“When there are only 50 left, every koala counts,” – Chris Allen, NSW OEH

The Wapengo koala found yesterday (Oct 17) clinging to an oyster lease. Photo: Chris Allen
The Wapengo koala found yesterday (Oct 17) clinging to an oyster lease, now in care at Potaroo Palace. Photo: Chris Allen

Small, fragile, and very precious communities of koalas scattered in the forests between Bermagui and Tathra are not only opening doors to their own survival but also the survival of their cousins around our continent.

Bega’s Chris Allen has been keeping watch over local populations since 1996, and since 2001 has coordinated a survey and research program through the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

“Because it’s such a small population, and really widely scattered, maybe 50 koalas over something like 30,000 hectares, it’s been a very difficult project,” Chris says.

Bunga Pinch Road marks the northern edge of this key habitat, then extending 10km south to Smith’s Road and Tea Ridge Road, and west to Lizard Road is the main area of koala activity.

“But there are other important patches,” Chris says.

“Into Mimosa Rocks National Park, in the Nelsons Catchment, there’s good evidence of koalas.”

One of these koalas ‘went viral’ last month, locals on Facebook delighted in seeing a strong, healthy looking specimen tramping along the side of the Bermagui – Tathra Road at Aragunnu.

This little fellow was spotted near aragunnu this morning

Posted by Catherine Clarke on Sunday, 24 September 2017

 

“Oh it’s just lovely, it’s a beautiful bit of footage, lovely that people are able to see it,” Chris smiles.

“I chatted with that person [who took the video] and in fact, it was just near the Aragunnu turn-off.

“He was just driving along the Bermi – Tathra Road, six o’clock in the morning, and here was this koala,” he says.

East of this spot is Mimosa Rocks National Park, on the western side there’s a bit of private property, then the newly created Murrah Flora Reserve.

According to Chris, there have been four or five sightings in this area, with one koala in poor condition rescued and returned to the wild healthy.

“That is one of the few points where koalas are crossing the road,” Chris says.

“Probably dispersing eastwards from the maternal home ranges we have identified in the Reserves.”

This is a really important stretch of road if this small population has any chance to grow in numbers, as Chris says, – “Every animal counts.”

“Slow down a bit, particularly at night,” Chris pleads.

Since that video emerged (and as I write this) another close encounter koala experience has emerged.

The Bega District News is reporting that a koala was found floating on an oyster bag at a lease in Wapango Lake, south of Bermagui yesterday morning.

Oyster farmers Coral and Brian Orr told the BDN they went out to flip their oyster bags when they spotted the koala’s head floating just above the water.

They pulled the bag in and the koala hurried under the hull of the boat to take shelter, the BDN reported.

Speaking to About Regional, Chris Allen says the koala is now resting at the Potoroo Palace wildlife sanctuary near Merimbula and will be monitored for a few days.

“It’s a young male, dehydrated and a bit skinny, but otherwise seems ok,” Chris says.

While koalas have been making the news lately it doesn’t mean the population is growing. Numbers are still small, in his 7o odd years, Chris says he has only seen five or six.

Our growing knowledge…

The fact that we know about these koalas and that management practices and response protocols are in place is a testament to a community-based effort that has a sense of magic about it.

Part of the initial drive to investigate this population came from forestry workers and local residents.

Since 2007 people from a range of agencies and backgrounds have literally been on their hands and knees on the forest floor looking for koala evidence – scats (droppings) mainly.

“I get terribly excited about finding koala poo,” Chris laughs.

Koala scat, AKA poo. Photo: Ian Campbell
Koala scat, AKA poo. Photo: Ian Campbell

That work has triggered higher level scientific research that is shaping future koala management in South East New South Wales and beyond.

“Since the 1960’s koala numbers in these coastal forests have been shrinking, and shrinking from the north,” Chris says.

“There were koalas north of the Bermagui – Cobargo Road, in Wallaga Lake National Park and Naira Creek, and on the northern side of Bermagui River, and gradually those numbers declined.”

Research has suggested that the decline has continued southwards – until you hit the Murrah River. South of the river that ‘hands and knees’ bush survey work points to a population that is at least stable and has been so over the last decade.

Sydney University has added its weight to the investigation looking into the secrets of this southern population.

“The way that’s done is that any time we find fresh koala poo we send it off to Sydney Uni and they are able to extract DNA,” Chris explains.

Genetic mapping is a part of the information recorded but so too is a snapshot of disease.

“What has come out of that research is that to the north of the Murrah River animals are carrying chlamydia but to the south – they’re not,” Chris says.

Explaining how and why that is the case remains unresolved, the results of this work are very preliminary.

“The koala is described as a chlamydia rich organism, the population is often carrying several different strains,” Chris says.

“Clearly some populations have a higher level of resilience.”

Chris believes the isolation of this southern population might be a factor in its survival which makes the management of their landscape more critical.

“We’ve picked up evidence of four perhaps five females breeding, we know where their home range areas are, ” Chris says.

Wildfire and climate change the big threats…

Habitat destruction has been one of the issues facing koalas across Australia, these particular Bega Valley marsupials received some respite from the NSW Government in March 2016 when the forests they were living in were protected from further logging with the creation of the Murrah Flora Reserves – taking in what was the Murrah, Tanja, and Mumbulla State Forests, and the southern section of the Bermagui State Forest.

“Almost certainly the greatest threat this population faces now is a major wildfire,” Chris says.

Managing that risk now drives a collaboration between the Rural Fire Service, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, local residents, and the Aboriginal community.

“We’ve been through a research project with the University of Melbourne where they’ve run what’s called fire simulation modeling,” Chris says.

The results highlight the likely progression of fire through this landscape, pinpointing areas for fuel reduction work. In turn, the threat to koalas as well as human life and property is reduced and the capacity of an effective response in the event of a wildfire is improved.

“Koalas can be very good neighbours,” Chris laughs.

The board managing the Biamanga National Park, which is made up of traditional owners, are keen to take on that key role of reducing the fire risk.

“For many years they have wanted to introduce a cultural burning program and I strongly support this,” Chris says.

“The way they see it is on two levels, one is to make an ecological contribution and [two] to provide opportunities for Aboriginal people to be working back on country.

“Within it [cultural burning] is the idea of small, low-intensity, patch burns, small terms just working over a long period of time,” Chris says.

Aside from fire, climate change is the other looming threat to these precious creatures – it’s change that is literally turning the koala’s stomach.

“It’s fairly clear that increased carbon dioxide levels are actually reducing the palatability of eucalypt foliage,” Chris says.

The fear is that the pressure of climate change on local forests will cut the number of suitable feed trees available.

“These koalas are widely scattered because there are only relativity few trees providing adequate nutrition,” Chris believes.

Increasing the number of suitable species like Woollybuott is another ‘rod in the fire’ of this conservation project.

“Woollybuot is really struggling to regenerate,” Chris says.

Thirty small research plots have been established throughout koala country where a range of bush regeneration techniques are being trialled – one of them is the use of seed balls.

“Seed balls are made up of the seed of the target species, clay is mixed with peat mulch and Cayenne pepper,” Chris smiles.

“The Cayenne pepper is the magic ingredient that stops ants and other critters eating the seed.”

A solid clay ball is the result which sits in the bush waiting for good rain.

“Now it’s a question of monitoring and seeing what is most effective in encouraging the regeneration of Woollybuot and other preferred browse species,” Chris says.

Using this research in conjunction with cultural burning; regenerating burnt areas is the long game.

The future…

This relatively small forest holds big potential, not just for the survival of the koala according to Chris but so many other species.

“If we can’t hang on to our koala populations we are in big trouble,” Chris says.

“This population is a real litmus test as to what we can do about koala conservation nationally, this is a nationally significant effort.

“This is not just about koalas, the conservation initiatives that flow around the management of koala populations are conserving a whole lot more,” he says.

The success of this work so far has been the amount of knowledge collected and cooperation around better and more careful management of these forests.

It’s understood that the NSW Government will release its NSW Koala Strategy before the end of November.

A whole-of-government approach Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton hopes will stabilise and start to increase koala numbers around the state.

The work of Chris Allen and dozens of other locals have contributed to that process – advice that gives the koala a fighting chance.

While the survival of the koala is the main game, this locally based 10-year project has already had a big win. Its magic has seen a coming together of community will, good science, and politics.

“This is a population on the brink, it’s the last one we’ve got here in the coastal forests of the Bega Valley, let’s do what we can, we owe it to them given their history,” Chris says.

Koala in the Murrah Flora Reserve near Mumbulla. Photo: Dave Gallen
Koala in the Murrah Flora Reserve near Mumbulla. Photo: Dave Gallen

About Regional content is supported by the contribution of members – thanks to Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui, Tathra Beach House Apartments, Claire Blewett, Neroli Dickson, Jeanette Westmore, and Nigel Catchlove.

Podcast 19 – Eurobodalla Youth Forum

Some school holiday listening this time around.

During Local Government Week recently, Eurobodalla Shire Council made space for the youth of the shire.

Senior students from Carroll College and St Peter’s Anglican College at Broulee, and Batemans Bay High School were given time to address Council – including Mayor, Liz Innes and Deputy Mayor, Anthony Mayne.

One of the Shire’s Federal MP’s was also taking notes – Member for Gilmore, Anne Sudmalis.

Courtney Fryer from Carroll College used the opportunity to advocate for young people living with physical and mental disability.

Harrison O’Keefe from Batemans Bay High, made a great point around youth engagement –“show them what they are missing out on” and he has an idea to do just that.

While Pippi Sparrius from St Peter’s presented some surprising stats around teenage pregnancy in the Eurobodalla.

Keen to give the students a ‘real council meeting’ experience, Cr Innes was watching the clock, with Courtney, Harrison, and Pippi all given five minutes each.

Click play to listen here and now…

Or listen and subscribe via AudioBoom, Bitesz.com, or Apple Podcasts/iTunes.

For support or more info about the issues raised in this podcast check in with the Eurobodalla youth services directory or drop by one of the Shire’s popular youth cafes in Narooma and Batemans Bay.

About Regional is supported by the financial contributions of members, including Jill Howell, Max Wilson, Sue MacKinnon, Geoff Berry, and Four Winds at Bermagui – who have just released the program for next Easter’s festival, 60 artists, 10 ensembles, 26 performances, 10 stunning locations, over 5 days starting in late March 2018. Early bird tickets are on sale now.

Thanks for tuning in, see you out and about in South East NSW.
Cheers
Ian

Podcast 18 – a local perspective on feminism in the 21st century

Tas Fitzer, Annie Werner, Jodie Stewart, Lorna Findlay, and Indigo Walker. Photo: Ian Campbell
Tas Fitzer, Annie Werner, Jodie Stewart, Lorna Findlay, and Indigo Walker, and the Mnemosyne mugs! Photo: Ian Campbell

In the depths of a Bega winter around 70 people turned out to the Bega Campus of the University of Wollongong to hear a local perspective on Feminism in the 21st Century.

Local writers group Mnemosyne posed the question – ‘Is feminism still relevant?’

A lively discussion followed.

Your host will introduce you to the panel and the meaning of Mnemosyne.

Mnemosyne: South Coast Women's Journal
Mnemosyne: South Coast Women’s Journal

The discussion doubled as the launch of a new local journal. The Kickstarter fundraising campaign runs until the end of September hoping to turn the journal into a reality.

You are about to find out more.

Your host is Ph.D. student, Jodie Stewart who has just been awarded the Deen De Bortoli Award for Applied History from the History Council of NSW for her work and research around the Bundian Way, and ancient Aboriginal pathway linking the Far South Coast and the Snowy Mountains of NSW.

Listen now via AudioBoom, bitesz, or Apple Podcasts/iTunes

Thanks to About Regional members, Tania Ward, Ingrid Mitchell, Deb Nave, and Scott Halfpenny for their support in making this podcast.

Cheers

Ian

Eddie Blewett and his community point to ‘The Power of One’

Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell
Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell

This time last week I was witness to the most amazing thing.

A fourteen year old boy went to Canberra and caught the ear of national media and the alternative government.

Last Tuesday’s ‘event’ on the lawn in front of Parliament House was born from Eddie Blewett’s experience 12 months prior.

Eddie and his two mums traveled from their home in Tathra to Canberra in September 2016 with other Rainbow Families lobbying against a plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

On that occasion the presence of Eddie and his mums Claire Blewett and Neroli Dickson shaped Question Time. Reporting for Fairfax, Matthew Knot wrote that, ‘Eddie stole Question Time”.

On his return last week, the issue hadn’t changed much and Eddie was keen to address that.

Six weeks ago, Eddie wrote to Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull hoping to help the PM campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in the postal survey that has replaced the failed plebiscite.

The same correspondence was sent to Labor Leader, Bill Shorten, Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek, and Eddie’s local MP, Mike Kelly – all pointing to September 12 as a possible meeting day.

Remembering the impact of Eddie’s visit almost 1 year before to the day, there was real warmth and a genuine interest from Ms Plibersek especially, who seemed equally hopeful that Eddie might meet with the PM.

Eddie’s friends (including my family) had agreed to meet at 10am on the grass in front of the big flag pole.

We were a diverse mix of country people, kids and adults, including a Vietnam vet, a school teacher, retired police officer, a Canberra Raiders fan, two Registered Nurses, a retired steel worker, and an arts administrator, to name a few.

All there to say, this issue is important to people beyond just ‘the gays in the village’.

The 'Yes' campaign kicks a goal at Parliament House. Photo: Ian Campbell
The ‘Yes’ campaign kicks a goal at Parliament House. Photo: Ian Campbell

The plan was to set – a picnic and a game of soccer, like any family might and see what happened.

The convoy that travelled with Eddie that day numbered around 20, not large in number but our aim was to help those with an ability to pull a crowd get a message out – vote YES.

Using the group’s Bega Valley soccer connections, a bundle of spring loaded corner posts and witches hats were borrowed to mark out a field.

A rainbow flag was gaffer taped to one of the fences attracting the interest of patrolling members of the Australian Federal Police, who made sure we knew it was a no-no but turned a blind eye with a wink of support.

Our soccer field looked great, as did the picnic rugs and assortment of nibbles and baked goods. Mind you no one was hungry – nerves suppressed any craving for one of the Anzac biscuits on offer.

Somethings about to happen, the crowd is building. Photo: Ian Campbell
Something’s about to happen, the crowd is building. Photo: Ian Campbell

Eleven o’clock arrived quickly. We had high hopes and a sense something great was about to happen, but we didn’t know what was going to happen at the same time.

Mr Shorten and Ms Plibersek had agreed to meet and we hoped the media might tag along – as overwhelming as that felt.

All involved were keen to protect Eddie from potential ugliness, the Canberra press pack comes with a reputation and Eddie had a taste of that last time round.

He was nervous but kept pushing though. Having a ball to kick with his mates was key and he knew he had something valuable and important to say.

We’d worked with Eddie on a statement to read to the media if they showed up, rather than being bamboozled by questions left and right.

The first sign of what was to come started to emerged from between the marble columns of Parliament House.

A cameraman from Fairfax was the first, a scout to make sure everything was ready for his media comrades.

A lectern was positioned with Parliament House and our soccer field in the background, and as if they appeared from the Aladdin’s lamp, the Opposition Leader and his Deputy were mingling at the edges of our picnic rugs.

Anzac biscuits were offered as the number of MP’s streaming down the path increased, cameramen and journalists manoeuvring around our morning tea.

Watch the Anzacs! Photo: Ian Campbell
Watch the Anzacs! Photo: Ian Campbell

It was hard to say and no one counted but our group ballooned to 50, 60 or 70 people.

Ms Plibersek spoke first, “We know that households across Australia will be receiving their survey papers in the coming days,” she said.

“And we are here to urge people to fill their papers in straight away.”

Bill Shorten was next, “Australia’s modern families come in all shapes and sizes, I think it’s long overdue for the law to catch up with the way in which millions of Australians are already constructing their lives,” he said.

“Today the survey goes out, about 600,000 of the 16 million surveys will be posted today.

“Tick the ‘Yes’ box and we can get this done before Christmas.”

Showtime! Bill Shorten introducing Eddie to the media. Photo: Ian Campbell
Showtime! Bill Shorten introducing Eddie to the media. Photo: Ian Campbell

Mr Shorten then introduced Eddie to the media pack.

Eddie had continued to tweak his statement over breakfast that morning, the nicely typed one pager replaced by his own hand written thoughts.

With many of those assembled blubbering quietly (Ms Plibersek included) – Eddie nailed it.

“People who know my family, know that there is nothing wrong with us.

“We play soccer in the winter and volunteer for the surf club in the summer,” he said.

“I have two parents, they love me and they love each other, all couples and all families deserve the same respect and value.”

#Tathra's Eddie Blewett talks to the media pack at Parliament House, Canberra with Bill Shorten MP Mike Kelly MP, and Tanya Plibersek, asking #Australia to get this done and say YES for Rainbow Families.Ian

Posted by About Regional on Monday, 11 September 2017

 

More mingling and private discussion followed (the soccer game resumed) as well as one on one media interviews and photo requests.

Eddie, Neroli, and Claire handled it all with grace. The support of local media at home the day before helped with that – Fairfax, ABC South East, Power FM and 2EC, all recognised Eddie’s courage early and helped build confidence and momentum.

At about 12:30 we got our patch of grass back, mind you, we’d been sharing it from the very start with a large group of people wearing yellow and practicing Tai Chi. There must have been at least 50 of them highlighting the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China (note to self, find out more one day).

At 1:30 Ms Plibersek said she would take Eddie’s message to the floor of parliament in a session that runs before Question Time known as ‘Ninety Second Member Statements’.

Buggered and hungry for shade (we’d come prepared for Canberra cold not sunshine) we moved inside for coffee ready for 1:30.

Having half undressed to pass through security we took our green seats in the public gallery of the House of Representatives just as Ms Plibersek rose to her feet…

Earlier today, the Leader of the Opposition and I met with three very special people. Eddie Blewett, and his mums Claire and Neroli – from Tathra, NSW.

I had hoped that since they were last here, about a year ago now, that the Parliament would have done its job and legislated for marriage equality.

Sadly, the Prime Minister has delivered a ridiculous $122 million postal survey instead.

None of us wanted it, but we’re determined to win it.

We’ve already seen the vitriol that Malcolm Turnbull’s postal survey is inflicting on LGBTI Australians, their families, and friends.

I know that the next few weeks are going to be tough for young people like Eddie, and for his mums.

But today we say, we stand with you. We’ve got your back.

Ballot papers will be arriving in people’s letterboxes over the coming days.

I urge people to fill out their ballots, and post them back as soon as possible.

I urge people to vote yes.

I’m voting yes, for families like Eddie, Claire, Neroli’s.

I’m voting yes for the person I’ve never met – a young person in a country town who might be struggling with their sexuality.

I’m voting yes because I want to live in country that supports equal rights for all its citizens.

I asked Eddie this morning if he had anything he’d like me say for him in the Parliament.

He said:

“Voting ‘yes’ takes nothing away from anyone, but voting ‘no’ will take something away from me and my mums.”

Thank you so much for coming to Parliament today.

Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

By that stage, media coverage was starting to appear – News Corp, SBS, the Huffington Post, the Canberra Times. 

On the way home, we heard about our day on ABC Radio’s PM program, and some of the group were home in time to flick between the various TV news bulletins between 6 and 7:30pm, most featuring Eddie.

Eddie chatting to SBS News with Neroli and Claire. Photo: Ian Campbell
Eddie chatting to SBS News with Neroli and Claire. Photo: Ian Campbell

A week on I am left appreciating the power people have when they speak up and share genuine experience. I think we all knew that to be the case as we travelled up the Brown that morning but it was terrific and reassuring to see it at work.

Eddie, Claire, and Neroli made this on going discussion real. Real for politicians who will ultimately decided the future of same-sex marriage, real for the media who are no doubt bored of covering this issue, and real for the 16 million ordinary Australian’s who are casting judgement.

What I also love is that country voices carried weight in the city that day, and perhaps our ‘countryness’ was part of our appeal – we represented a group of people who hadn’t been heard.

Most of all I love that my kids stood shoulder to shoulder with their friend Eddie. They saw the power of thoughtful, respectful debate.

“Dad if people can just see Eddie’s face when they fill in their ballot paper, then it’s been a successful day,” one of my boys said.

As an aside, there has been no acknowledgment from the PM to date, Eddie’s invitation to meet with him stands, this isn’t political for Eddie and his family – this is life.

Small communities represented on new Snowy Monaro Regional Council

Lynley Miners. Photo: Keva Gocher ABC Rural
Lynley Miners. Photo: Keva Gocher ABC Rural

Small towns have made their presence felt after the first flush of counting in the Snowy Monaro Regional Council election.

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. Photo: Town and Country Magazine
Bob Stewart. Photo: Town and Country Magazine

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.”

Dean Lynch, Administrator of Snowy Monaro Regional Council
Dean Lynch Photo: Snowy Monaro Regional Council

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.

James Boo Ewart voting in Saturday's election. Photo: Facebook
James Boo Ewart voting in Saturday’s election. Photo: Facebook

“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.

To keep track of the progressive election results head to the website of the NSW Electoral Commission.

 

*Thanks to About Regional members, Simon Marine, Kelly Murray, Gabrielle Powell, Nastasia Campanella and Thomas Oriti for supporting local story telling.

 

 

Where will the rainbow flag appear next in South East NSW?

The rainbow flag flying high at Cobargo Post Office this week before 'the bosses' stepped in. Photo: ABC South East Facebook
The rainbow flag flying high at Cobargo Post Office this week before ‘the bosses’ stepped in. Photo: ABC South East Facebook

A rainbow flag flying high above Cobargo Post Office this week seems to be part of a growing trend, with friends of About Regional also keen to raise the colours of gay pride in a show of support.

The rainbow flag has been a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride and advocacy since the late 70’s.

San Francisco artist and activist Gilbert Baker is said to be responsible for the original design, which made its debut in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978.

It has been suggested that Baker may have been inspired by Judy Garland’s song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

The ‘Flag of the Human Race’ is also said to have played a role, with its five horizontal stripes of red, white, brown, yellow, and black.

Thirty volunteers are believed to have hand-dyed and stitched the first two rainbow flags.

In these contentious days leading up to the Turnbull Government’s postal survey on same sex marriage, the licencees of Cobargo Post Office were ordered to take their flag down by Australia Post. Management deciding the organisation should be seen as neutral on the issue, given the role they will play if the high court challenge sinks.

“It’s fantastic to hear that children are asking questions and talking about it,” David Wilson, licencee of the Cobargo Post Office told the Bega District News.

“And on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had much older, conservative people come in to give us their support too.”

Cobargo Post Office has been one of a number of key community buildings around Australia to fly the rainbow flag in the last week, including Waurn Ponds Police Station near Geelong in Victoria.

“We are supporting the message as police that you have the right to be proud of who you are — your sexuality or gender identity does not change this,” Acting Senior Sergeant Jane Boyd told the Geelong Advertiser.

The City of Hobart is another, Lord Mayor Sue Hickey told the Hobart Advertiser that the rainbow flag would fly over the Hobart Council Centre until there is marriage equality.

“You should not be discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or sex,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We raised the rainbow flag as a sign of solidarity with our LGBQTI community.”

In Western Australia, the City of Vincent just outside of Perth, last week decided to fly the six colours of the flag above its HQ in “celebration of Vincent’s cultural and social diversity and welcoming spirit.”

Mayor Emma Cole says, “We believe it is important for Vincent to demonstrate our strong support for residents who identify in the LGBTI community and who could be negatively impacted by the upcoming non-binding marriage law postal survey.”

“We also want to visually show that our community stands for equality, diversity and human rights and that our Council is committed to marriage equality.”

Staff at the council will also have the option of wearing “Vincent loves love” shirts,  street banners will also fly through the town centre.

With this growing momentum, some South East locals have asked About Regional where they can source their own rainbow flag.

Mogo was my first thought.

Leah Milston’s store ‘Milston Past and Present‘ has been a colourful head turner on the Mogo business strip since December 2005. All sorts of flags are pegged out the front to catch the breeze every day, distracting the passing highway trade.

“Australian, Aboriginal, Eureka and hippy flags are my most popular,” Leah says.

But with people keen to ‘show their colours’ Leah has ordered more and will post out rainbow flags to friends of About Regional.

“I have traditional rainbow flags, rainbow heart flags, peace flags with a rainbow back ground, I have just sold one to a lady from Cobargo,” Leah says.

“I agree with marriage equality but don’t like the idea of the survey.

“Because we could still end with the legislation remaining the same.

“I know some people are scared of change but this is about human rights,” she says.

Leah’s rainbow flags sell for $15, plus a little bit for postage, or Leah says she will post three flags to the one address for free. You’ll catch her on 4474 5708 or milstons2536@gmail.com

If the rainbow flag is available from other stores across the Eurobodalla, Bega Valley and Snowy Monaro please let me know.

*This story was made with the support of About Regional members – Debra Cushion, Amanda Stroud, JoSaccomani, Shane O’Leary, and Tathra Beach House Appartments. Thanks for supporting local news and discussion.

For more on marriage equality locally click HERE.  In October 2016, during Mental Health Month Leah Milston wrote of her journey for About Regional, click HERE for more.

 

Eurobodalla protesters move in on Member for Gilmore

The Eurobodalla wing of the Refugee Action Collective held a protest today at the office of local MP Ann Sudmalis.

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.”

Posted by Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla on Tuesday, 22 August 2017

 

The death earlier this month of thirty-one year Hamed Shamshiripour near Lorengau on Manus Island prompted today’s protest action.

“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.”

Hamed Shamshiripour who was found dead on Manus Island earlier this month after four years in detention. Source: The Guardian Australia.
Hamed Shamshiripour who was found dead on Manus Island earlier this month after four years in detention. Source: The Guardian Australia.

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.

Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla believes the publication of the fruity Trump-Turnbull phone conversation suggests that safety and refuge for the 1,200 people on Manus Island and Nauru is false hope.

“Refugees are being placed in a more dangerous and untenable situation,” Ms Richards suggests.

“Further tragedy is inevitable unless the Australian government pursues a humanitarian policy and brings those on Manus and Nauru to Australia.”

Today’s group of 20 – 30 protesters tried to speak with Ms Sudmalis but were told she was out of the office on other business.

“Sadly we have found that our local member is just not listening or doing the work that she should, despite at least two years of trying to engage with her,” Ms Richards says.

“At her last village stop in Moruya,  Ms Sudmalis expressed shock that there were children still in detention, despite us repeatedly flagging this as an important issue.

“We have provided factual information to her on more than one occasion, but she ignores any approaches we make,” Ms Richrads says.

As at June 30, the Department of Immigration reported 42 children in the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru.

Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla suggests close to 130 other kids are living in the community on Nauru.

“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.

Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla protesting today outside of the Member for Gilmore's office. Source: RAC Eurobodalla Facebook
Refugee Action Collective Eurobodalla protesting today outside of the Member for Gilmore’s office. Source: RAC Eurobodalla Facebook

“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.

 

 

Hall of Service to take soil from 65 South East locations

NSW Governor, David Hurley collects a sample of soil with members of Narooma RSL sub-branch looking on. By Ian Campbell
NSW Governor, David Hurley collects a sample of soil with members of Narooma RSL sub-branch looking on. By Ian Campbell

Soil collected from sixty-five war memorials across South East New South Wales will be featured in a new state memorial honouring First World War veterans and their hometowns.

The Office of Veterans Affairs is overseeing the program, which is collecting soil from almost 1,700 WW1 enlistment locations for an art installation in what will be known as the Hall of Service at the revamped Hyde Park memorial in the centre of Sydney.

An artists impression of what the Hall of Service will look like when complete in 2018. Source: anzacmemorial.nsw.gov.au
An artists impression of what the Hall of Service will look like when complete in 2018. Source: anzacmemorial.nsw.gov.au

Narooma is one of 15 Eurobodalla locations identified for the program, and one of the first local spots where soil has been collected. NSW Governor, His Excellency the Honourable David Hurley who visited the Shire this week was the one to do the honours.

Other South East locations include:

Adaminaby

Batemans Bay

Bega

Bergalia

Bermagui

Berridale

Bibbenluke

Bimbaya

Bodalla

Bombala

Bredbo

Broadwater

Burragate

Candelo

Cathcart

Central Tilba

Cobargo

Colinton

Conjola

Cooma

Craigie

Dalgety

Delegate

Dignams Creek

Eden

Eurobodalla

Jerangle

Jindabyne

Jervis Bay

Jingera

Kameruka

Kanoona

Kiandra

Maharatta

Merimbula

Michelago

Milton

Monaro

Moruya

Myalla

Narooma

Nelligen

Nerrigundah

Nethercote

Nimmitabel

Numeralla

Pambulla

Quaama

Rock Flat

Rockton

Rocky Hall

Roasedale

South Pambula

South Wolumla

Stony Creek

Tathra

Tilba Tilba

Tomakin

Towamba

Ulladulla

Wagonga

Wolumla

Woodlands

Wyndham

Yatte Yattah

Linda Hurley chats to Narooma school kids about life in Government House. By Ian Campbell.
Linda Hurley chats to Narooma school kids about life in Government House. By Ian Campbell.

When complete, memorial visitors will be able to learn about each location via their personal digital devices.

The information presented will include details on the soil collection, the names of enlistees who gave that location as their home address, and maps showing the local area and its surrounding memorials and schools.

The simple soil collection program forms part of a $40 million enhancement of the memorial marking the centenary of World War 1.

Works are on track for opening on Remembrance Day 2018, which will bring to life the original 1930’s vision for the space and include a second water feature and new educational areas.

NSW Governor, David Hurley told About Regional, war memorials like this are a reminder of the strength of service and sacrifice for current day service women and men and of the history they are a part of.

His Excellency believes the new Hall of Service will be stunning and emotional…

This story was made with the assistance of About Regional members Wendy and Pete Gorton, Amanda Dalziel, Phil Martin, and Olwen Morris – thank you for supporting local story telling.

Marriage equality – have you got the energy for this? South East locals hope you do.

'Love Makes a Family' as seen at the 2016 Sydney Mardi Gras
‘Love Makes a Family’ as seen at the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras. Source: C and N

The disappointment around the postal plebiscite on marriage equality is real and bitter for many, but it seems it is the only course of action available to bury this boring issue once and for all.

Boring because for so long the vast majority of Australian’s have understood that ‘Love is Love’ yet the months/years of political scratching around has disillusioned and disengaged the community.

There are those challenging this process in the High Court of Australia, describing it as unlawful; the full bench of the court will decide  on September 5 and 6.

The wheels of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, who will run this show, will continue to spin regradless – getting ready for the survey which is due to start just a week after the High Court decision.

While those in our community at the sharp end of this cheer on the High Court challenge, in the back of their mind they are also laying the ground work for the campaign ahead – mobilising as many people as possible to vote ‘yes’ in this non-compulsory process.

Bega Valley LGBTIQ advocate, Tas Fitzer says it took him a couple of days of reflection to work out the way ahead.

“I really understand the temptation for supporters of marriage equality to say ‘I am not voting, I am boycotting this process’, because it’s not a process we’d like to legitimise,” Tas says.

“We are giving a platform to debate that is going to be harmful to children of same sex couples, for young LGBTIQ people, and for people struggling with their identity.

“We don’t want to be here but we are here, this is something we have to deal with and the best way to deal with it is to take it head on,” he reasons.

Tas Fitzer. Source: Facebook
Tas Fitzer. Source: Facebook

Tas says he’ll be voting ‘yes’ and will be actively campaigning for others to do the same.

“Disagree with the process – absolutely, disagree with how it’s being done – absolutely, but let’s accept the fact we are here and make the most of it,” Tas says.

C and N are women who live on the Sapphire Coast and have been together for over two decades, they have a teenage son and are active members of a range of community and sporting organisations.

They have asked me not to use their names, mindful of the impact any publicity might have on their boy.

“For the first time in a very long time, I feel different and vulnerable, and that I have to somehow show evidence of how healthy, normal, and loving my relationship is with both my partner and son,” C says.

“How I live my life day to day and how I parent our child is under the microscope for those who don’t know us.

“And, I’m embarrassed for Australia – friends, colleagues, clients, people I know, across the age span, those with faith and those without, really don’t understand what the problem is, there is this sense of – really, we are still talking about marriage equality?,” C says.

Reflecting on the weeks ahead C and N believe there will be a relatively small but vocal group of people who will feel the postie poll gives them permission to voice their bigotry, to judge, attack, and say dreadful, hurtful, untrue and damaging things about the LGBTIQ community.

If it goes ahead, the result of the poll will be known on November 15 but it will be parliamentarians that ultimately decide if the Mariage Act can include same sex couples.

Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has said he’ll be encouraging a ‘yes’ vote and if ‘yes’ wins his Liberal MP’s will be free to vote according to their conscience.

ABC South East reported this week that Anne Sudmalis, the Liberal Member for Gilmore which covers the northern end of the Eurobodalla, won’t reveal her personal view on same sex marriage.

The ABC said that Ms Sudmalis would stand up for what her electorate decides.

A survey on the issue conducted by Ms Sudmalis in October 2015 pointed to 62 percent approval for marriage equality in Gilmore, 36 percent were opposed, while the rest undecided – the ABC reported.

Colourful tutus with a clear message
Colourful Bega Valley tutus with a clear message at the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras. Source: C and N

Labor’s Mike Kelly, the Federal Member for the neighbouring seat of Eden – Monaro told About Regional, “The fastest and cheapest way to deliver marriage equality is through a free vote in the Parliament, not a $122 million survey.”

“If we are going to be forced to take part in this farce then I think the best thing we can do is send the Turnbull Government a message they can’t ignore – vote yes for marriage equality,” Dr Kelly says.

Dr Kelly is urging eligible voters to enroll or update their details with the Australian Electoral Commission before August 24 so that they can take part in the marriage law survey.

The former Army colonel is hopeful the campaign ahead will be respectful and tolerant.

“I plead with everyone in our community to exercise the utmost civility and join with me in urging that we all refrain from engaging in misinformation or hurtful comments,” Dr Kelly says.

Twenty-one-year old Tas Fitzer is of a similar mindset.

“The mental health of some of our young LGBTIQ people is of real concern to me,” he says.

“That’s why I have decided to get out there and campaign for a ‘yes’ vote so that they can see there are people out there to support them.”

Click play to hear more from Tas…

 

Speaking with C and N in fading light this afternoon, both fear some in the community who would vote ‘yes’ are now unmotivated to take part given the level of discussion the issue has had over an extended period of time.

“Many people honestly don’t understand what the fuss is about and are exhausted by this debate,” N says.

“Because same sex marriage seems a no brainer to them, I’d implore people to realise that unfortunately for some Australians the idea is frightening and abhorrent.

“Giving free reign to people to say whatever they like, to judge us simply for not living our lives like them is scary, scary for us now and for the next generations,” N explains.

Both are hopeful people will push past the grubby, lengthy politics of the issue and find the energy and motivation to say ‘yes’.

Writing for About Regional almost 12 months ago on this issue, Iain Dawson the convener of Bega Valley for Marriage Equality asked people to walk in his shoes…

“John Howard’s change [to the Marriage Act] in 2004 defined marriage as ‘a union between a man and woman only’.

“I am incredulous that Australia still judges my relationship with the man I love, ‘to the exclusion of all others’ as less than equal to my peers, friends, and family.

“For those not yet convinced; put yourself in that equitation and see how it feels, what it says to your soul.

“80% of Australians want our leaders to change the Marriage Act.

“The majority of my countrymen see my relationship as equal; that gives me and the LGBTIQ community strength and hope,” Iain wrote.

Whatever happens in the High Court on September 5 and 6 this issue will remain unresolved, work still needs to be done to finish this, energy needs to be mustered.

As a heterosexual father of three, with friends and family seeking equality that I take for granted, I will find that energy, despite the shit sandwich we are being served, I ask you to do the same.

Thanks to About Regional members – Tim HoltAmanda StroudDeborah Dixon, and Nastasia Campanella for supporting local story telling.

Declaration: Tas Fitzer is a part-time Electorate Officer for Mike Kelly and former Country Labor candidate.

 

Calling candidates for Snowy Monaro Regional Council

Dean Lynch, Administrator of Snowy Monaro Regional Council
Dean Lynch, Administrator of Snowy Monaro Regional Council. Source: SMRC

The wheels of democracy are starting to spin again across the High Country with nominations now open for candidates at the September 9 Local Council Election.

Eleven councilors will sit in the chamber of the merged Snowy Monaro Regional Council, which has been run for the past 15 months by former Cooma Mayor, Dean Lynch.

In his role as Administrator, Mr Lynch called on the advice and input of Local Representative Committees covering the former shires of Snowy River, Cooma-Monaro, and Bombala.

Ultimately though final decisions fell to Mr Lynch, an arrangement put in place by the NSW Government and one many have described as undemocratic.

Mr Lynch, who says he won’t be standing on September 9 says he understands the criticism but has enjoyed the opportunity despite feeling burnt out.

He says the whole merger process has got people thinking more about local government and perhaps has inspired some locals to stand for election.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of new faces,” Mr Lynch says.

Nominations opened on Monday and will close at Midday on Wednesday, August 9 through the Electoral Commission on NSW.

In the lead-up, Snowy Monaro Regional Council held candidate info sessions in Jindabyne, Berridale, Cooma, and Bombala.

Leanne Atkinson sat on Snowy River Shire Council between 1999 and 2003 and has stood as a Labor candidate for the NSW Parliament in the seat of Bega a number of times since, she says it can feel like a ‘leap of faith’ when you first put your name forward for election.

“You really aren’t sure what you are doing at the beginning,” Ms Atkinson told About Regional.

“You need to get the message out about yourself and what differentiates you from other people.”

Ms Atkinson says she went into her first campaign with issues she felt connected to and could speak on.

“I was a young mum, and was very aware of the constraints there were for families in the area and what services were available for them,” she says.

“That was how I went into that first campaign, looking at services for families, for young people, ” she says.

Ms Atkinson says she never considered standing for council until a couple of people suggested it to her.

“I said I can’t see myself doing this, there are all those people sitting around that table, all that procedure, I couldn’t do that.

“The funny thing is that once you are elected you realise that you absolutely can be at that table,” Ms Atkinson says.

And once you are elected what is the job of a new councilor on Snowy Monaro Regional Council?

Ms Atkinson believes the role goes beyond the popular catchphrase of ‘roads, rubbish, and rates’.

“There are a lot of demands on Council, and the role a Councilor is to have a strategic view, to set the tone, and to set the direction,” she says.

“It’s really important to engage effectively with the community.”

Election Day is Sept 9. Source: AEC
Election Day is Sept 9. Source: AEC

The merger process, taking three council areas into one has left smaller communities concerned that they will be over looked by the big new entity shaped by the Baird – Berejiklian Government.

Leanne Atkinson believes it’s incumbent on the eleven new councilors to think beyond their own home town.

“Don’t focus just on the big towns, there are little communities where those people matter and are just as important as the people in the bigger towns,” she says.

“You have to be aware that you are there for the whole community.”

But there is some strategic advice from this Labor stalwart for smaller centres keen to see one of their own elected.

“I have a view that the amalgamations shouldn’t have been forced, but the fact is it’s amalgamated,” Ms Atkinson says.

“The community needs people who are going to move the shire forward in it’s new form.

“Maybe some smaller communities should get together and ask, who is the one person who could represent us well?” she says.

Find a candidate and get the community behind them seems to be the advice.

“I lived in Berridale for a while, and if it was me in a community like that, I’d be pulling people together and saying, okay we want representation on this council, who can we advocate for and increase our chances of getting someone elected,” Ms Atkinson suggests.

Reflecting on her council time, Ms Atkinson says it was one of the best experiences of her life, she is keen to see a diverse range of candidates stand for election on September 9.

“There were lots of little things that I would look at and think, we can do better than that.”

“If you are willing to work you’d be surprised at how much you can achieve,” Ms Atkinson says.

Thanks to About Regional Members, Simon Marnie, Alison Oakley, Linda Albertson, and Kiah Wilderness Tours for supporting local story telling.