South East locals have been part of national protest action against the Adani coal mine proposed for North Queensland.
Protesters turned out in forty-five locations from Adelaide to Bondi to Bunbury over the weekend.
Locally, Eurobodalla 350 estimates around 250 people attended their protest at Congo Beach on Saturday, holding placards to spell out #STOP ADANI.
“We demand the federal government halt Adani’s enormous proposed coal mine,” spokesperson Allan Rees says.
In Bega, a colourful group marched through town on Friday and gathered in Littleton Gardens.
Organiser Sue Andrew sees the Adani mine as a litmus paper issue for a globe preparing for a climate change future.
“I feel now more than ever we have to unite to stand up against the fossil fuel industries and other extractive industries if we are serious about addressing climate change,” Ms Andrew says.
The Indian based Adani is seeking a billion dollar government loan to build a railway line linking its proposed Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal port on the Great Barrier Reef.
Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the ABC the project will bring new jobs to communities like Rockhampton, Towsnville, Charters Towers, Mackay, and Claremont.
“You only have to travel to regional Queensland to understand what this project means to thousands of families out there that will be employed through this project,” she told the ABC
The Queensland Premier is also confident environmental concerns have been heard.
“At the end of the day we have the toughest environmental conditions attached to that mine,” she said.
Allan Rees says those that gathered at Congo on Saturday are angry that taxpayer dollars might be used to subsidise something “so destructive”.
“Adani’s mine may be far away, but the Eurobodalla can’t escape the climate change caused by burning that coal,” Mr Rees says.
“Australia has enormous reserves of coal which we must keep in the ground if we are to halt climate change.
“Climate change is here and is harming our agriculture and fishing.
“Beekeepers tell us how gum trees are blossoming at the wrong time, orchardists have lost trees from extreme heat, graziers and fishing people tell us how the climate is changing and harming their livelihoods,” Mr Rees says.
Local fears also extend to the future of the Great Barrier Reef itself if the mine goes ahead with Bega protesters carrying a series of handmade marine creatures along Carp Street and into the town’s civic space.
“We know the Great Barrier Reef is highly endangered already and any further development or shipping would only increase the destruction of this incredible ecosystem,” Sue Andrew believes.
“Adani has been exposed on the ABC’s Four Corners program as damaging people’s health, the livelihoods of farmers and fishing people and the environment in India,” Mr Rees says.
“Adani is using foreign tax havens and has a corporate structure that would allow them to minimise tax paid in Australia.
“The former Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said that it was almost beyond belief that the Australian Government would look to provide concessional loans and other taxpayer support to facilitate Adani Group’s coal mining project,” he says.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sees huge potential in the mine going forward – should it be built.
Adani has suggested it will break ground on the mine site before the end of this month with the first coal produced in early 2020.
The billion dollar loan from the Federal Government’s National Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) remains undetermined.
However, News Limited has reported comments by Adani chairman Gautam Adani saying, “The project will be funded by internal accruals, NAIF and foreign banks.”
Bega’s Sue Andrew is positive people power will prevail.
“There is so much opposition. It is not viable; economically, ethically, or environmentally,” she says.
It is really a no-brainer, why not spend the proposed billion dollars from NAIF on building renewable energy infrastructure and thousands of sustainable jobs and show our commitment to our children’s future?”
Those behind the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley protests are committed to further action.
In an already diverse landscape, Yarrangobilly Caves adds an x-factor to South East NSW that is rare and special.
Despite being brought up Catholic, I haven’t had religion for a long while. Still, I remember fondly the time spent in old, cool churches – the smell of stone, the peace, the sense of endless time.
The late folk singer Michael Kennedy described how nature’s beauty can evoke a spiritual response – “Ceiling clouds swirl, aisles of bloom curl round the wild cathedral.”
Natural spaces, like places of worship, can provide sanctuary and help us connect with who we really are.
During the recent school holidays, my family and I visited Yarrangobilly Caves in Kosciuszko National Park.
On the way from Cooma we drove through the epic and faltering landscape of Adaminaby and Kiandra, old goldfields with diggings and ditches full of snow.
Brumbies wander this country with majesty and bouncy playfulness. Their colours blend with the patchy wild scrub; despite being equine intruders, left over from last century and stranded in the wrong land, they’re elegant.
We paid our cave entry fees, and did a tour of Yarrangobilly’s Jersey Cave, which takes about an hour and half.
I hadn’t been underground for years.
I used to do it a lot, at Wee Jasper and Wyanbene and Cooleman, as a teenage scamp who liked to wriggle through crawl spaces. This was much tamer, but an incredible experience nonetheless.
Caves are like slow, slow gardens.
It’s springtime, and I’ve been watching my sunflowers shoot up over the last few days. They manage a centimetre overnight, no worries.
The “cave straws” that reach down from the cave ceilings of Yarrangobilly – which look as you’d imagine – like straws, take 100 years to grow a single centimetre.
Many of the cave straws at Yarrangobilly are much longer – 20 or 30 centimetres; 2000 or 3000 years old.
My kids are 6 and 4, and they are surprisingly quiet and attentive (when they’re not wrestling each other for the torch).
They seem to understand the fragility of the formations. They know that the oil from their fingertips could stop them forming, and don’t reach for them. It’s surprising.
The names of cave formations are evocative – flowstones, shawls, pillars.
They’re all incomprehensibly ancient, but look like they could have grown through winter, like icicles or frozen waterfalls.
Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams and grow dogtooth spars – angular, squat crystals that cluster. These pools are otherworldly.
Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres.
All have formed as the fossil-rich limestone of the valley is dissolved by acidic rainwater, and redeposited as calcite.
According to National Parks, local Wolgalu people didn’t enter the caves much at all – formations survived thousands of years of indigenous custodianship.
But like so many caves, Jersey Cave was raided for souvenirs over the last 150 years. The cave is still stunning, but some caverns are stained darkly by the smoke from bygone kerosene lamps.
I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Or that, at least, they can tell us something important about ourselves.
They tell us that we are small, transient, destructive, and peace-loving.
We’re a confused bunch, and caves can provide a beautiful space to meditate and contemplate.
Perhaps we’ll always feel like impostors in such spaces. But thankfully these caves are now protected, and we can continue to visit and appreciate their lasting beauty.
Yarrangobilly Caves are open daily for you to explore and ‘feel’ for yourself.
Ranger talks really add to the experience as does a swim in the thermal pool!
Twin brothers from Merimbula have crafted a musical about one of the best-known and most influential women in the world, but its just one of a number of productions launching in 2018 for the Willis boys.
‘Oprah the Opera‘ will open in San Francisco during the second half of 2018 and charts the life of America media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, philanthropist – Oprah Winfrey.
Geoff and David Willis have been making music together for decades.
The decision to write a musical about Oprah came over a cup of coffee, buoyed by completing their first musical “The Great Houdini’ six years ago.
“Oprah is a one-woman show with a band and gospel choir,” David says.
The brother’s work is a true collaboration, Geoff writes the music and lyrics, David writes the script.
“She [Oprah] has opened up her life in a huge way, from abuse as a child to the most successful woman in America,” David says.
“There is so much there, a lot of comedy, a lot of heartaches, it’s a really entertaining show and people really love it when they’ve read the script.”
Click play to hear the full conversation with Geoff and David Willis…
Initial planning for the show is underway now, including casting.
Starting out in 1000 seat theatres in San Fransico, David and Geoff are creative consultants to musical director Gregory Cole and will relocate to the U.S closer to showtime.
“We’re excited because it will be an all-black cast and it will be a gospel choir of 50 or 60,” Geoff explains.
“There aren’t a lot of shows that are written for African Americans [cast members].”
The twins aren’t sure if the lady herself knows about the show yet, they have only been able to get as close to Oprah as her personal assistant, but she will be receiving an invite to opening night in July/August next year.
Both David and Geoff are natural showmen and play a range of musical instruments as well as sing. They are well known for pulling a crowd whether it’s on one of their regular cruise ship tours of the Pacific or Atlantic or in the many concert halls that dot the hills around their hometown of Merimbula.
Their signature tune ‘Me and My Shadow’ is always a hit.
“Being twins, we understand each other very well,” Geoff says.
In shaping their music the pair will often work apart in order to challenge their creativity.
“When we wrote ‘The Great Houdini‘, I actually went to the Gold Coast and spent a few years there,” David says.
“We thought it was a good idea to be away from each other, but it’s amazing how things tied up.
“He [Geoff] would write a song and we wouldn’t discuss it, I would write the script, and the words in the song and the script tied in,” David smiles.
“It’s a twin thing!”
The Great Houdini was the first musical the pair worked on – 16 years in the making, hard work that is now paying off.
“It’s a huge show to put on, we have just met with producers in New York and London, and we are looking at staging that later next year,” Geoff says.
The pair became mesmerised by the legend of the great magician as 10-year-olds after seeing ‘Houdini’ the movie starring Tony Curtis, twenty years later they felt compelled to write a musical about their idol.
“Dave wrote the script over a 16 year period, and I wrote 60 musical pieces for the show,” Geoff says.
“It had to be perfect,” he says.
The story starts in modern day New York at a Houdini exhibition and works backwards.
“Dave describes it really well as – music, magic and mystery,” Geoff says.
In trying to explain why it is that two Merimbula creatives have stage shows launching a million miles from home, David and Geoff believe there is a sense of confidence missing from the Australian entertainment industry.
“There is a bit of frustration that we are not being accepted by Australian producers,” David says.
“We’ve been to producers in Australia about our shows, and [the impression we’ve been given is that] if it is a success overseas they would probably say, we’ll do it here,” he says.
There is one success closer to home the Willis boys can crow about, and one their Bega Valley fan base can travel to easily.
Next April the production steps up a notch and will take to the stage in Canberra at Llewellyn Hall featuring the Canberra Youth Orchestra.
It’s a narrated children’s story in the style of ‘Peter and the Wolf’.
David and Geoff have worked with well-known funny man, Tim Ferguson, of Doug Anthony All Stars fame.
“Tim is the writer and has worked very hard on the script and he is the narrator, he is a lovely person to work with,” Geoff says.
“The Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras are also interested.”
Geoff has composed all 27 orchestral pieces, while David has prepared all the educational material for the production.
The show tells the story of a 10-year-old girl called Billie who makes friends with real live Australian dinosaurs and together they defeat school bullies.
Despite their growing success far from the shores of Merimbula Lake, both men seem to relish and value their stage work at home.
“We live in a beautiful town, and we are very much appreciated by the people here,” David says.
“I was the conductor of the Sapphire Coast Concert Band and Geoff was the conductor of the Big Band and we only gave that up at the end of last year because of these other projects.
“And of course recently we did a show with Frankie J Holden and Michelle Pettigrove, which was a huge success and raised money for raked seating in the new Twyford Theatre.
“We are happy being here, we love living here,” David says.
About Regional, is a new place for the stories of South East NSW, made possible by the contributions of members, including – Sprout Cafe Eden, Kaye Johnston, Nigel Catchlove, Therese and Denis Wheatley – thank you!
Thirty-two IT students from Lumen Christi Catholic College at Pambula were in the audience to hear Ms Carlson suggest that the technology behind Amazon Web Services allowed a regional community like the Bega Valley to develop a ‘Silicon Valley’ element to the local economy.
“They [students] are so important, they are the most important aspect of what we all do day to day,” Ms Carlson said.
“Which is creating an environment for job creation, which at the same time creates economic development opportunities for local communities.”
Speaking directly to the busload from Pambula, Ms Carlson said she wanted them to get the skills and opportunities they needed to come and work for Amazon.
“Amazon paid for the bus to get the kids to Canberra, it was so fantastic,’ Liam O’Duibhir from 2pi Software says.
Amazon is now the worlds largest provider of ‘cloud computing’.
Bega based Liam explains that Amazon AWS allows big companies and agencies to manager high volumes of online traffic.
“Amazon started out selling books, in setting up the systems for that they become very good at what are called ‘server farms’ or ‘virtual data centres’,” he says.
“So if you get a spike in traffic you can have a thousand new virtual servers created in a couple of seconds, its elastic, it just expands as opposed to building your own physical stand-by servers ready to meet increased demand,” Liam says.
At the extreme end, the crash that happened around the 2016 Australian Census is a good example of the problem this technology helps avoid and manage.
Google, IBM, and Microsoft also operate in this space using similar technologies.
Liam and 2pi Software were in Canberra to share in the love from Amazon as part of their work with students at Lumen Christi.
The recognition came after a visit to the Bega Valley by Amazon in August, meeting with businesses and organisations like Bega Cheese, the University of Wollongong, Bega Valley Shire Council, and Federal MP Mike Kelly, exploring ways regional enterprise can take advantage of cloud computing.
“They didn’t assume we were dumber because we live in the country, they even came to the Into IT Code Night and met the kids,” Liam smiles.
The lifestyle and environment of the region is a key driver in the budding relationship between Amazon and the Bega Valley.
“Canberra based Amazon staff are already coming here to go fishing, they get it,” Liam says.
“But this isn’t a token affair, they see the Bega Valley as a showcase for what this technology can do for regional areas.
“Brian Senior, from the AWS team in Canberra speaks strongly of their interest in exploring what can be done here, and if it is successful, replicating it in other parts of Australia, and potentially back in the US too.”
Time is now being invested working out how Amazon, 2pi, and local school students can build this Silicon Valley future in a landscape that has traditionally supported dairy and tourism.
One thousand local tech jobs in the Bega Valley by 2030 is the vision, which is supported by Into IT Sapphire Coast, a community based interest group supported by 2pi that holds weekly Coding Nights, Gamer Dev Jams, and Hackathons – as an outlet for local youth with a flair and passion for tech, computing and the creative arts.
“For the last seven years we’ve been building the skills and community needed to work in the Amazon AWS space locally,” Liam says.
Springing from the trip to Bega and conference in Canberra, more formal educational opportunities are now being investigated between TAFE, the University of Wollongong, and Amazon.
“These opportunities broaden the choices for our young people,” Liam says.
“This is not just about NAPLAN achieving students, in our industry its not always the person with first degree honours in computer science that drives it forward.
“It’s often the the guy or girl who failed their HSC who is so driven that nothing stops them,” Liam says.
Bega Valley based virtual server farms catering to global and local enterprises are the fruits of this growing relationship.
“We are looking to validate the rasion d’etre of Amazon, which is to free you from the tyranny of geography.”
“That’s a powerful message for regional Australia as a whole.”
Senior Amazon staff will visit the region again in October to take the discussion further.
“This a very good time in the Valley and we mustn’t let it stop,” Liam says
A Community Bike Ride from Tathra to Bega later this month will showcase the vision and potential of the ambitious plan to build a permanent track between the two towns.
Over $3 million in State Government funding earlier this year has turned the idea into a reality.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time so to secure this funding was a dream come true, but we need to keep fundraising,” says Robert Hartemink, ‘Lead Rider’ of the Bega Tathra Safe Ride Committee.
On Sunday, September 24, rolling road closures starting at 9am from Lawrence Park Tathra will give riders a chance to experience the journey without the normal pressure of traffic – and the perfect way to wrap up NSW Bike Week.
“This will be a great family day, only the brave and keenest of riders can tackle this course normally, the speed and the closeness of cars and trucks is just too much for most,” Mr Hartemink says.
“I can’t wait to see families enjoying our beautiful countryside without that stress, not only on September 24 but whenever they choose to ride once we complete the track.”
Planning and design work for the new track is in full swing led by Bega Valley Shire Council.
“Council are keen to get as much bang for buck as possible, we are hoping to get as far as we can with the $3 million,” Mr Hartemink says.
“In the meantime we’ll push on with fundraising chipping away at each kilometre until it’s done.”
Entry fees for the ride are part of that effort but Bega Valley Legacy will share in the funds to support their work with families affected by war.
“When we finished this track it will be such a community asset – fitness, fun, sustainability, tourism, and we’ll get a taste of that on the twenty-fourth,” Mr Hartemink says.
“For those who haven’t taken part in a mass ride before this will be a real thrill, there will be a real community spirit, everyone will be looked after,” he says.
The Tathra Sea Eagles AFL Club are preparing a hot breakfast and espresso coffee for riders from 7:30am, and the money will go towards the Clean Energy for Eternity solar panel project at Lawrence Park.
The finish line is the Bega Showground, with riders expected to arrive before 11am.
A bus donated by the Tathra Beach Country Club will get you back to your car at the start line.
Bega Tathra Safe RideSecretary Doug Reckord adds, “This is a new event for the region and I really hope people are bitten by the riding bug and get a group together and register quickly.”
Tathra Beach and Bike have chipped in with a $500 voucher for the purchase of a ‘Specialized’ bike from their store. All riders will be in the draw for that fantastic prize.
“We are hoping the first section of track will be done in the first half of next year, and to keep the momentum going it would be terrific to see a big community turn out on September 24,” Mr Reckord says.
Just over 10,200 of yesterday’s votes have been counted at this point, with 11 new councillor positions to be decided from a field of 27 candidates.
Former Bombala Mayor and grazier Bob Stewart has polled the most votes with 1,447, followed by Adaminaby livestock carrier, Lynley Miners (1,364), and 23-year-old apprentice carpenter James ‘Boo’ Ewart from Jerangle (948).
Former Cooma – Monaro Mayor, Dean Lynch who has over seen the operations of the merged council for the last 16 months as Administrator says he’s happy to see the election come and democracy restored to the region.
“My biggest concern was representation for the smaller areas, and you can see that’s not going to be an issue now,” Mr Lynch says.
“I am a little bit worried about the lack of female representation in the results at this stage,” he says.
Bombala’s Anne Maslin is the highest polling woman with 243 votes which puts her in thirteenth position over all – outside the 11 member council.
Postal votes and preferences will come before the poll is declared and the final results are known.
Under the counting system used for local government elections in New South Wales, each candidate must reach a quota of votes to be elected, preferences follow and are distributed according to the voter’s instructions on their ballot paper.
“You get the total number of voters and then dived it by 12, one more than the new Council needs, to work out the quota,” Mr Lynch explains.
“Going off previous elections I think the quota will be around 930 votes.”
Preferences help candidates who don’t reach the quota in the first round of counting get elected.
Bob Stewart believes it might not be until Tuesday or Wednesday before all 11 seats in the new chamber are decided, he is hopeful a flow of preferences from himself and running mate John Last will get Anne Maslin elected.
Mr Stewart, a passionate critic of the merger process says he is humbled by his result and is looking forward to getting back to work.
“I will be putting my hand up for the Mayoral position,” Mr Stewart says.
“We’ve gotta make sure there’s equity down our way, the merger process for council staff in Bombala has been very unfair.”
“We don’t need it [Council] to be centralised towards Cooma so that Bombala loses out on jobs, we must try and protect jobs for the social and economic benefit of our smaller communities,” the former Bombala Mayor says.
Mr Stewart says he is also keen to address recent extra charges on utility costs like water and waste, he says he’ll be asking for a report to Council early in the term.
Speaking to About Regional while loading livestock on to his truck, Lynley Miners has mixed feelings about being elected to Council.
“The truth is I didn’t want to stand now, I am too busy with my own business, but now is the logical time, it’s a fresh start being the first council,” Mr Miners says.
Being a truckie, Mr Miners says he’ll be taking a particular interest in the region’s roads and better infrastructure.
“A lot people think we are going to be able to fix theses things over night,” Mr Miners says.
“We’ve got a three-year term and the first 12 or 18 months will be taken up with learning and trying to get sorted with whats been done during the administration period and get the ship steering straight.”
Despite his high personal vote Mr Miners says he won’t be standing as Mayor in the near future, preferring to leave the job to people with more time and experience for now.
When asked to reflect on the merger process between Bombala, Cooma-Monaro and Snowy River Shires, Mr Miners is hopeful people can move on
“It will hang there for a bit, but once people get to the table if they want to strive to make this better, it can’t be about us and them, it’s done, it’s happened, it’s time to move on,” Mr Miners says.
Dean Lynch will remain Administrator until the first council meeting on September 26 when the new Mayor is elected, says he has been working hard to tidy up loose ends and set the new council up for success.
The election marks an end to Mr Lynch’s nine-year career in local government, he says the last 16 months have been some of the most challenging times.
“I always knew pulling this together would be a poison chalice, but I love local government and I love this area,” he says.
“Some of the social media comments have been hard for my family but I’ll stand behind all the decisions I made, I feel like I’ve given the new council every chance possible to be good.”
Mr Lynch is delighted James ‘Boo’ Ewart appears to have been elected.
“Boo has been around Council meetings with me for the last four years, he’s always wanted to be on Council, it’s great to see him get in without the need for any alliances, a fresh start is just what this council needs,” Mr Lynch says.
“The new council needs to get out and meet with communities right around the area
“My advice for the old and the new, they just need to get around and meet everybody before they rush in and make decisions,” Mr Lynch says.
When asked about his future, the former Cooma-Monaro Mayor says they’ll be a holiday with his wife first.
“The most exciting thing, I am the chair and a director of the Country Universities Centre and we are rolling those out right across the state at the moment, that’s my passion.
“I’ve had various offers, but I just need to take a step back for a while,” Mr Lynch says.
Wednesday dawns, I’ve woken early to the deep throated chanting from the nearby mosque that melds into early morning prayer and song from the Catholic Sisters at Fatuhada.
Ahead lies the 150 kilometres to Natarbora, it doesn’t sound far, but from Dave’s experience, it will be a long and painful trip. This morning though we are feeling somewhat reassured that conditions have improved.
Last evenings conversation with Ego had intimated that the road was now “really good” and our journey would take far less time than in the past.
I have visions of smooth tar and an easy run to Natarbora.
First task of the day though is to collect two sewing/overlocker machines that Augus and I will share company with in the back of the Toyota. The machines are for the sewing group at Uma Boco and had been requested by Nikolas Klau, the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste coordinator in Natarbora.
With the machines, our bags, guitar and other instrument cases, it’s a tight squeeze for Augus and me in the Land Cruiser troop wagon, but hey, the road ahead will be smoother than a …!
With Jose at the helm we head out of Dili east along the coast towards Manatuto, the road is mostly good, but well before our lunch break, it deteriorates.
As we climb over the coastal hills the road can only be described as appalling.
We stop for lunch at one of the seaside food stalls, delicious small redfish with a chili basting, rice ice in banana leaves and a thermos of black coffee. I could get very used to this!
Ego Lemos had invited us to check out the Permaculture school garden at Manatuto primary, so we take a minor detour to have a look at their progress and to take some photos. And it is impressive, despite being winter and the dry season.
From Manatuto we head over the mountain and the interior to the south coast, the vegetation changes along the way.
It is the dry season and everywhere on the north side of the island, it is dry, very, very dry. Vegetation is sparse, the steep hills brown, the rocky soil exposed by the predation of goats and the never-ending cycle of firewood collection, only to be further eroded by the torrential downpours of the wet season.
The transformation southwards through the mountains is dramatic, increasingly lush and tropical.
The air is moist and cooler, the humidity bearable. The sheer beauty of the mountains as they rise and fall into beautiful valleys is simply breathtaking.
Since we arrived in Timor it has been overcast, thick and humid and always a smoky haze – everywhere the acrid smell of wood fired cooking.
Here through in the interior, it feels like a different world.
One thing that can be said about the roads in Timor Leste is that they will one day be very good.
But not now. Across the country, all the major roads are being rebuilt, and not just a kilometre at a time.
All the way along the coast, thru the interior to Natarbora on the south side of the island, construction workers are doing major drainage works – massive drains with concrete and stone retaining walls the entire length of the road.
I lose count of the new bridges, there must be thousands of metres of concrete being poured.
It is labour intensive, backbreaking work. The Chinese have the contacts for the road reconstruction program in Timor Leste, some hundreds of millions of dollars.
There are Timorese amongst the road gangs but it seems there are mostly Chinese workers and I have little doubt that this is a cause of tension for the unemployed here.
I’m told the Timorese working as concrete labourers are paid five dollars a day!
While this work continues, the road surfaces have yet to be prepared. In the Toyota it’s like traveling on bumpy, corrugated, vibrating roller coaster. My body and the two sewing machine/overlockers will be requiring some restorative adjustment when we reach Natarbora.
About twenty kilometres or so out of Natarbora as we pass yet another construction crew we get a heart warming surprise.
Several of the young construction workers are Timorese, and as we pass they recognise Jose and the white Toyota.
“Hey…Bega Valley…Bega Valley,” they yell, waving and smiling.
After almost nine hours traveling on what must come close to being one of the worst roads in the world, nothing could have raised my spirits more.
It speaks volumes to the vision and dedication of Jim and Moira Collins and the Bega Valley Advocates. It’s a humbling moment for me to appreciate just what that ongoing commitment and friendship means for the people here in Natarbora.
Late afternoon and the storm clouds are gathering if it’s at all possible the road deteriorates even further.
The several kilometres before the Uma Boco intersection was fantastic, but the road into Uma Boca is still the worst bit of the worst road in the world!
When we arrive at the Franciscan Convent, Nikolas Klau and his son Brian are there to meet us.
Brian had spent a year in the Bega Valley, attending the Sapphire Coast Anglican College and he was keen to catch up and reminisce with Dave.
We’re not the only guests at the convent and over another typically delicious Timorese dinner prepared for us by the Sisters, we meet several health workers – Basilio Martens and Jose de Costa, who are visiting several of the communities in and around Natarbora.
After dinner, Jose and Augus head off to spend the night with friends in Uma Boco, Dave and I retire to our rooms. I fall to sleep to the sound of rain.
Thursday and it’s wet, and it’s a fuller load in the Toyota this morning, Nikolas has joined us for the school visits, so there are five of us in the wagon plus the two overlockers. The first task of the day is to unload the machines at the resource centre for the sewing group.
Today we visit three schools, Uma Boco Kindergarten, Junior High School and Ametalaren Primary. The musical experience with the children at all the schools we visit over the two days is an absolute delight, so enthusiastic and joyful.
Experiencing the conditions, the paucity of resources and the challenges the teachers face is sobering. There are no computer rooms, or libraries, the classrooms are basic and in need of repair. The teachers share one staff room. The only books in the “library” we saw are textbooks for the students and teachers.
Despite this, the teachers and students are just so enthusiastic. As Jose says, “Education is number one for the future of the Timorese,” and this is where the Advocates have put all their emphasis.
Several years ago the Advocates set up a resource and training centre for the professional development of teachers and the community.
The advocates also support trainee teachers thru scholarships that enable them to study a Bachelor of Education at the Baucau Institute, East Timor’s main teacher education facility.
So far 43 teachers have graduated from the professional development program, another five are doing their teacher training now and a further four graduated at the beginning of this year (2017), they are now completing internships in Natarbora.
The significance of the support the Advocates are giving in this area cannot be understated. It is a huge contribution and deserving of far more support, both financially and on the ground.
Mid-afternoon we pay a visit to Carlos to see if he can be persuaded to play a leadership role in the choir project I mentioned in postcard three.
Carlos was a member of Koro Loriko, the Timorese choir formed by Ego Lemos that came to Australia in 2012 to perform at the Melbourne Millennium Chorus and Boite Schools’ Chorus concerts.
Carlos is now married with a small family and making a living as a builder.
We while away an hour or so with Carlos singing and playing a few tunes.
Music does not pay the bills for his family in Timor, despite Carlos being a prodigious talent. It seems a great shame that his tunes are unlikely to ever reach a wider audience.
It’s around four in the afternoon now as we make our way back to the Uma Boco Resource Centre, where the sewing group is in action.
There are patterns from the Advocates and quite some excitement with the delivery of the overlockers.
Dave and I are warmly welcomed by the group and presented with some beautiful examples of their work to bring back to Bega.
It’s also an opportunity the setup and test the PA, mixer, and amp that were donated by the Advocates for concerts and performances.
It doesn’t take long before one of the lads pulls out a guitar. We turn on the mics, while Dave fiddles with settings on the amp and mixer and before you know it there’s plenty of voices singing a few of Ego’s songs and a Bob Marley tune or two.
You can never have too much fun here with a guitar and some willing voices, but it’s time to let the sewing group do their thing, so we pack up the gear and head back to the convent for the evening.
Our evening meal is shared with Basilio and Jose from the health team.
After dinner, I fall into a long conversation with Basilio about the health teams work.
Basilio is the team leader and their focus is on a disease that he describes as the “forgotten disease.” Lymphatic Filariasis, also known as Elephantiasis.
It is a parasitic infection caused by worms transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes.
Basilio is confident the disease will be eradicated in Timor Leste by 2020.
In ASEAN countries only Indonesia and Timor Leste are reporting cases, but it is here in the south and around Natarbora that the disease remains prevalent.
Ironically it is the wet and lush conditions that favour the district’s agriculture that also provides ideal conditions for both the nematode worms and mosquitos.
The eradication program is being funded thru an aid program being sponsored by the government of South Korea.
Friday morning and there’s early rain, but it clears before breakfast to reveal bright blue skies as the heat builds.
Today, Nikolas will visit Abet Oen Primary and Junior Secondary School. The school gardens are impressive.
Our final school visit is to St Francis School, also with a fabulous school garden.
The beauty of these gardens is that they are adjacent to the classrooms, so they become very much part of everyday activities.
The music session with senior students was particularly enjoyable with Brian Klau, a student here, playing Dave’s guitar and leading the students in song.
The music continued into the night with an invitation to dinner with Nikolas and his family. Sitting around with Jose, Angus, Nikolas and his sons – listening to them laugh, play and sing together you just know that this country has an enormous future.
Saturday dawns and it’s time to say farewell to this wonderful community and the Franciscan Sisters. Each morning I have watched as several of the Sisters head out for their early morning errands on their Honda motor scooters, in full habit with helmet and thongs. Wish I had a photo for you!
Dave and I bid farewell to the wonderful Sisters who have fed us so well, we say our goodbyes to Nikolas, Brian with the promise of a return next year, our luggage stowed aboard the Land Cruiser, along with bags of local produce that Jose is taking back to stock the family larder for the months ahead.
Three bags of the local specialty – Natarbora popping corn and a surprise passenger that I don’t discover until we are halfway to Dili – more about that next time.
Today we will take a different route from the way we came, heading along the coast to Betano, then travel thru the interior via Same and Maubisse.
We will stop at Betano. A significant site in the history between both our nations – more in postcard 5.
Former Deputy Mayor of Cooma-Monaro Shire Council, and now Member of the NSW Upper House, Bronnie Taylor says a mix of old and new will be important for the new council.
“Yes we need experience but this is an opportunity to get some really great new people on council and I really encourage people to look at that,” Mrs Taylor says.
With just days to go until polling day the attention and interest of voters will start to sharpen.
Voting instructions on each ballot paper will guide locals, but generally speaking, each voter will be asked to select six candidates in order of preference, you can select more if you wish and perhaps push out to 11 to reflect the full council you want to be elected. But for your vote to count, you must at least number six boxes in order of preference.
The inaugural mayor will be elected by councilors at their first meeting after the election.
Mrs Taylor admits the process and choices can be overwhelming but she is calling on locals to take an interest and use the days ahead to find their new councilors.
“Vote for who you think is going to make a difference…vote for someone who has the same values and aspirations for your community,” she says.
Despite being part of the State Government that drove the merger of Bombala, Snowy River and Cooma-Monaro Councils, The Nationals MLC accepts that the process could have been better but has confidence in the future of the 11 member Snowy Monaro Regional Council.
Mrs Taylor is adamant small communities won’t be forgotten in the new larger entity.
“The councilors that get elected, they’re good people, they care about their communities [but they also] care about their region,” she says.
“I am someone who lives in the town of Nimmitabel which has a population of around 300 people,” Mrs Taylor says.
“We had a really shocking time during the drought.
“There was not one other councilor from Nimmitabel or from down this end of the shire [on that council except me but] every single one of those nine councilors on Cooma-Monaro Shire Council voted to invest that money.
“They knew it was really important for that community (Nimmitabel) and that that community was part of them,” Mrs Taylor says.
Given the size of the field to choose from and the need to at least number six boxes on the ballot paper, voters can be forgiven for feeling confused or unsure of who to vote for.
“I think people that get up there and promise 16 different things aren’t very realistic,” Mrs Taylor says.
“You have to have someone who is prepared to work with other people and prepared to see other points of view.
“At the end of the day…you have got to find compromises and ways through to get good results,” the former Deputy Mayor suggests.
Working out who those people are or finding the information you need to have an informed vote can be a challenge in amongst the posters, Facebook pages, and how to vote cards of an election campaign.
“I think candidate forums are really good,” Mrs Taylor says.
“And the great thing about local government is that you can pick up the phone and ring them (candidates) and ask them what they think about something and they should be able to give you some time to do that.”
Mrs Taylor also suggests talking to other people in the community as a way of making your vote count.
“Talk to the people that you trust, they know the pulse of the community, I think that’s really valuable,” she says.
The action was lead by Moruya’s Bernie Richards who has almost 20 years experience with the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration, including time as a Senior Investigator with the People Smuggling Strike Team.
“I used to go to Christmas Island, Broome, Port Hedland etc to do an initial analysis of people arriving by boat to see where they had originated from and whether they had any claims for protection,” Ms Richards says.
“I’ve interviewed hundreds of refugees who made it to Australia by boat when investigating people smuggling organisations.”
“This is the latest in a long line of tragedies in the offshore detention regime for which the Australian Government must be held responsible,” Ms Richards says.
“Many of Hamed’s friends on Manus and in Australia, including myself, appealed to authorities for treatment for his serious mental health problems. That treatment was not provided.”
The Guardian Australia published a letter on August 9 from the chief medical officer of Australian Border Force, Dr John Brayley, who twelve months earlier had indicated his awareness and interest in Mr Shamshiripour’s deteriorating mental health.
Questions remain around the Iranian refugee’s death, self-harm and foul play are both being suggested.
After four years in detention on Manus what doesn’t seem to be in dispute is Mr Shamshiripour’s mental state.
ABC journalist Eric Tlozek, who says he knew Mr Shamshiripour wrote, “He [Mr Shamshiripour] became increasingly isolated and desperate. I last glimpsed him alive when I drove through the centre of Lorengau town last month.”
“Then, last week I watched his body being loaded onto an aeroplane. He was leaving Manus Island, but not the way anyone wanted,” Mr Tlozek wrote.
The Guardian reports of, “Shamshiripour’s chaotic presentation, erratic and unpredictable behaviour, and unstable state…the subject of repeated entreaties from health professionals during his time on Manus.”
Ms Richards says even people within the local Manusian community knew that Mr Shamshiripour needed mental health attention and had also appealed to authorities.
“I was personally sent photos of his body. As an ex-police officer, there are indications that Hamed’s death may not have been suicide and this really needs to be investigated independently, Ms Richards says.
“I ‘spoke’ to Hamed quite a few times on Facebook Messenger when he was healthy and not suffering from mental health issues. Once his situation deteriorate and he became more unwell, it became more difficult to connect with him.”
Those gathered outside the Nowra office of the Liberal Member for Gilmore today feel Australia is responsible for Mr Shamshiripour’s death and argue that the Turnbull Government has a duty of care that is being ignored or forgotten.
Tension seems especially high on Manus at the moment as the Australian Government moves to close the detention centre by the end of October. It seems the future of many of the 803 refugees housed there remains unclear, a deal with the Trump administration to settle detainees in America still unresolved.
“That’s lives left without proper health care, education, or safety, and Ann Sudmalis as our local member of parliament presides over that,” Ms Richards says.
About Regional spoke with and emailed the office of Ann Sudmalis for comment on Tuesday morning ahead of today’s protest, no response has been received.
The group says it will also be presenting its concerns to the Labor candidate for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips, and Mike Kelly, the sitting Labor member for the neighbouring seat of Eden-Monaro.
“Both the Liberal – National Government and the Labor Party continue to peddle the misconception that they have stopped the boats and that mandatory detention has resulted in deterring people and stopping people smugglers,” Ms Richards says.
“Those detained on Manus and Nauru are in effect the human hostages of this approach, losing their lives and their human rights as a result of such a deeply warped policy.
“Australia has had a successful past of settling refugees. We can seek to solve problems, draw on our past successes and just evacuate them before there are more deaths or injuries,” Ms Richards pleads.
The Refugee Action Collective has raised over $17,000 in the Eurobodalla to date for emergency legal and medical responses on Manus.
“Regional people have big hearts,” Ms Richards says.
“We see the value of mateship, of a fair go, and how we are actually connected, by virtue of our Government’s actions, and our tax payer money being spent on locking up people and breaking human rights.”
Thanks to About Regional members – Cathy Griff, Patrick and Meagan O’Halloran, Kym Mogridge, and Rosemary Lord for supporting local news and stories.