Tree removal

The public reaction to the removal of four centuries-old gum trees at the site of the future sports hub seems to highlight a disconnect between Mt Barker’s residents and its council.
The trees were felled last week to make way for sporting infrastructure while three other trees on the site were spared.
The axed trees were relocated and will die but remain as wildlife habitat.
Their removal was approved in September last year following months of consultation about the sports hub with the community and a range of sport and community organisations.
But despite the fact nearly 35,000 people live in the council area and the sports hub is set to be the largest single infrastructure spend in the council’s history, just one submission outlining any concerns with the development was made.
Yet despite the consultation efforts – and the community effectively giving the tick of approval to all aspects of the project, including the tree removal, by not voicing their concerns – the council has been hounded for the move.
This incident has brought two things to light – perhaps the community should become more engaged in its council’s operations and the council may need to review the way it communicates with its community.
None of the decisions made by the council were done in secret, yet the public reaction makes it seem as if they were.
For whatever reason, the council’s messages were lost.
Mayor Ann Ferguson has said the council had a community crying out for this infrastructure, but which also adored trees and their environmental and aesthetic benefits.
To create large–scale infrastructure – such as a regional sports hub – there must be sacrifices and these trees were sacrificed for ‘the greater good’.
There are no immediate winners when ugly decisions are made, but in the long term the community will benefit immensely from the construction of the sports hub.
Perhaps this issue will galvanise the community and make it more vigilant in advocating to save trees marked for destruction on land set to be built on purely for developer profit, not community benefit.

Traffic solution

For almost three decades the good people of Nairne have been told the traffic woes experienced at the intersection of the Old Princes Highway and Woodside Road were so complex a solution was unavailable.
The unusual combination of a ‘highway’ intersecting with a major arterial road at a t-intersection – coupled with a high-volume dead-end road almost directly opposite and a major freight railway line – made for a challenging scenario which has proven too difficult for professional traffic planning experts to solve since the early 1990s.
Or so the community was repeatedly told.
Several years ago pedestrian activated traffic lights were installed across the Old Princes Highway in an effort to ease the overwhelming congestion experienced every day at school drop-off and pick-up times created by the booming numbers at the nearby primary school.
But still the community struggled with cars being backed up over the railway line on Woodside Road with drivers forced to spend inordinate amounts of time trying to exit or enter the town.
Even having the State’s Premier (John Olsen) as the local MP in the 1990s could not deliver enough clout to fix this supposedly hugely complicated and unfathomable traffic problem.
But now the experts have miraculously discovered a solution – a roundabout!
The new State Liberal Government has announced its plans to acquire some land and build one of these revolutionary structures for the betterment of the community.
Of course the community should be pleased that some action is being taken but it does leave a rather bitter taste in the mouths of locals who have spent hundreds of frustrating hours attempting to navigate the intersection when the supposed solution was so simple.
What appears to have been missing was political will.
The former State Labor Government should feel a level of shame that it chose to ignore the cries of help from the people simply because there was no political value in acting and credit must go to the current Liberal Government for finally moving.
It is just a shame that previous governments of both political stripes used the problems as a barrier to hide behind rather than as motivation to push themselves to find a solution.

Wasteful spend

It is time to take stock and consider a rethink when governments willingly waste taxpayers’ money for no other reason than to make a political point.
Many governments – both State and Federal – fall into this trap, and when it does happen it is usually a sign of arrogance and highlights a disconnect between itself and the wider community.
The previous State Labor Government was a master of dipping into the taxpayer tin to promote itself and its agenda.
The shameless way it did so was an exercise in arrogance.
And last week during Senate estimates hearings in Canberra, the Federal Government was shown to have brazenly wasted millions of dollars in its struggle to deport a single family back to Sri Lanka.
The family was flown by chartered jet to the re-opened Christmas Island detention facility in September where they were, and remain, the only inhabitants.
It has cost $30m to re-open the centre which was brought out of mothballs in March when the Government said offering health services in Australia for some people being kept in detention on Manus Island would re-start floods of asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat.
This has not happened and the only people being serviced by the 100 staff at Christmas Island are the Tamil couple and their two daughters, aged four and two.
These people had previously been living in regional Queensland for several years and, as the Senate hearings were told, are just four out of 62,000 unlawful non-citizens living in Australia.
So, why go to all the expense of detaining these four unremarkable people on distant Christmas Island when the legal dispute surrounding their status could have been undertaken while they supported themselves in Australia?
The short answer seems to be the Government wanted to make a point of being tough.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was keen to make an example and clearly thinks it is appropriate to spend a staggering amount of taxpayers’ money to do so.
Irrespective of where people stand on the issue of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, there is a waste of money going on around this case that is deeply unpalatable to all sides of the argument.
The Government would do well to ensure a repeat of this outrageous waste of money does not occur.
Ministers must remember they are spending the hard earned tax paid by ordinary workers and they should not be sucked into the ‘Canberra bubble’.
Most people understand $30m can buy a lot of nurses and teachers.

Sanctuary returns

The news that Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary has won the People’s Choice award at the SA Regional Showcase is good news for the park and the community.
Warrawong was a game-changing tourist park when established by Dr John Wamsley and Proo Geddes who encircled the entire facility with a vermin-proof fence several decades ago and, in the ensuing years, showcased the breeding of platypus.
The park became hugely popular and many thousands of tourists flocked to Mylor to see the elusive creatures and other little-known Australian wildlife. Apart from injecting money into the local economy and helping promote SA in general – and the Hills specifically – as a tourist destination, an often unseen achievement of the park was to educate and inspire.
Most people completed their visit with a greater understanding of both Australian wildlife and the need for conservation.
It is well documented the park closed due to outside financial difficulties and sadly slipped into closure.
However, new enthusiastic owners have restored the facility to where it once was – a ‘must see’ attraction in the Hills.
Locals should support the venture and it should be on a ‘to-do’ list for anyone hosting an interstate or international visitor.

Mine blunder

The recent disclosure of unsavory tactics employed by lawyers representing mining company Terramin Australia has left a sour taste in the mouth of many in the Woodside community as well as the wider Hills region.
It was unveiled in State Parliament that lawyers had deliberately emailed legal documents to family members and other people associated with the neighboring Bird in Hand winery just to be annoying.
Terramin plans to reopen the former Bird in Hand gold mine that adjoins the winery of the same name and wants to be portrayed as a good corporate and community citizen.
But this desire was clearly not properly relayed to the company’s lawyers.
If Terramin is serious about taking “severe action” in the wake of this issue, the community and the recipients of those emails deserve to be kept informed of that action.
While the lawyers might have acted without Terramin’s knowledge, they were still associated with the company and their actions are seen as those of their employers.
The State Government will soon have to make a decision on whether to approve the mine but in the community’s eyes Terramin is not to be trusted.

Town rebirth

The uplifting revitalisation of Uraidla in recent years is an example to other small communities – both within the Hills and across the country – which are struggling with decline.
Many people considered the town had lost a lot of its ‘buzz’ with main street businesses – including the hotel – closing their doors.
Some residents felt as though Uraidla had become a ‘dormitory’ suburb with many inhabitants travelling to Adelaide to work and, as a consequence, viewing their town as a place where they slept … not where they lived.
Thankfully a glowing ember of community spirit still existed and a group was formed to inject ideas, energy and passion into the town.
The ensuing transformation has been remarkable with the town winning the best dressed award at this year’s Tour Down Under cycle race and last week being announced as a joint winner in the Best Regional Main Street Award with Kapunda.
There had always been an underlying community spirit in Uraidla with the town boasting successful football, netball, tennis and bowls clubs and hosting a highly regarded show and sustainability fair.
The Imagine Uraidla committee has harnessed that energy and the town is now home to a revitalised award-winning hotel, a bakery, craft brewery, cafe and pizza bar.
Other projects are still in the pipeline, including a facelift for the town’s Institute and the potential for local music festivals, and smaller interest groups are beginning to take ownership.
The ‘buzz’ is back and as more residents come to the realisation it is much more enjoyable to live in a community rather than just a town, it is likely to get better.
The richness contained within similar communities is a jewel which sometimes needs a little polishing.
Sometimes the hardest step to take in a long journey is the first one and the establishment of that initial committee was the catalyst for the change.
The town’s rebirth has already inspired the Gumeracha community to join together to take similar steps towards bringing the life and community back to its main street and Uraidla’s example could still be examined by other communities suffering similar issues.

Volunteer value

The CFS has come a long way since largely untrained and unprepared men were sent into the teeth of raging bushfires armed with little more than knapsacks, wet bags and a sense of duty.
In those days brigades often used former army trucks, many of which were unreliable and unsuited to the task to which they had been reassigned.
And then along came Ash Wednesday – that terrible day in February 1983 when it seemed the whole world was either on fire or about to be on fire. Large swathes of SA and Victoria were engulfed in fires driven by howling north winds which killed 75 people, destroyed 3700 homes and claimed the lives of more than 350,000 sheep and cattle as well as countless wildlife.
The infernos were impossible to contain but still those brave firefighting volunteers in both States went forth. Sadly, 17 did not return.
The ensuing reflection and analysis of that tragedy highlighted both the value of volunteer firefighting organisations as well as the terrible lack of training and resources they were allocated. From the ashes of that day rose the modern CFS.
A CFS brigade today is expertly trained, highly equipped and able to assist with a myriad of emergencies.
They are one of the most professional volunteer bodies in the world, capable of dealing with house fires, bushfires, car accidents, chemical leaks, explosions, natural disasters and almost everything in between.
Their members are highly trained and resourced and the service they offer could never be provided by a cash-strapped State Government using professional staff.
The resulting millions which have been pumped into the organisation is money well spent when you consider the social benefit which results from their actions.
Apart from its obvious advantages, the CFS also provides much-needed social unity in country communities.
News in today’s Courier that some brigades around Mt Barker are struggling for numbers should serve as a reminder to everyone to consider helping.
There are plenty of roles for behind-the-scenes volunteers.
An opportunity exists to accept a new challenge, join one of the most respected organisations in the world, help your community and make new friends along the way.

Freeway safety

Since the Heysen Tunnels opened in March 2000, a raft of improvements have been made to the freeway’s down-track to increase its safety.
A third lane designated for slow and heavy vehicles was created, two arrester beds were installed, lower speed limits, tougher penalties and low gear rules have been implemented and cameras that specifically target heavy vehicles have been erected.
However, recent incidents have proven that these improvements can’t eliminate human error.
Within weeks, two interstate truck drivers failed to use a gear low enough to slow their descent to the Tollgate.
They both lost their brakes as a result and one was forced to dodge stationary cars, speeding through a red light at the freeway’s intersection with Portrush, Cross and Glen Osmond roads before coming to a halt shortly after.
The other crashed into six stationary cars and a cyclist.
Thankfully no lives were lost and serious injuries were avoided, but the drivers were stripped of their licences because of their failures to use low gear ranges and for not making use of the arrester beds.
In 2018, 4400 heavy vehicles used the freeway every day, meaning that more than 1.6 million heavy vehicle movements occurred throughout the year.
Mistakes will be made and drivers will misjudge their abilities and the capability of their vehicles.
Unfortunately there is no margin for error – the freeway suddenly ends at a set of traffic lights and connects to heavily trafficked suburban roads.
We know all too well the damage an out-of-control truck can cause and if these situations can be avoided by simply driving into an arrester bed, they should be.
However, according to a 2014 inquest, it can cost between $1000 and $10,000 to recover a heavy vehicle from an arrester bed.
That cost is borne by the vehicle’s company, so perhaps the State Government should explore subsidising or eliminating the cost of recovery.
Perhaps that would make drivers more inclined to use the bed in the case of even a potential emergency rather than risk their lives and the lives of others by hoping they can recover from an out-of-control situation.

Climate action

How can a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden capture the world’s attention on climate change?
Greta Thunberg is a only a partly educated child with a limited understanding of the nuances of the modern world and how this great, lumbering beast that is global humanity goes about its business.
Yet this slip of a girl with her simple, uncomplicated language has managed to cut through the rhetoric and associated ridicule on both sides of the climate change debate to become a beacon for the planet’s future.
Part of this phenomenon is more easily understood when you consider that US President Donald Trump has said many times climate change is a hoax while our own Prime Minister’s hands are still stained from the time he so gleefully brandished a lump of coal in the Australian Parliament pronouncing to the world that ‘coal would keep the lights on’ and there was nothing to fear from burning it.
Perhaps it is not too difficult for a naive but clear-eyed child to shine so brightly in such dim company.
It is true that coal has played a massive part in raising the living standards of millions of people and every one of us has benefited from its use. But the link between burning coal and dangerous rates of global warming are well documented and clear.
The science is settled.
Miss Thunberg says the time has come for humanity to seriously examine itself and its relationship with the planet for the good of future generations.
It’s a simple sentiment but one that is complex to achieve.
Politicians across the world are blinded by short electoral cycles and for many it is too easy to see only votes, jobs and economic growth while largely ignoring the bigger picture. It is easy to harvest low hanging fruit.
Laying the foundations for future generations is a task best left to extraordinary humans – and the political system doesn’t allow them to shine very often.
With Mr Trump’s bizarre views on this world problem it is not hard to see how Miss Thunberg has gained a credibility advantage in the argument.
The future will not be easy as the planet’s climate inevitably changes.
Perhaps the greatest influence this young activist can have is to encourage people to consider tomrrow rather than living for today.

The brighter side

There is a lot going on in the world at the moment and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the seemingly constant barrage of negative news.
With a potential war looming in the Middle East threatening oil supplies, half the Amazon on fire, Hong Kong in meltdown, the constant Brexit bickering, China searching for dominance in the Pacific, Kim Jong Un doing heaven knows what and Donald Trump’s usual antics, it is not difficult to feel like the world is teetering on the edge of a calamity.
Closer to home there’s the State Government’s land tax furore, a slowing economy, rising unemployment, drought across much of the country and bushfires in the tropics.
Politically we’ve got a Federal MP who can’t remember to which Chinese Community Party groups she may or may not have belonged … or currently belongs, nasty spite-filled debates over abortion laws, church leaders accused of participating in some sort of paedophile ring and top chief executives earning just shy of $500,000 a week while the wages of their workers remain static.
It is therefore not surprising that many people are turning away from what appears to be an avalanche of negativity in today’s 24-hour news cycle.
Thankfully there’s The Courier to provide some sort of distraction and highlight that the ‘real world’ here in the Hills in which we actively participate is not all negative … as opposed to the ‘global world’ in which we are mere observers.
The story of the presentation of CFS awards to long-serving volunteers is a prime example.
Thousands of men and women, young and old, able-bodied and stiff of limb combine to deliver a world class fire service to our communities.
They put themselves in danger, are on the front line after horrific car accidents and other tragedies, train and prepare relentlessly for no other reward than it makes them feel better for helping others.
So at a time when your thoughts can turn negative and the dark clouds seem rather overwhelming, it is worth looking a little closer to home for inspiration.
Our little patch of the world is not a bad place. In fact it is fantastic.
Let’s not forget that as we forge ahead into the future.

Pool plan

The Mt Barker Council has released its staged development for a multi-million dollar swimming and leisure centre.
Planned for land on Bald Hills Road just below the Laratinga Wetlands, the development is a futuristic vision for the facility which has been broken into stages.
The first stage – expected to cost up to $30m – includes a 25m indoor pool with a second indoor leisure pool as well as associated changing and toilet facilities.
The second stage includes a 50m outdoor pool as well as water slides and playing courts.
The plans have been released for public comment and ratepayers will have the opportunity to make suggestions for a month.
Given that the council has just $10m towards the first stage in the form of a Federal Government grant, it is reasonable to assume the second stage will be built a considerable time later.
Full funding for the first stage is currently far from assured and its progression will rely on another significant cash injection from Canberra, before progress on the second stage can even be thought about.
So what do residents want and expect from an aquatic centre?
The present pool on Cameron Road – which has served the community well for over 50 years – is at the end of its life and its failing infrastructure has become a significant drain on council finances.
That pool is closed during winter meaning the community only has access to a public swimming facility for about half the year.
The community has made it clear in the past that it wants a public indoor facility to allow for swimming and pool-related health activities year round.
But the trade-off is that an indoor pool is unattractive to the many casual swimmers looking to cool down during summer.
Given that the council wants to close the Cameron Road pool as soon as possible to stop the bleed of money, the construction of a new community indoor pool may not improve the overall scenario – instead growing winter use at the expense of summer use.
The upcoming consultation period will go some way to establishing what the community considers important.
The challenge will be for the council to marry that with what is achievable.