The Courier: Editorial

People power

The Nairne community has succeeded in putting one of the area’s riskiest junctions firmly on the political agenda ahead of next year’s State election.
The intersection of Woodside Road and Old Princes Highway has been a frustration for motorists for decades, so its inclusion in the RAA Risky Roads list is no surprise.
The region’s population growth and the opening of the nearby Bald Hills Road interchange have exacerbated the problem.
High traffic volumes, impatient drivers and children walking to school do not mix well and there is a real community fear that one day soon this intersection will be the scene of a tragedy.
With a pedestrian activated crossing banking traffic over the Woodside Road junction at peak times, and frustrated drivers trying to exit the dead-end Saleyard Road onto the highway nearby, the situation is a danger to both motorists and pedestrians.
Politicians of both major parties have long known about the issue, but have been reluctant to commit to finding a long-term solution.
However, with a changing political climate in the Hills, now is the ideal time for the Nairne community to maintain the pressure and make fixing the junction a key election issue.

Carly’s law

For Sonya Ryan, last week’s decision by Federal Parliament to back Carly’s Law is evidence that out of great personal darkness can come a bright light.
Ten years ago she lost her teenage daughter, Carly, in circumstances that horrified the Hills community and the nation.
But instead of being overcome by what must be an overwhelming sense of grief, anger and loss, Ms Ryan has channelled her love for her daughter into tireless efforts to protect other children from online predators.
Thanks to those efforts, and the support of Federal politicians, Australia now has legislation that makes it easier for police to intervene early to stop online predators before they can harm a child.
Crucially, it means that any adult who uses a false persona, including lying about their age, to try and connect with a child online in order to harm them can be prosecuted.

Tourism hub

The Hills scored two significant wins on the tourism front this week.
First came the news that 3000 Chinese people will be visiting Hahndorf later this month hosted by their employer Perfect China, a manufacturing company.
The visitors are the top sales representatives of the company and the Hahndorf visit forms part of an eight-day trip to SA.
The Hahndorf Inn, which has been working hard to increase links with China in recent years, will host the visitors for lunch over six separate days serving roasted pork knuckle – supplied by Mt Barker company Skara Smallgoods.
The visit to the hotel is expected to generate almost $80,000 in trade for the hotel and the spin-off benefits for other main street traders and the wider general business community is expected to be significant.
But the true value for the town will not be felt until the visitors return home where they will hopefully act as unpaid tourism ambassadors and ‘educate’ their friends and relatives about the wonders of the Hills, especially Hahndorf.
The burgeoning relationship with the Chinese tourism industry looks set to be a multi-million dollar bonus for the region which is becoming increasingly reliant on giving overseas and interstate visitors an experience … rather than just nice scenery.
Hopefully those coming in the future will be able to visit the reopened Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary, the other piece of good news in the Hills this week.
The commitment by the new owners of the sanctuary to reopen the once popular tourist attraction will be met with joy by many.
The sanctuary developed an international reputation when, under the guidance of former owner and well-known conservationist Dr John Wamsley, it began a platypus breeding and observation program.
Countless school children have tramped through its bush to marvel at the wildlife and, although perhaps not realising it at the time, have taken away an appreciation of the natural environment and its importance.
Let’s hope a reopened Warrawong will further cement the wider Hills region as one of the most remarkable places to visit in Australia.

Healthy decision

The promise of expanded after-hours emergency services at the Mt Barker hospital is a great development for the Hills community.
With Mt Barker expected to become the State’s biggest city outside Adelaide within a decade, the region certainly is experiencing growing pains on a number of levels – including health services.
The recent overnight doctor trial, which saw about 450 patients present to the hospital after-hours in three months, is clear evidence that the State Government’s funding pledge announced on Tuesday is a worthy investment.
Since the trial was introduced in March, both of the major State political parties have taken a renewed interest in the Mt Barker hospital – and that has only benefited the growing community.
It could be argued that the increasing interest in the region from the State Government is a result of a changing political climate in the Hills, which has historically been home to several safe Liberal seats – at both Federal and State level.
It’s barely 12 months since the safe Liberal seat of Mayo was taken by the NXT Party, yet this week we have witnessed the electorate’s new representative achieve what the former member deemed impossible.
Hills voters proved that they were willing to shake up the status quo when they elected Rebekha Sharkie, and both Liberal and Labor are taking notice.
Ms Sharkie has played a leading role in bringing the hospital’s after-hours service to the region, which is testament to what having a more independent member – and a more marginal seat – can achieve on a local level.
But regardless of the possible politics at play, the increase in hospital funding is a win for local residents.
The hospital’s former system was no longer working, with most minor ailments being referred to city hospitals overnight.
With a catchment area of about 70,000 people, the hospital’s new after-hours service will be well used – saving thousands of people long trips to the city in the middle of the night.
The Mt Barker region is a dynamic and changing area and it’s positive to see a renewed interest in the area on both a State and Federal level. With a State election due early next year it will be interesting to see whether Mt Barker’s growing pains will attract further political promises.

Trust is trashed

One of the things that makes the Hills a great place to live is our strong sense of community.
And while halls such as the Longwood Institute may not rate a second glance for many, they are valuable focal points for small towns across the region.
These halls are run by the community, for the community, and should be available to all people to use and enjoy.
But incidents like Saturday night’s out-of-control party, which left the Longwood Institute in a shambles, will likely ruin things for everybody.
There were no winners as a result of Saturday night’s disgraceful acts of vandalism.
The Bradbury community was left cleaning up an historic asset they cherished and had hired out in good faith.
Party goers had what could have been a civilised, fun event shut down by police, and future generations could pay the price of that broken trust if community halls close their doors to events organised for teenagers.
But while there was no good to come out of the incident, there are things that can be learned.
The intense escalation of events highlights the importance of parents knowing where their children are, who they are with and what they are doing.
Children and alcohol don’t mix and, while it is unclear whether the vandalism was the result of invited or uninvited guests, it’s possible appropriate adult supervision could have stopped the party from spiralling out of control.
While it’s a shame community groups can no longer hire out their facilities in good faith, it’s also important they take heed of the weekend’s events and ensure they are completely comfortable with the arrangements when they loan their facilities to strangers.
But perhaps the biggest lesson should be learned by the teenagers involved.
It’s highly likely that most of the people who attended behaved well and had nothing to do with the vandalism.
Once these things get out of control they are almost impossible to stop – particularly without appropriate security and adult supervision.
Those who are responsible for the damage need to recognise that kind of selfish, disrespectful behavior is never acceptable and that their actions have left a nasty stain on our community.

Acting on cats

The culling of 250 feral cats in the Alexandrina Council district through 2016 is an indicator of the significant uphill battle authorities are facing with animal control.
That in just one council district an average of almost five cats a week can be trapped and euthanised highlights the magnitude of the feral cat problem.
There is no doubt that cats cause ecological harm and pose a threat to native wildlife, as well as being a risk of disease and harm to domesticated pets.
Removing them, therefore, brings benefits from a healthier environment to healthier pets.
The notion of a cat cull isn’t likely to be popular with all sectors of the community, however, the council should be commended for its proactive program that aims to reduce both the nuisance and ecological harm caused by the feral animals.
Cats are trapped by residents under strict guidelines.
The council does all it can to identify their owners and, if that fails, the animals are assessed for suitability for rehoming.
Its figures show that the overwhelming majority of these trapped animals cannot be domesticated.
The figures come at a time when SA councils are preparing to introduce tougher controls for cat management.
From July 1, 2018, all pet cats must be microchipped and desexed.
Authorities hope the new measures will help curb the number of feral and unwanted animals.
But implementing the changes will be costly for pet owners, as well as for the local government authorities charged with upholding the new laws.
And some may even question whether the controls go far enough.
The council’s own recent consultation showed that 90% of almost 100 respondents wanted compulsory registration for cats and a further 80% wanted the animals confined to their owner’s property.
One thing is certain: we must accept changes to cat management if we are to curb the feral cat problem.
It is an indictment on our modern throw-away society that we allow animals to breed, then abandon them to become feral, only to end up killing them when their fight for survival becomes a nuisance to our way of life.

Bird in Hand mine

With plans to reopen Woodside’s old Bird in Hand gold mine edging closer, now is the time for the community to explore whether a local mine is the best thing for the Hills.
Depositing a mine in the middle of a clean, green agricultural and tourism region – which could one day be World Heritage listed – certainly carries its share of risk.
While any impact on tourism or the reputation of the area is likely only to reach the businesses and producers in the immediate vicinity, miscalculation or mismanagement involving groundwater could be devastating to a far wider area.
The Hills is home to world-class wineries and the region has forged a reputation as a pristine food bowl and renowned cool climate wine area.
Mining company Terramin Australia has a sketchy history when it comes to managing groundwater, with miscalculations causing havoc at its mine in Strathalbyn.
There’s a lot more water to manage at Woodside and if Terramin gets it wrong a second time, many valuable Hills assets  could be jeopardised.
However, the mine is a double edged sword with its construction set to create 140 extra jobs in the region over the next few years.
And the royalties from a $400m gold deposit will no doubt be attractive to a cash-strapped State Government.
Terramin general manager and chief technical officer Joe Ranford said the company had learned from its mistakes and was committed to preserving ground water and working with the community to create acceptance for the project.
The mining company is moving towards community consultation and those with a vested interest should take notice.
It’s important that residents weigh up the risks and benefits of the mine while they have the chance.
Terramin has poured resources into exploring and planning the concept and if the community is concerned, the issues they raise should be based on well-educated arguments rather than emotional pleas.
With so much at risk – but also things to gain – now is the time for Hills residents to engage in intelligent debate and for the mining company and Government to listen.
The final decision could have significant ramifications for the future of the region.

Ward decision

The Adelaide Hills Council’s representation system review has taken a remarkable turn, with the Electoral Commissioner throwing out the council’s decision based on a seemingly minor technicality.
The council can’t be blamed for the mistake, which was a matter of interpretation, but the Commissioner’s decision could cost it – and the community – months of work and thousands of dollars.
With elected members divided over the matter and a decision made despite clear opposition from constituents, the representation review has been messy from the beginning.
And the most recent development has only added to that.
But there are two sides to every coin, and while the council may be back to square one in the representation review, it has also been given a rare opportunity to set right a decision that has undoubtedly cost the trust of many of its constituents.
Mayor Bill Spragg and the six councillors who voted against the ward system may have believed abolishing wards was in the best interest of the region, but there’s no doubt that opposing the community’s wishes has damaged the council’s brand.
If the reasons for abolishing wards were so great that half the elected members were prepared to ignore the wishes of their constituents (94% of community respondents said ‘no’ to the proposed changes), then why were those same councillors unable to convince the community of the benefit of the change to the system?
The council is still awaiting direction about how to proceed with the review, but if it is required to re-start the consultation process, it’s going to have to work hard to convince residents that their feedback matters.
It will be interesting to see whether the public outcry in the wake of the council’s decision has been enough to change the mind of any of the councillors in the no-ward camp.
If no-one changes the decision will be up to the Mayor alone.
But either way, if elected members want any hope of restoring the trust of Hills residents, they’re going to have to build a more convincing case for the abolition of the ward system, or concede defeat and give the people what they want – a ward system and a council they can trust.

Main street

The addition of the outdoor dining hub, known as a parklet, in Mt Barker’s Gawler Street is helping revive an underused strip.
The wooden, semi-enclosed structure is installed in place of two carparks and allows about 10 diners to enjoy caf meals outside without encroaching onto the footpath.
The parklet has increased vibrancy and created a glow of activity, particularly on days of good weather.
The success of the Mt Barker Council concept was realised when Sazon Espresso hosted the parklet for a year in 2016.
It was then moved to Brother Bear Wholefood Caf where it will remain for eight months before moving to another business.
The council has voted to bring a second parklet to the main street – outside Sazon – while it is also considering funding a third in 2017/18.
But the cost of each parklet is the loss of two carparks.
A lack of parking in Mt Barker’s CBD has been a sore spot for many years as it struggles to accommodate the growing number of shoppers.
The council is clearly of the view that the value of increased business outweighs the loss of carparks.
But the lost parks will not be lost forever, as the council has investigated the possibility of building a multi deck carpark near Gawler Street to free up congestion.
Overall Gawler Street traders appear to be in favor of parklets, with a council survey showing 80% of responding businesses giving them the thumbs up.
In time it might not only be Gawler Street which reaps the benefits of parklets, with Nairne’s main street also tipped as a host in the future.

Garden great

Every year, as the weather cools, the Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens puts on a dazzling display of color that could rival even some of the loveliest European landscapes.
For those lucky enough to live in the Hills, this jewel is right on our doorstep.
The gardens draw thousands of people from around SA to our corner of the world, but sometimes those closest to a thing of beauty enjoy it the least.
So why not take a walk through the gardens this year?
It may just remind you how lucky we are to live in one of the most picturesque parts of the world.

Racing future

Oakbank’s Easter Racing Carnival last weekend was again marred by dwindling crowd numbers.
While overall attendance fell by more than 20% this year, the biggest hit was taken by Easter Monday, which drew just 10,000 people compared with last year’s 15,000-strong crowd.
The decline is not a recent trend, with crowds decreasing consistently over the past several years.
A Select Committee into jumps racing may have given the club the green light to continue its signature event, The Great Eastern Steeplechase, but the club’s committee is still pushing against the tide.
While jumps racing was once accepted as a sporting spectacle, the ethics of racing horses over hurdles is continually called into question, with a growing population demanding change.
The death of a racehorse during Saturday’s meet only added fuel to that fire.
The campaign of the anti-jumps group has also been amplified by a Racing Minister who so vocally opposes the sport that he refuses to attend the State’s most popular horse racing event.
But if growing opposition to jumps racing is one nail in the carnival’s coffin, a trend away from attending public holiday race meetings is another.
With an increasing number of competing Easter events across the State and many people opting to leave town for the weekend, drawing a strong Easter Monday crowd may not get easier, with or without jumps racing.
Club chairman Barney Gask declared he was happy with the weekend’s turnout.
But the declining numbers at a once thriving event tells a very different story – the Oakbank Racing Club is in trouble.
The committee recognises that change needs to be made to stop the steady bleed of punters from its event, but the solution remains illusive.
Mr Gask has made it clear that jumps racing will continue at Oakbank and that the committee is determined to seek other ways to improve the event.
However, even if the Monday races are moved to another day (a Saturday to Saturday format) or it does become a flat-only racing program, the club will still be hard-pressed to revive the event to its former glory.