerns in order to avoid the same fate as the discredited Waterfall Gully cable car and summit hotel project of the late 1980s.
However, if it can find a backer and if it can produce a “major project” that delivers a world class facility capable of operating sustainably in its environment, then the Hills could be poised for a tourism bonanza.
A high profile Cleland Wildlife Park opens up many opportunities for visitors to explore the neighborhood and the hidden treasures we all enjoy.
The region needs a point of difference to market itself on an increasingly crowded world tourism stage … and this could be the answer.

Luxury resort

The Mt Barker Council’s Development Assessment Panel faces a difficult decision today over the proposal to build an $8m luxury resort near Hahndorf.
The five-star facility, aimed at meeting demand from high-end tourists is, in the council planning staff’s own words, a finely balanced proposal.
It does not meet several of the planning criteria for the Watershed Zone, including provisions that stipulate tourism facilities should be small scale and set up in established buildings.
While the Promient Hill Resort is arguably small in capacity because it will only host up to 22 guests for overnight stays and up to 50 diners in its private restaurant, at 225m long it is certainly physically at the large end of the scale.
For local residents, this development proposal presents legitimate concerns.
It will be visible from neighboring properties, could increase local traffic and noise and some argue it could set a worrying precedent for future non-complying developments in rural areas.
On the flip side, as the SA Tourism Commission points out, the region has a real need for top-level accommodation.
There is an under supply of high end luxury accommodation in the area and an increasing demand among wealthy overseas tourists who are seeking out our fine food, wine and cultural experiences.
A facility of this level, while it may not be accessible to all tourists, could help market the region in the same way the exclusive Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island has done for that community.
The spin-off benefits of the Southern Ocean Lodge are felt across the island from its marketing might to its use of local food and other produce.
This kind of overseas investment in our region is also something groups such as the Hills and Coast Regional Development Australia body have been working to attract in an effort to boost the local economy.
With State Government, tourism and business heavyweights all leaning on the council to give this application the green light, there is certainly a level of pressure on decision makers today.
But whatever the perceived benefits, it is also the panel’s duty to ensure non-complying proposals which are judged on their merit meet the relevant planning requirements or have very good reasons for not doing so.

Betty’s vision is finally realised

The realisation of Mt Barker woman Betty Sickel’s dream for improved facilities for people with disabilities in Mt Barker is a win for some of the region’s most hard done by residents.
Caring for a loved one with a disability, be it physical or mental, is a demanding job and all too often it is done out of love with limited outside support.
It’s 24/7 work that can take a toll on both the carer and the person with a disability.
A blind, double amputee who also suffered complications with diabetes, the late Mrs Sickel knew how tough that could be at times.
She longed for a place where people with disabilities could go for respite, allowing them to gather and socialise in a supported environment while their families also had a break.
Support services for people with disabilities and their families have come a long way in the 40 years since Mrs Sickel first voiced her dream for a respite centre in Mt Barker.
But they are also very in demand and often more limited in regional areas, including the Hills.
Having helped his sister with her four-times daily insulin injections from the time he was nine, and having another sibling with cerebral palsy, Pastor Eric Liebelt knew very well the challenges of caring.
This insight gave him the drive to pursue his sister’s vision despite many hurdles and hiccups along the way.
Now, thanks to Mrs Sickel’s land donation, Pastor Liebelt’s determination and an army of other supporters and benefactors, people with disabilities in this region have access not only to new respite options, but also independent and supported living units and activities in a dedicated community centre.
It is staggering to think that this multi-million dollar project was delivered without any funding from State, Federal or local governments.
It was built on the backs of volunteers who did everything from sell firewood for fundraising to donating their time and expertise to make the Hill View Lutheran Homes to the Disabled a reality.
What they have created is a facility beyond even Mrs Sickel’s dreams, and one that does her legacy proud.

Event hurdle

It’s testament to the success of Groovin the Moo that a sell-out crowd of 15,000, mostly young people, braved some pretty cold and wet Hills weather to attend Saturday’s concert.
There is clearly a need for the event and by most reports this year’s festival was a well-run event with fewer noise and behavioral problems at the Oakbank racecourse than last year.
It is clear that taking the music to regional areas is a format that works considering  six of the eight concerts in the Australia-wide tour have already sold out.
The event’s organisers are mindful of its impact on the Hills community and worked to address concerns raised after last year’s concert with noise and drunken behavior outside the racecourse.
It’s a shame then that, through no fault of its own, the event has again been tarnished, this time by the actions of a minority of festival-goers who have behaved in a clearly antisocial way en route to the concert.
It’s not unreasonable for a person running a restaurant to say they don’t want people urinating and vomiting in full view of their customers.
It’s not unreasonable to say that a landscape supply company shouldn’t be overrun by hundreds of intoxicated young people using its private toilets without permission.
And it’s not unreasonable to expect better treatment for a very unwell young man than being thrown off a bus and left outside a private business without assistance while semi-conscious.
Young people pre-loading on alcohol and drugs before a big day or night out is nothing new, and is not the fault of event organisers.
But those transporting intoxicated people – whether it be on chartered buses or in private cars – have a degree of responsibility for their passengers.
They shouldn’t be stopping at private businesses, on the freeway or its on and off ramps so their passengers can use them as toilets.
Let’s hope the event’s organisers can drum into bus and car drivers that this is unacceptable and make other arrangements, such as scheduled stops at public toilets, so that the only dirty outcome from next year’s event will be a few thousand pairs of muddy gumboots.

Inverbrackie sale

The sale of the 80 houses at the former detention centre site at Inverbrackie is extremely welcome news.
The likely injection of 80 new families into the Woodside economy will bring widespread benefits to the town and wider region.
The impending sale will finally make good use of a taxpayer funded resource which, before it was used to house asylum seekers in late 2010, had remained empty for years following a decision by the Defence Department to house its personnel in the wider community.
The houses, mostly built in the 1980s, are of good quality and, although small by today’s standards, have recently been upgraded to the tune of $10m ($125,000 per home) and are located in pleasant surroundings.
They should be attractive to home buyers when they come onto the open market.
The purchase of 80 houses in a single lot makes them only available to a large investor and the future of the site is completely in their hands.
Mayo MP Jamie Briggs believes they would be suitable for development into an aged-care facility while the Mayor of the Adelaide Hills Council, Bill Spragg, would prefer they be occupied by a mix of family types and age groups.
Both are adamant the houses need to be occupied.
Both are correct.
Mr Spragg has indicated the property will need to be rezoned before any re-sale of houses can take place by the new owner.
The property was a farm when acquired by the Federal Government. The subsequent development – the Commonwealth does not have to abide by State or council planning regulations – has significantly changed its land use from Primary Production meaning it will need a more appropriate classification.
Mr Spragg believes the State Government is unlikely to allow the creation of any new titles in the watershed zone.
Whatever the nuances of the planning regulations, the State must surely recognise it is not allowing any ‘new’ houses to be built by granting new titles. They are already there.
The smooth transition of these houses onto the open market is imperative and for it to be caught up in red tape would make everyone a loser.

Water reform

Mt Barker’s Laratinga Wetland is one of the town’s biggest attractions and most appreciated pieces of public infrastructure.
Each day it draws visitors, walkers, cyclists, bird watchers and families to what is one of the district’s most picturesque spots.
It has become a haven for native bird and amphibian species, including some rare migratory birds, which makes it also an environmental asset.
But many forget that the wetlands were made by the council as an integral part of the town’s wastewater system, filtering treated water before it makes its way out of the system to be reused.
Selling that treated water brings in about $1m a year in revenue for the council.
That’s a significant boost for a council under financial pressure due to the region’s rapid growth.
In a natural system like the Murray-Darling Basin, wetlands undergo a wetting and drying process that benefits the health of native flora and fauna.
There are merits in mimicking such a process at Laratinga, but it is a delicate balancing act.
It should not jeopardise the long-term future of the species that call the wetlands home and it should not deter the hundreds of visitors that use the wetlands over summer.
Cr Carol Bailey’s call for a slower process to replicate the natural environment to allow native species time to breed and prepare for the coming dry period has merit.
To develop a plan that maintains the biodiversity of the area, the amenity of the facility while allowing for the commercial aspect of the wetland is a difficult balancing act but should be investigated.

Anzac sport

The State Government decision to allow sport to be played on Anzac Day morning appears to have caught everyone off guard.
The Hills Football League, the clubs and the RSL have learnt of this change at the last minute.
The communication has been poor.
If has caused confusion and anger on the centenary of the Gallipoli invasion.
It seems the lines of communication in this modern world have not improved significantly from the days of trench warfare.

Jumps racing

Racing Minister Leon Bignell’s increasingly vocal opposition to jumps racing in SA is fast pushing the controversial issue to a head.
Earlier this year he hit out at racing’s governing body, Thoroughbred Racing SA, over its decision to force the SA Jockey Club to host jumps races at its Morphettville track when it had requested the sport be dropped from the metropolitan racecourse.
He called for jumps racing to be phased out, as it has in every other Australian State except Victoria.
Over the weekend Mr Bignell was at it again – urging consideration of a ban on the sport at the same time that thousands were gathering at Oakbank, jumps racing’s biggest event of the year in SA.
His comments have understandably infuriated the head of the Oakbank Racing Club, John Glatz, who wants to know exactly where the Government stands on this issue.
Mr Bignell told a weekend press conference that he is unsure whether the Labor Government would support Greens MLC Tammy Franks’ Bill to put an end to jumps racing in SA.
It is also unclear how the rest of the State Labor caucus feels about the issue.
Parliamentary Speaker Michael Atkinson attended this year’s Easter races and was a vocal opponent of the Greens Bill on Twitter over the weekend.
Just two races out of a program of eight at each day’s Oakbank meetings are jumps races.
Oakbank draws more than 60,000 visitors to the Hills over two days annually, making it a huge tourism boon for the region – surely a good thing under Mr Bignell’s other hat as Tourism Minister.
What is unclear is how many of those visitors come for the jumps racing and how many would return if those races were deleted from the program.
Every year there is debate about the merit or otherwise of retaining jumps races and, with a horse 19 times more likely to die in a jumps race than on the flat, it is undoubtedly a risky sport.
Unlike most commentators and lobbyists, Mr Bignell is in a position to change things in the racing industry if he doesn’t like them.
If he is so opposed to the sport, then perhaps it is time for him to lead the charge towards that change.

Freeway interchange

The news that Mt Barker’s second freeway interchange will be done properly – with all four on and off ramps for traffic heading towards Adelaide AND Murray Bridge – is a win for the community and common sense.
It never sat well with the Mt Barker Council that after years of work one of the most rapidly growing residential areas in regional SA would end up with half an interchange – a similar scenario that exists at Hahndorf.
If that Adelaide-centric design had been built, the chances of the other two ramps being built would have been slim.
For once this community probably has the downturn in the economy to thank, in part, for creating such a competitive market so the council and the State and Federal Governments could get a better deal.
The work by the council over the past decade to make the interchange “shovel ready” by buying land on all four corners around the Bald Hills Road tunnel also helped.
However, it’s more likely that the project has benefited from a cautious financial approach, with governments over estimating costs to make sure they don’t get caught with a budget blow-out.
Whatever the reason, this four-way interchange will be a vital piece of infrastructure for a growing region and the persistence of the council and local Federal MP Jamie Briggs, and the co-operation between the three tiers of government should be applauded.
Once built the new exits will remove some of the pressure from the existing interchange at Mt Barker and provide an alternative route for motorists in the event of traffic issues on Adelaide Road.
It might even help the much anticipated expansion of Monarto as a business hub, with potential employees having easier access to residential areas at Nairne and further afield.
But the interchange won’t solve all of the region’s growing pains.
Internal traffic congestion will continue to plague Mt Barker, and Nairne residents should brace themselves for more through traffic at the Woodside Road/Old Princes Highway intersection as motorists take advantage of the new interchange and abandon the long trek along Onkaparinga Valley Road to Hahndorf.
Hills dwellers might just have to cross that bridge when they come to it.

Warrawong future

In its heyday Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary was a byword for environmental innovation.
Dr John Wamsley gained a well-deserved reputation for turning the degraded dairy farm into a feral animal-free habitat for the conservation of endangered Australian wildlife, including platypuses.
Now the 10ha property is less than a third of its original size and has remained unused as a working tourist operation for two years since Zoos SA walked away from the sanctuary because the business was unsustainable under a new planning regime.
It has taken two years for the land owners at the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority to wind up the lease.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take another two years to find a new role for this once landmark site.
The longer it stays vacant, the more the site and its amazingly valuable branding kudos will deteriorate.
It would be a tragedy if an asset such as Warrawong was left to wither on the vine and its history of educating people about the value and importance of Australian flora and fauna was not continued in some form.

Changing times

People play politics … nature does not.
The story in this week’s Courier that grape growers have noticed a significant trend towards earlier harvests and more compressed ripening periods between varieties is clear evidence that the natural world is changing as the climate warms.
Viticulture consultant Richard Hamilton’s evidence that his cabernet sauvignon grapes are ripening today more than a month earlier than was usual in the late 1980s is further proof of the changes.
Many farmers will recall regularly making hay in November or December whereas now it is often finished in October.
Such examples of major agricultural changes in just a few years indicate the rapid rate to which nature is adapting to climate change.
The policy makers and the general population would be well advised to take heed of these alarming warning signs because the cost of inaction might have us all in hot water.

A new town with a new future

Forty years ago Mt Barker was a very different place.
There were days when the air across town was anything but pure, with the Jacobs smallgoods factory and livestock pens where the Adelaide Hills Homemaker Centre now stands, a cheese factory next door, a foundry near the recreation centre and tannery roughly on the site of the Mt Barker Central Shopping Centre.
Cows and sheep were a far more common sight than latte sippers, and every local would have known the importance to the district of subterranean clover.
The Mt Barker of 2015 is a world away from that agriculture-dominated 1970s country town.
While its rural heritage is a vital part of its identity, there are many newer residents who know little of that past and fewer who identify with it.
The Mt Barker Council’s old logo accurately reflects the Mt Barker of its time, but it does not represent the region’s current reality or future potential.
The extensive research shows that view of Mt Barker is outdated and irrelevant to the region it is today.
While its farming heritage and natural environment are still upheld as ideals, Mt Barker is becoming increasingly urbanised and moving towards new industries and opportunities.
Local agriculture has moved on to value-added premium products such as skincare by Jurlique and jams and sauces by Beerenberg, boutique beers and wines.
If it wants to continue to attract similar businesses and create jobs to meet the needs of its growing community, the region needs to stand out against dozens of other high-growth areas in SA and interstate competing for the investment dollar.
The new logo, above, is a positive first step in a large-scale branding push that will bring a new vision of Mt Barker to the fore.
It won’t please everyone – no public art does – but it is a lot better than the old logo and may play a role in changing current  negative perceptions about the town when backed by the strategic marketing push.

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