Hills dominate tour stages

Thousands of cyclists and spectators will descend on the Hills next week as the region hosts stages of Australia’s most prestigious bike race. - Read more.

Water wars

It is said that in the 21st Century wars will be fought over water.
That prediction is yet to be tested fully but if Australia’s internal squabble over the Murray Darling Basin is anything to go by then it’s almost certainly correct.
Water, as we all know, is a vital commodity.
In Australia this is exacerbated by its sometimes erratic availability.
In a drought ravaged continent such as ours it is little wonder that water causes arguments which are difficult to solve.
We all thought we’d done that in 2012 when, after more than a century of arguing among the competing States, the Murray-Darling Basin plan was finalised.
This historic proposal was designed to give enough water for the Murray-Darling ecosystem to maintain a healthy base while, at the same time, allowing people living along its length to maintain their irrigation enterprises.
All the States agreed to allow the system 3200 billion litres a year – the minimum required to maintain its health. Of that amount, 2570 billion was guaranteed with the remaining 450 billion to be released if doing so was not going to have a significant impact on river communities.
And therein lies the problem.
Just what is significant and who decides when that point has been reached?
Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says it has been reached and the water won’t be forthcoming.
SA Senator Nick Xenophon says the environment needs that extra flow and the amount can come, not from buy backs – which removes water from upstream irrigators and deprives them of income – but from on-farm efficiencies.
SA irrigators along the Murray lead the nation in the wise use of water.
They’ve had to be miserly.
Being a small State at the end of the river, most irrigation water has already been removed upstream by farmers growing vast water-hungry crops such as rice and cotton leaving those at the bottom end to do more with less.
Those same lessons have not been learned by all irrigators upstream and until that occurs, it is not unreasonable to expect the promised flows to be maintained.

Tourist numbers

The quality of the tourist offerings in the Hills are no secret to the thousands of travellers who flock to the region to indulge in some of Australia’s finest cultural pleasures.
For years tourists have wandered along Hahndorf’s main street, admired the views from Mt Lofty Summit and cuddled koalas at Cleland Wildlife Park.
So the news that visitor numbers in the Hills have jumped almost 25% in the past four years must leave traders and industry leaders thinking – what are we doing better than before? The answer, the experts say, lies in the wine glass and on the food plate.
According to Tourism Research Australia the number of international tourists visiting Hills wineries has risen by 43% in the past four years.
Last year, the SA Tourism Commission marketed the Hills as ‘the land of the long lunch’ offering luxury food and wine pairings in rural towns less than an hour from the city.
It became less about driving through the picturesque countryside and more about eating and drinking local produce.
These days tourists are gathering fresh produce from farms, sampling world renowned cheeses, sipping award-winning beer and cider and swirling some of the best wines in the world … right on our doorstep.
Hahndorf’s main street is also kicking goals for the region and must take some of the credit for many of the positive tourist numbers.
Over the years the bustling tourist strip has lifted its professionalism and capitalised on nearby food and wine indulgences.
The multi-million dollar proposal for Sir Hans Heysen’s property The Cedars will add to the town’s cultural and artistic offerings and bring even more travellers to the region.
The Mt Barker Council also has its hand on the tourism mark with the near-completion of its Rural Development Plan Amendment.
The zoning overhaul will pave the way for more cellar doors, restaurants, art galleries and cafs on the outskirts of major towns in the district.
Even if you’re a local, visiting the Hills through a tourists eyes can still be a rewarding experience.
Yes, driving along Hahndorf’s main street can be a tense experience but do yourself a favor – park the car and go for a wander.
See what all the fuss is about.
It might surprise you.

Mighty nature

The amazing storm which passed over the Hills on Friday afternoon left a trail of destruction and the whole community in awe.
Those not walking, driving, sandbagging or unblocking gutters filled with hail were no doubt standing under verandahs and back porches watching the sound and light show.
Seemingly constant flashes of lightning and booming claps of thunder drew many people outside as the rain teemed down in torrents.
It was impossible to hold a conversation such was the noise of the downpour.
Such storms are not unusual in the tropics but a rarity in the Hills and Friday’s event was also remarkable in that it vanished almost as suddenly as it began.
About 30 minutes after the heavens opened the skies cleared, the wind dropped and the birds in the garden began to chirp again.
It was as if nothing had happened … except if your house had flooded, the pergola roof sheeting had been turned into a colander by apricot-sized hail or the car’s duco was left with more dimples than a golf ball!
Friday afternoon’s display showed the awesome power and wonder of nature.
Almost everyone who saw it must have been left feeling insignificant.
You can’t watch a billion volts of pure energy smash into the ground from a black thundercloud and feel big.
You can’t endure a bone rattling crack of thunder directly overhead and stand tall.
For those who think humans are the masters of nature, think again.
No-one standing on their verandah on Friday afternoon thought they were in control.
The storm was a timely reminder that, as a species, the best we can do is work with nature … we can never control it.
It is far too powerful and potentially destructive.
It is Mother Nature who rules us, despite what we think.
Sometimes nature is brutal such as the recent earthquake disasters in Italy and NZ, and sometimes it is quiet, like a slow and suffocating drought.
Either way we humans are privileged to live on this magnificent, all-providing planet and need to be reminded from time to time not to take it for granted.

Home detention

The State Government’s recently introduced  home detention laws appear to be taking some time to bed themselves in – both with the community, the judiciary and the lawmakers themselves.
State Attorney General John Rau announced earlier this week that the new laws – introduced in September – would be “modified” because judges and magistrates were sentencing people to home detention for crimes considered by many to be too serious.
A total of 30 people have been sentenced to home detention – 16 for driving offences including an inattentive driving case in which three people were killed and another dangerous driving case in which one man was killed.
Other home detention sentences involved drug dealing, fraud and theft.
There are three reasons why home detention laws have been introduced.
One is that jail is often the worst place for a convicted person whose crimes are minor and whose chances of re-offending are virtually non-existent.
The other reason is that the State’s jails are almost at capacity and the third is that it is too expensive for a cash-strapped government to keep a person in prison (almost $100,000 per year) unless it is absolutely necessary.
Home detention for low grade offences can be a good thing but it is clear the law needs revising.
What about community service or is this also too expensive to administer?
It is reasonable to expect a guilty party undertake some form of punishment for their crime.
Many may argue that being forced to stay at home except to travel to and from work is penalty enough but in some cases additional punishment is reasonable.
The Courier reported in October the angst of car crash survivor Timea Dixon whose partner Trevor Bird was killed by another driver near Houghton.
The driver was found guilty of dangerous driving when he crossed onto the wrong side of the road (travelling at 104km/h in an 80km/h zone) and killed Mr Bird. He was sentenced to four years of home detention.
What is Ms Dixon supposed to think?  Her partner is dead and the perpetrator – who had a long history of previous driving offences – is not required to give a single minute of his own time back to the community as punishment.

Remembering the women at home

For almost 100 years Australians have paused on November 11 to reflect on the sacrifices made by those who died or suffered in wars.
But during that minute of silence on Remembrance Day, little recognition is given to the women who were left behind in times of war and fought their own battles on the home front.
The Hahndorf Community Association’s Remembrance Day ceremony next Friday is a refreshing take on one of the nation’s most important and poignant days.
This Remembrance Day, Hahndorf will not only pay tribute to the fallen soldiers, but also the mothers, wives, partners, and sisters who made their own sacrifices and struggled to keep communities together.
In wartime, many women were left behind to raise children and take on male-dominated jobs, while dealing with grief, loneliness and the unknown of whether their loved one would ever return.
Women were thrust into mechanical and manufacturing roles to help keep businesses, factories and farms afloat.
They took on the men’s work by driving trucks, buses and machinery and making bombs, bullets, tanks and other military equipment.
Resources were scarce and the women were paid less than the men, but many would argue this shift in the workforce sparked the end of the housewife.
So this Remembrance Day let’s also spare a thought for the women who fought to keep the wheels turning while they waited for their loved ones to come home.

Speed blitz

The announcement that SA Police has launched a six-month speeding blitz in the Hills should be clearly noted by all road users.
Last year’s speed blitz in the district caught almost 1500 motorists – some travelling at more than 40km/h above the posted speed limit.
It sounds trite but if you don’t want to pay the fine then don’t speed.
There are plenty of examples of the State Government using speed cameras on suburban streets as an income stream.
But in the case of blatant and excessive speeding on country roads there can be no excuse.

District ignored

The State Government’s update of the 30-Year Plan For Greater Adelaide has ignored many promises made in 2010 when 1300ha of rural land in Mt Barker was rezoned for housing.
The scale of the rezoning went against the wishes of not only the Mt Barker Council but the vast majority of the community.
Mt Barker’s residents suddenly found themselves living in a town the State Government decided it wanted to grow into the second largest city in SA.
But six years later the recently released updated Greater Adelaide Plan appears to have largely ignored the pressing issues facing this rapidly growing hub.
The plan makes no mention of sporting facilities, the link between housing growth and jobs growth, or improved public transport for the town.
The proposed $28m regional sports hub – which appeared on the original plan – has somehow slipped completely off the radar.
Mt Barker councillors have voiced their disapproval of the updated plan saying it falls well short of the original document and is too “metro-centric”.
Sports facilities, health services, employment and public transport infrastructure are not just matters of great importance, they are essential ingredients in liveable communities, healthy neighborhoods and strong economies.
Without infrastructure directly linked to  growth, the community is already finding itself left with substandard and strained facilities and services.
The State Government’s decision to remove such targets and directions in outer-Adelaide areas is a perplexing political move.
The Hills community demonstrated in July’s Federal election that it was not prepared to be taken for granted and elected the first non-Liberal in the seat’s history.
With a State election looming in 2018, the State Government could have taken advantage of that community empowerment and the district’s changing demographic by delivering on its infrastructure promises and potentially making the seat more marginal.
But its silence on Mt Barker’s future is a strong indication it simply has no money.
It would seem that contributing to improvements such as a regional sports hub or a 24-hour doctor at the town’s hospital is a bridge too far.
Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the next Federal campaign to see some action.

A sad day indeed

The real tragedy of the failure of Senator Bob Day’s building company is not the abrupt end of his political career or the damaging potential it may have on his Family First Party which has suddenly lost a major financial supporter.
Neither is it the possibility that Mr Day will lose his own grand home at Houghton.
The real heartache of Mr Day’s demise is the savage impact it will have on his employees, the hard working tradespeople who worked for his company and the innocent customers anxiously awaiting their dream home.
It is likely many of the tradies will be either unpaid or underpaid for the materials and work already completed on half-finished homes, while the customers – many of whom have paid significant deposits – are now forced to negotiate the insurance minefield.
Mr Day was a multi-millionaire with undoubted skill as both a builder of homes and a builder of businesses. At one stage his company was worth almost $400m and had 1000 employees.
His contrite apology on Monday to all those affected and his immediate resignation from the Senate indicate he is not one of those people — Clive Palmer springs to mind – whose first response is to blame others, rush to court and avoid their responsibilities.
Mr Day has said he will pay all his creditors back – no mater how long it takes.
That is a fine sentiment but such noble words can ring hollow to the little people – the last in line when whatever leftover crumbs are distributed.
Insurance may deliver some relief but there is every possibility that many will suffer significant stress and financial burdens from which they may never recover.
Questions over Mr Day’s building business – particularly in NSW – have been circulating for several years and it is reasonable to question why he stood for re-election if there was such an ominous cloud hanging over his company’s future.
Through a statement released on Monday Mr Day said he regretted going into politics in 2013 without first putting in place the proper business management structure to deal with his absence.
If that error was clear to Mr Day before the recent July election then the tradespeople and customers deserve an honest answer as to why he risked it all … and for what.

Nairne’s future looks a little brighter

The Chapman’s smallgoods factory in Nairne has been neglected for almost 15 years, but could finally become the site of something the town has longed for many years – a supermarket.
Plans to establish a small Foodland or IGA are a step closer to reality after the Mt Barker Council pushed forward on its intention to rezone the site of the abandoned factory.
The Chapman’s factory is owned by Adelaide-based consultant engineer Lelio Bibbo, who intends to bring the site back to life instead of leaving it as a constant reminder of the town’s past.
The smallgoods factory thrived for many years and formed a strong part of the town’s history until it closed in 2002.
Aside from most of the buildings being in a state of disrepair, Mr Bibbo has many other hurdles to clear including site contamination and heritage listing issues.
Nevertheless, the people of Nairne, Brukunga and Dawesley are fortunate that a developer has plans for the site instead of letting it continue to become an eyesore.
A supermarket in Nairne will invigorate the street, increase vibrancy and be convenient for residents.
Nairne is the second largest town in the Mt Barker district, yet it has no supermarket to service its 5000 plus residents (Census, 2011).
In the past Nairne’s main street traders have not shied away from admitting that business in the town is tough and luring people to the main street is difficult.
Nairne lacks the big name petrol stations and the supermarket giants which are found at almost every corner in Mt Barker and Littlehampton.
The mixed use zone and redevelopment policy the council has suggested for the Chapman’s site opens up opportunities for not only a supermarket, but also small shops and offices.
Not only has the opening of the Bald Hills Road freeway interchange been a welcome addition for the people of Nairne, but a supermarket will give them more reason to bypass Mt Barker and Littlehampton and shop in their town.
Mr Bibbo’s appearance at a community meeting in Nairne on October 19 is expected to uncover the beginning of a promising future.

Community spirit survives wild weather

For the fifth time in as many months the Hills are recovering from an episode of unseasonable storms.
Emergency crews have been stretched to capacity over recent months and Hills residents are tiring of the monotonous weather cycle that has at times seemed unrelenting.
While Hills residents can take some comfort in the fact that a full force disaster was averted – with the brunt of the storm systems worn by our neighbors to the north – local councils and home owners have still been left footing the unwelcome bills associated with the wild weather.
As tree after tree was felled by the pelting rain and strong winds and rising river levels threatened one property after another, local CFS and SES crews pushed through fatigue to keep our community as safe as possible.
But while it’s safe to say that these crews, together with the local community, are looking forward to a milder week ahead, the dark clouds did have something of a silver lining in our community.
Emergencies have a habit of bringing out the best in people – something that the community of Mt Torrens witnessed first-hand when their tired crews were stretched beyond capacity.
In the midst of last week’s power outages, one Mt Torrens resident came face to face with a very practical need when she visited the local CFS station and noticed the volunteers, most aged over 60, had no time to fill the sandbags that were in high demand across the region.
Spurred into action, the small community rallied together and filled almost 300 sandbags for the exhausted crews.
The story was common across the Hills with local business owners keeping emergency crews fed, while our interstate towns sent SES reinforcements to help clean up the region and relieve tired SA crews.
There probably isn’t a Hills resident who isn’t hoping we’ve seen the last of the storms for 2016.
But even if there are more to come,  it’s good to see the wild weather hasn’t dampened the community spirit that is such a vital part of living in the Hills.

Heed the warning

The past six months have been marked by one extreme weather system after another, dumping megalitres of water into dams and river systems and occasionally leaving carnage in their wake.
It seems the Hills is not to see any reprieve, with another such system forecast to strike this afternoon, only two weeks after the latest storm resulted in widespread flooding, road closures and damaged infrastructure.
But in an age in which technology is able to give us more warning than ever before about such events, residents and businesses have never been in a better position to help reduce the potential damage by preparing for the coming onslaught.
With a similar weather event fresh in our minds, Hills residents are aware of where the danger spots are when it comes to flooding.
Emergency services have already started preparing for the storm, handing out sandbags and offering advice on how to stay safe and defend properties against rising river levels, exacerbated by already wet soil.
The SES has warned of the dangers associated with some activities, such as attempting to cross floodwaters or approaching fallen powerlines, and it is imperative that their advice is heeded.
Despite the age-old saying ‘it will never happen to me’ often ringing in people’s ears, the reality is, sometimes it does – a fact hundreds of Hills residents and business owners can attest to after the past few weeks.
With CFS and SES volunteers already exhausted after an unrelenting winter, it’s important that the community plays its role in reducing the burden on our emergency crews.
There’s no doubt that, no matter the extent of preparation, these hard-working crews will be well and truly under the pump this week clearing fallen trees and patching damaged roofs.
So as far as possible, let’s heed their advice, take advantage of a fair warning to safeguard our properties against flooding and storm damage, and keep our emergency crews free to deal with the many unforeseeable emergencies that will no doubt arise due to the coming storm.