Local projects in need of Snowy Hydro dollars – transport to culture and sport

Snowy River Mayor John Rooney is pushing to have the Canberra to Bombala rail line reopened. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Snowy River Mayor John Rooney is pushing to have the Canberra to Bombala rail line reopened. Photo: Ian Campbell.

The full sale of Snowy Hydro to the Federal Government is a $4.2 billion injection into the New South Wales economy, and the Mayor’s of South East NSW are lining up to spend it.

Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and Deputy Premier and Member for Monaro, John Barilaro have “ring-fenced” those dollars for infrastructure projects in rural and regional NSW.

“4.2 billion dollars in one go for rural and regional NSW does not happen often, this is a once in a generation opportunity,” the Premier says.

“Snowy Hydro is iconic, an iconic nation-building project, what we intend to do is convert the proceeds into iconic nation-building projects for rural and regional NSW.”

Eurobodalla Mayor, Liz Innes is ready to help the Premier spend it; her wish list is geared towards generating employment and economic development opportunities.

“We’ve completed significant work in identifying our infrastructure priorities at a local and regional level,” Cr Innes says.

“This is a wonderful new opportunity and we’re grateful the NSW Government is directing the funding to regional areas.”

The top priorities for Eurobodalla Shire:

  • Batemans Bay Regional Arts, Aquatic and Leisure Centre at Mackay Park
  • Agribusiness and aquaculture infrastructure, including export packing and tourism facility for recently announced oyster hatchery at Moruya Airport;
  • Surf Beach innovation park – subdividing and providing infrastructure for future economic and employment growth;
  • Southern water storage facility – helping to secure Eurobodalla’s water supply with a 3,000 megalitre, off-stream storage facility near the Tuross River;
  • Improved coastal access and inclusive infrastructure incorporating walking trails, accessible pontoons, accessible facilities, and beach and water access.
Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes is keen to advance Council's plans for a new aquatic and cultural centre for Batemans Bay. Photo: Eurobodalla Shire Council.
Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes is keen to advance Council’s plans for a new aquatic and cultural centre for Batemans Bay. Photo: Eurobodalla Shire Council.

West of the coastal escarpment, Snowy Monaro Mayor, John Rooney has big ambitions including reopening the rail line from Canberra to Cooma and then on to Bombala and the port of Eden.

Cr Rooney was quick to put the idea on the agenda soon after being elected Mayor late last year, telling Fairfax Media at the time, that rail was the most efficient form of land transport and that reopening the Queanbeyan-Bombala railway would give the Dongwha mill at Bombala access to softwood plantations in the ACT and Palarang.

At that time the Mayor committed himself to speaking with all levels of government to progress the idea, five months later there’s money on the table for what the Deputy Premier and local member says will go towards infrastructure projects that span generations.

Also on the Snowy Monaro wishlist:

  • Upgrading the transport network to ensure the main freight routes are to modern standards, including Imlay Road to Bombala
  • The Bundian Way, a 360km ancient Aboriginal pathway that links Targangal (Mount Kosciuszko) and Bilgalera (Fisheries Beach, Eden)
The Snowy Mountains Highway on Brown Mountain has been unstable for many years. Photo: RMS.
The Snowy Mountains Highway on Brown Mountain has been unstable for many years. Photo: RMS.

In the Bega Valley, Mayor Kristy McBain also has road infrastructure in mind.

“Bega Valley Shire Council was very pleased to see the recent State Government announcement in regards to a potential funding boost for the regions stemming from the Snowy Hydro sale,” Cr McBain says.

“We have identified a number of infrastructure project priorities that, when completed, will bring substantial financial and social benefits to our community.

“[Including] water treatment facilities at Bemboka, Brogo, and Bega, [and] an upgrade of the Brown Mountain east-west transport link .”

Bega Valley Shire Council has just launched an Infrastructure Prospectus touting a range of projects in need of government and/or commercial investment.

The prospectus enables the State and Federal Government to look at projects over a wide range of infrastructure, cultural, and sporting priorities for our area, we would obviously welcome any additional spend in our area,” Cr McBain says.

When it comes to what projects are funded when, the Deputy Premier says, “We’ll take our time deciding what those projects are.”

“We don’t want to squander the opportunity, the legacy left by Snowy Hydro,” Mr Barilaro says.

What would your community do with Snowy Hydro dollars? Make your pitch below.

*This story first appeared on RiotACT

National Sheep Dog Trials – the next big thing in women’s sport

President of the National Sheep Dog Trials Association, Charlie Cover. Photo: Ian Campbell.
President of the National Sheep Dog Trials Association, Charlie Cover. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Women are making their presence felt at the National Sheep Dog Trials underway at Hall Showground, 25 minutes west of the Canberra CBD.

President of the Trials Association, Charlie Cover says 41% of entries this year come from female handlers.

“Its a record for us and I think it might also be a world record,” Charlie says.

“Women’s sport, in general, has absolutely exploded this year – AFL, soccer; and we are now apart of that.

“Men and women compete on an equal playing field, physical strength has nothing to do with it,” he says.

Fifty-five handlers from around Australia will send 300 mostly Border Collie dogs around the bush showground between now and Sunday (March 18). Spectators are welcome to find a perch in one of the shady grandstands every day.

“You can even bring your pet dogs, please just keep them on a lead,” Charlie says.

2018 marks 75 years of sheepdog trialing in the ACT. The sport was born during the dying days of World War 2 and a need to raise money for the post-war work of Legacy.

Those early days played out on Manuka Oval led by George Westcott, a community-minded public servant.

“I’d like to have a go at running this on Manuka Oval next year,” Charlie laughs.

The National Sheepdog Trails are being held at Hall Showground, March 14 to 18. Photo: Ian Campbell.
The National Sheepdog Trails are being held at Hall Showground, March 14 to 18. Photo: Ian Campbell.

The skill of sheep dog trialing is a balance between control and threat and working with the natural herding instinct of the dogs.

“One is a hunter and one is hunted, so there’s a natural mistrust from the sheep towards the dog,” Charlie says.

“The handler has got to get those sheep accepting the dog as a guiding rather than threatening force.”

Spectators will see each dog working over a marked course featuring three obstacles, the last being an enclosed pen the sheep are herded into. The dog’s job is to keep the sheep within the boundaries of the course.

Each pair starts the trail with 100 points and 15 minutes to complete the course. Points are deducted whenever the sheep are off course or when the dog loses control of the sheep.

Rather than being true farm dogs, there’s no doubt a lot of these dogs are trained to compete. A competition that has become a lifestyle furnished with comfortable caravans, regular cuppas on the sideline and scones with jam and cream.

“The sport is changing but some of these dogs will go back and be working on farming properties on Monday morning, the dog that I am looking for to win this trial is the same dog that I would be looking for on a big property.”

Three hundred dogs and 55 handlers from around Australia are marking the 75th anniversary of the Trials. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Three hundred dogs and 55 handlers from around Australia are marking the 75th anniversary of the Trials. Photo: Ian Campbell.

The very best dogs show their skill and instinct as puppies.

“It’s not unusual to see pups of 8 or 10 weeks old trying to block the escape of their litter-mates or chooks in the farmyard – it’s an instinct and to modify that instinct becomes the art of sheep dog training,” Charlie says.

“If it’s not born into them then you can’t train it to the extent that you need to.”

The other magic that happens is the bond that forms between the handler and the dog through regular training.

“You can have a good dog but if the handler doesn’t understand the likelihood of what the sheep will do, then the dog will be getting the wrong commands, but the dog really needs to have that little bit of extra something.”

“Working the sheep, the joy of work is the reward for the dogs, these dogs would rather work than eat,” Charlie says.

Spectators are welcome over the five days of the event. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Spectators are welcome over the five days of the event. Photo: Ian Campbell.

The 2018 competition is being run in honour of one of the sport’s most successful human participants: Greg Prince from Dubbo who passed away a fortnight ago.

“Greg Prince came along and won 16 National Championships, this is the start of a new era,” he says.

Charlie is modest about his own chances in 2018 and has arrived from his property in Yass with a trailer of dogs boasting all levels of experience.

“I’ve got a couple of nice dogs here. My father was a sheep dog trialer before me, and I’ve always had a dog at home, it’s been life-long.”

The National Sheep Dog Trials run each day between 8 am and 4:30 pm at Hall Showground. The highlights include the Champion of Champions and the Open Final on Sunday.

Entry is free on weekdays; the weekend is $5 per adult and $15 per car, pet dogs are welcome on a lead, food and coffee is available Saturday and Sunday.

*This story first appeared on RiotACT

A new Pooh Bear’s Corner on the Monaro? What do you know about it?

Is this the start of a Pooh Bear’s Corner on the Monaro? Feb 2018. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Is this the start of a Pooh Bear’s Corner on the Monaro? Feb 2018. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Pooh Bear’s Corner on the Kings Highway between Canberra and Batemans Bay has been delighting travelers for decades, and it would appear that something similar is being created on the Monaro Highway just out of Cooma.

In recent weeks, extra teddy bears have been slung into the hollow of an old Ribbon Gum northwest of Nimmitabel.

The first teddy; a koala, appeared in June last year, but in the opening weeks of 2018 two more have been added, perhaps by Canberra families escaping the capital for a summer holiday on the coast.

Is this the start of something? A new Pooh Bear’s Corner?

The original, west of Batemans Bay, sprung up in the 1970’s.

Crookwell potato farmers David and Barbara Carter are credited with creating the landmark, which sits in a cave next to a rainforest of tree ferns on Clyde Mountain.

The Carter’s apparently saw it as a clever distraction for their young children during the regular run to their holiday home at Rosedale. Other families have been stopping to leave their own teddy bears and soft toys in the cave ever since.

The original Pooh Bear’s Corner, west of Batemans Bay on the Kings Highway. Photo: Broulee Beach Cabins Facebook.
The original Pooh Bear’s Corner, west of Batemans Bay on the Kings Highway. Photo: Broulee Beach Cabins Facebook.

Who is behind the Monaro version remains a mystery, and whoever it is has gone to a bit of trouble. This one sits 10 metres off the ground and takes more effort than Batemans Bay’s Pooh Bear Corner.

Ladders have perhaps been used, or maybe there’s a weight on the end of a rope to hold the teddy in place?

The boy scout in me is curious.

The koala that started it all, June 2017. Photo: Ian Campbell.
The koala that started it all, June 2017. Photo: Ian Campbell.

This lone Ribbon Gum was already catching people’s eye long before the first teddy appeared in mid-2017.

As discussion bubbled about the appearance of that koala, regular travelers spoke of the tree’s “presence” in their journey.

Sherri Cooper wrote on the About Regional Facebook page: “My Mum and I were doing weekly trips to Canberra for cancer treatment a while back and we could never find a safe spot to pull over and take a photo when the pink and red bark was at its most spectacular.”

Beth Krncevic wrote: “The twisting branches and changing colours of the bark is what inspired me to start painting and why I have so many gum trees at my home.”

“Beautiful gum tree, always wondered who lived in the hollow. Friday afternoon on my way to Merimbula I must say I was shocked and had a little chuckle to myself, most unexpected resident,” wrote Bev Dobson.

As the colours of this landmark tree change from pink, to red, to green, to steel grey, with the approaching cold season perhaps the next wave of holidaymakers will add new residents to the ancient hollow it carries – the National Parks and Wildlife Service estimates hollows of this size take between 100 and 200 years to form.

Travellers watch on with interest, not just at the weather-beaten bark anymore, but to see who and what will take up residence next.

The Teddy Tree, northwest of Nimmitabel, on the Monaro Highway, Feb 2018. Photo: Ian Campbell.
The Teddy Tree, northwest of Nimmitabel, on the Monaro Highway, Feb 2018. Photo: Ian Campbell.

*This article first appeared on RiotACT.


Sideshow clowns open door to grassroots democracy at your local show

Sideshow Clowns at the Bega Show. Photo: Kate Howarth, Bega Show Society.
Sideshow Clowns at the Bega Show. Photo: Kate Howarth, Bega Show Society.

Politics is part of every country show. There is the tongue-in-cheek variety between Jersey and Friesian dairy farmers, between sheep and goat graziers, and between dressage horses and motorbike clubs, but room is always made for the “more serious” variety, the politics that normally takes place in a parliament house or council chamber.

In fact, country shows provide one of the few unfiltered opportunities to speak directly to our leaders.

January, February, March is show season in South East New South Wales and has been for 145 years, from Moruya Show to Bega and Cooma, the region’s politicians make a point of attending, an army of party faithful at their side with marques and billboards marked in party colours and slogans.

The Bega Show last weekend offered some respite for the region’s federal representatives, who seemed happy to be free of Canberra and were looking forward to a week were their own sex lives were a talking point.

“It was like a bowl of sweet and sour Chinese,” Labor’s Mike Kelly, Member for Eden Monaro says.

“On one hand we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generations, and on the other we had the other business [Barnaby Joyce affair] going on,” Dr Kelly says.

The Turnbull Government was represented at the show by new NSW Liberal Senator Jim Molan, who has just completed his first two-week parliamentary sitting.

Dr Mike Kelly, Member for Eden Monaro. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Dr Mike Kelly, Member for Eden Monaro. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Senator Molan has been described as the Stephen Bradbury of politics. Listed as the seventh candidate on the NSW Coalition Senate ticket at the last election, the former Army General finds himself in parliament as a result of the Section 44 citizenship saga that claimed Nationals Senator Fiona Nash.

Like Dr Kelly, Mr Molan did not want to offer direct comment on the Barnaby Joyce affair or his own recent brush with the media where he was criticised for sharing a Facebook post from the far-right group Britain First.

“What may surprise everyone is that the Government is getting on and doing its job,” Mr Molan says.

“For example, the Minister for Veterans Affairs introduced a Bill last week which he called Veteran Centric Reform,” Mr Molan says.

The Government’s Veterans Affairs website says, “Veteran Centric Reform [is] to provide the veteran community with a greater standard of service through reform of business processes and culture.”

Reflecting on the work of parliament and other matters that might have been missed in the buzz around Barnaby, Dr Kelly points to the work of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

Last week, the Committee handed down its Review of the listing of Islamic State Khorasan Province and the re-listing of al-Murabitun as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code.

In a nutshell, their report concluded: “Islamic State Khorasan Province and al-Murabitun continue to meet the definition of a terrorist organisation.”

Perhaps not a front-of-mind issue for showgoers over the weekend, but Dr Kelly who sits on the Committee insists that it demonstrates that politics is more than the scandal and combat we see presented in the media.

“It’s [the Joint Committee] a very bipartisan mechanism, we really do focus on the interests of the country, keeping our people safe and defeating terrorists. There is no politics there,” he says.

The red of the Labor tent sat side by side with the blue of the Liberal tent over the three days of the Bega Show.

Often the different party members could be seen standing on neutral ground discussing the issues of the day or their show winning dahlias.

Passers-by were invited to raise concerns and issues, offer a view on parliament’s current agenda, or find out what’s going on for themselves.

“That’s what we are here for,” Dr Kelly says.

“Sometimes it’s good for people to just get things off their chest, I’ve learned as a Member there’s a lot of therapy you can provide by just being a decent listener.”

This grassroots demonstration of our democracy survives in a political landscape that thrives on extremes and conflict, and one that highlights difference rather than similarity. It’s a style of politics that sits comfortably alongside the giant pumpkins, decorated Arrowroots, and chainsaw racing of the show.

“And I am only new, I am not across the local issues, I am here to learn,” Senator Molan says.

Senator Jim Molan. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Senator Jim Molan. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Show season rolls on this weekend with the Canberra Show, followed by Delegate, Dalgety, Cooma, and Bemboka on March 11.

Head along not just for the sideshow clowns or a pony ride, but ready to see your local politician – the invitation is there to talk to them.

*This article first appeared on RiotACT

Feral fruit between Coast – Cooma – Canberra, delicious and part of history

Dozens of apple trees dot the roadside between Canberra and the Coast. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Dozens of apple trees dot the roadside between Canberra and the Coast. Photo: Ian Campbell.

The drive between the Far South Coast, Cooma, and Canberra is dotted with sites that make your mind wander.

Dilapidated railway bridges, decaying wildlife, rows of rural letterboxes, and sparkling solar farms, all inspire thought and question for the mindful traveller or curious passenger.

Right now, mixed with the scenic vistas on this 240km stretch of road is a more seasonal point of interest – apple trees heaving with fruit. Red, yellow, green apples bending branches to the ground.

There are dozens of apple trees growing in the harshest of conditions parallel to the highway and old railway line. At some points in this golden landscape, this native from Central Asia is the only show of green life.

How did they get there?

Are they any good to eat?

Red, yellow, and green apples all bending branches to the ground. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Red, yellow, and green apples all bending branches to the ground. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Growing alongside the Snowy Mountains and Monaro Highways is not the managed orchard environment I thought apples needed – perhaps I’ve watched too many pruning videos on YouTube and forgotten that apples are a tree like any other with their own wild force of nature!

While apples are the dominant feral fruit, you’ll also notice peach, plum, and pear trees.

Bega Valley Permacultrulist Kathleen McCann has a few theories to explain this roadside fruit salad; one of which is that she believes some of the trees date back to the horse and cart days.

“People did grow fruit trees and plant tree shelters at some of the stops they made on their journey,” Kathleen says.

“Often you can see tree cover, lone pines, and fruit trees in the oddest places along our highways, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. These are where the horse or carriage needed to stop for lunch or for the night.

“In the days of horse and carriage, people were only able to cover 10 to 20 kms per day, depending on the weight they were transporting and the terrain they covered. Remember everything was a dirt track and ungraded in those days,” she says.

Often these apple trees are the only "green" in the Snowy Monaro landscape. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Often these apple trees are the only “green” in the Snowy Monaro landscape. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Apple and pear cores, plum and peach seeds, discarded by travellers are also part of the story according to Kathleen.

“You can spot fruit trees along the railway track as well. These were definitely tossed out the window as a passenger finished their prized fruit and have germinated where they fell,” she says.

“These trees have existed in the elements all on their own and are therefore very hardy.”

Our green thumb also believes birds and animals have been a factor in spreading the trees.

“Stone fruit especially could have been carried quite a distance if the seed was swallowed by a cow or horse. Apple seeds could have been carried by birds and deposited in droppings,” Kathleen says.

Weeds are spread in similar ways and are a significant problem to the region’s landholders, however, despite not being a native, the apple trees aren’t considered a pest.

“The apples certainly aren’t a problem for us,” says Brett Jones, Vegetation Management Officer, Snowy Monaro Regional Council.

“The Biosecurity Act deals with weeds which have a direct impact on the areas social, economic and environmental values, which the roadside apples certainly don’t.

“If they were identified as harbouring pests like fruit flies, then they might cause some concern but I’m not aware of any negative impact,” Brett says.

Far from it, it seems a whole variety of species are enjoying this wild harvest – birds, kangaroos, cattle, flying foxes, and humans.

Friends of About Regional report using the apples in all sorts of recipes.

Former Canberra girl, Renee Griffiths O’Reilly says, “They are cider apples so very tart and ideal for making cider. Juice them then add winemakers yeast or alternatively make apple pies with a lot of sugar.”

Akolele local, Deborah Taylor suggests an old-fashioned apple dessert: “Baked apples – cored and filled with a mix of currents, raisins, sultanas, zest and juice of two oranges, butter and brown sugar too if you want to be indulgent”, she writes.

“Bake until soft. Serve with yoghurt or cream. Leftovers are great for breakfast with muesli and yoghurt.”

People throwing apple cores from a horse, train, or car is thought to be one of the reasons these ferals are here. Photo: Ian Campbell.
People throwing apple cores from a horse, train, or car is thought to be one of the reasons these ferals are here. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Show winner, Fiona Scott suggests apple jelly and is generous enough to share her secrets.

“It’s a bit fiddly but a good way to use apples that aren’t perfect,” she writes on About Regional Facebook.

“Cut up 2 kilograms of apples into fours, skin, core and all. Put into a big pot, like a stock pot with 1cm of water in the bottom.

“Bring slowly to the boil and simmer the whole mess until soft. Cool, then (the vital step) pour the whole lot into a muslin lined colander over a large bowl.

“A clean old cloth is fine if you don’t have muslin, just rinse well so the detergent remnants don’t make the jelly taste like Cold Power!” Fiona suggests.

“Leave overnight for the juice to drain. DO NOT SQUEEZE the leftover apple, compost it or the jelly will be cloudy.

“Measure the juice and put into the stockpot and bring to the boil. Add 40% equivalent in sugar, i.e. 1 litre of juice to 400 grams sugar.

“Stir the lovely pink mess until the sugar dissolves and continue boiling until it tests as set.

“I put a teaspoon of the juice onto a cold plate and when it is cool give it a push with my finger. Highly scientific! If wrinkles form like skin the chemistry is right for the jelly to set,” she writes.

“Pour into sterilised jars, cover with a clean cloth until cool, then cap the jars. Don’t put the lid on too soon or condensation from the cooling jam will make the jelly go mouldy.

“All that effort will give you several jars of the loveliest, clear pink and slightly wobbly apple jelly.

“Now you know all my jam making secrets,” Fiona confesses.

Sprout Cafe in Eden is currently baking Vegan Apple Loaf and Apple Crumble Cake. Photo: Karen Lott, Sprout Eden.
Sprout Cafe in Eden is currently baking Vegan Apple Loaf and Apple Crumble Cake. Photo: Karen Lott, Sprout Eden.

Sprout Cafe in Eden builds its weekly menu around what is seasonal and what is local, and the first apples are starting to come in from growers.

Elaine O’Rourke in the kitchen at Sprout is currently baking Vegan Apple Loaf and Apple Crumble Cake, and has shared the recipes with us!

Vegan Apple Loaf (Gluten Free)

1 ½ cups gluten-free self-raising flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup apple sauce
½ cup Nutlex
1 tsp cinnamon
1 ¾ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp Vanilla
½ cup almond milk
2 apples – peeled, cored and diced

Beat Nutlex and 3/4 of a cup of brown sugar until creamy, add apple sauce, vanilla and milk.
Mix in flour, baking powder, and cinnamon and stir until well combined.

Mix the remaining 1/3 of a cup of brown sugar with the apple sauce and stir half the apples into the mixture.

Pour into a loaf tin approx 23cm x 13cm
Sprinkle the remaining apples on top.

Bake at 180 degrees for 20 – 35 mins until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Apple Crumble Cake (Gluten Free)

1 ¼ cups gluten-free plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g butter
½ cup caster sugar

Apple Filling:
5 apples – peeled, cored and diced
1 tbsp butter
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar

100g butter
½ cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 cup gluten-free plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk

Make crumble by mixing flour, baking powder and sugar together and rubbing in the butter.

Make the filling by cooking the apples until soft and cooling.

Make base by whipping butter and sugar together, adding the egg, flour, baking powder and milk.

Spread base into a lined pan or tray, top with filling mixture and sprinkle topping over.

Bake at 180 degrees for 40 – 50 mins until a wooden skewer comes out clean and sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.

Feral apples at home among the gum trees of the Snowy Monaro. Photo: Ian Campbell
Feral apples at home among the gum trees of the Snowy Monaro. Photo: Ian Campbell

Like the weather-beaten shearing sheds and chimneys without a house that dot the Snowy-Monaro countryside, the apple trees that grow in this soil are also a throwback to another time.

These tough local specimens of one of the world’s favourite fruits will be ready for harvest come late February – early March. Find a safe spot to pull over, grab a bag, and be a part of their ongoing connection with travellers.

*About Regional content is supported by, Snowy Monaro Regional Council, Sprout Eden, the Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre, Kylie Dummer, Kaye Johnston, Geoffrey Grigg, Robyn Kesby, Amanda Fowler, Sue and Duncan Mackinnon, and Geoff Berry.

*This article first appeared on RiotACT

About Regional sold to Canberra based media company

I’ve got some news about the future of About Regional that I want to share with you if you are reading this then you have been part of this journey with me and supported the growth and development of this new platform for the stories of South East NSW.

This week Canberra digital news and opinion platform RiotACT finalised the acquisition of About Regional which includes my ongoing full-time employment. About Regional is now part of a growing umbrella of news and storytelling platforms owned by Michael McGoogan and Tim White.

The move is another solid step in RiotACT’s ambition to become the primary source of digital regional news for people in Canberra and its surrounds.

RiotACT co-owner Tim White says About Regional fits perfectly with the company’s vision.

“RiotACT is on a mission to cover the local issues that matter, and Ian’s values and track record fit nicely. We look forward to empowering the communities he knows so well,” Tim says.

The last two years of About Regional have been a terrific rollercoaster, your support and encouragement as a member has been key and I will be forever grateful.

I started this knowing the power and importance of local stories, being able to take that further with the business know-how and ambitions of Tim and Michael is great for my family and great for the region.

“Those connections between Canberra, the coast, and the Snowies are well known, having Ian come on board adds new energy and adds to the growing formal networks being laid down through local and state government, tourism, business, and education,” Tim says.

About Regional will continue to evolve and build its own online presence under the RiotACT umbrella, with relevant stories from Batemans Bay, Bega, Merimbula, Cooma, Jindabyne, and surrounds also finding a home on other RiotACT platforms.

I am excited by the potential this partnership represents to the communities of South East NSW.

Michael and Tim are well-known to the Canberra business community. Their reputation and success with companies such as Allhomes and Uber Global speaks for itself.

I am hooked on their vision to revolutionise digital regional news, we have a shared passion to see local news succeed and prosper.

Since taking over RiotACT in August 2016, Tim White and Michael McGoogan have built the site into one of Canberra’s leading digital news and opinion outlets, with more than 150,000 unique website visitors each month.

Tim White is the former CEO of Allhomes and the driving force behind its $50 million acquisition by Fairfax in 2014. Michael McGoogan is a serial tech entrepreneur and the founder of UberGlobal, one of Australia’s largest cloud service providers which was acquired by MelbourneIT for $15.5 million in 2015.

Michael says,“I am looking forward to working with the people, businesses, and industries of South East NSW to secure a prosperous and colourful future for all involved.”

It’s onwards and upwards for About Regional, the stories of this region are about to be taken to a bigger audience and I look forward to sharing the next step with you.

Thank you, your support has created this opportunity for my family and this region.


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.

Daniel Champagne goes back to school ahead of his tour of South East NSW and the ACT

Class five at Mumbulla School in Bega played host to a star from their alumni today (June 14, 2017) ahead of a big gig at the school on Saturday night.

Over the next week, Daniel Champagne will also play in Braidwood, Jindabyne, Nowra, Canberra, and Sydney, check his website for ticket info.

Thanks for tuning in, the craft of video editing is new, baby steps! Stay tuned for part two, the kids get to ask the questions!

You might also be interested in catching up on the last time About Regional chatted with Daniel.


South East NSW makes its pitch for jobs from Canberra

Barnaby Joyce, pic from Sportsbet
Barnaby Joyce, pic from Sportsbet

South East NSW is pitching itself as a new home for a range of Federal Government departments.

Following the political and media stink around the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale, a Senate inquiry was established to investigate elements of the decision by Agriculture Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and local member for Armidale, the National’s Barnaby Joyce.

However, the work of the committee has been seen as bigger than just the issue of the APVMA as regional leaders look to fertilise a deeper discussion around moving public service jobs out of Canberra, all looking for a greater share of the $16.7 billion annual wages bill for their local economies.

Headed by Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration held hearings in Townsville last week. Bega Valley Mayor Kristy McBain was one of five local government officials from around New South Wales invited to phone in and take part in the discussion.

The invitation to speak came after the committee had considered written submissions.

Apart from Bega Valley Shire Council, Snowy Monaro and Eurobodalla councils also provided written advice to the committee, along with the Canberra Region Joint Organisation.

All of the local submissions declared the region as an ideal location for Commonwealth investment and backed the idea of decentralisation.

Kristy McBain, pic from Bega Valley Shire Council
Kristy McBain, pic from Bega Valley Shire Council

In his submission, Snowy Monaro Administrator Dean Lynch spoke of the boost such a move would be for the local economy and pointed to an available workforce.

Andrew Greenway, from Eurobodalla Shire, highlighted lifestyle advantages and the benefits that had for staff retention.

Bega Valley Mayor, Kristy McBain pointed to the region’s proximity to Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne and the private investment that would follow.

Senator McAllister says the terms of reference of her committee are narrow and focused on the APVMA decision, none the less local government and regional business organisations from around the country have seized on the opportunity to put a stake in the ground.

Among the 200 written submissions were councils from the Mallee, Longreach, Manning Valley, Colac, and the Spencer Gulf along with groups like Australian Wool Growers, NSW Business Chamber, the Winemakers Federation and the Country Women’s Association.

Listening to the live stream on Friday morning as Cr McBain spoke, Senator McAllister and fellow committee member Senator Bridget McKenzie seemed to encourage that wider discussion, moving beyond the APVMA.

All those on the call were asked if their region had been considered along with Armidale as a new base from the APVMA, all answered, “Not as far as I know” and the conversation quickly moved on.

Both senators went on to point to the separate but related process underway within the Turnbull Cabinet, where the Minster for Regional Development, Senator Fiona Nash is developing the Government’s broader decentralisation policy which will be released later this year.

Speaking at the National Press Club in April, Senator Nash said regional Australians deserved the jobs and opportunities that come with government agencies.

“When government invests in community it breeds confidence,” Senator Nash said.

Fiona Nash, pic from ABC
Fiona Nash, pic from ABC

She went on to explain the process all Federal ministers are currently involved in, which asks them to detail the departments, entities or functions that might be suitable for relocation to a regional area.

“We are not going to leave any stone unturned in looking for those agencies that could be relocated to the regions for the benefit of the regions,” Senator Nash told the Press Club.

Danielle Mulholland, President of the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils and Mayor of Kyogle, told Senator McAllister that she is keen for the government to better definition ‘the regions’.

At the moment a regional community is seen as being one that lives at least 150km from a capital city.

“That’s a really loose definition,” Cr Mulholland said.

She fears authentic regional communities might miss out with a 150km starting line.

It’s a point echoed in the written submission from Snowy Monaro Regional Council and the Canberra Region Joint Organisation in regards to Cooma, which is just 116km from Canberra.

Dean Lynch from Snowy Monaro, in fact contends that regional areas around the ACT should be “initial priorities” and that Cooma’s proximity would “facilitate an easier transition from existing to new workplaces” for Commonwealth staff.

Cooma to Canberra, 116km.
Cooma to Canberra, 116km.

As the phone panel’s assessment of decentralisation evolved on Friday, Bega Valley Mayor, Kristy McBain said there also needed to be a synergy between the agency being relocated and the new host town for the process to be a win-win.

“From our point of view, it would have to be an agency or a department that had a natural fit with our area,” Cr McBain told the Senate committee.

From a Eurobodalla perspective, Business Development boss, Andrew Greenway believes that includes agencies responsible for regional communications, marine services, sciences and safety, regional development, regional transport, aged care, tourism, and education.

Both Snowy Monaro and Bega Valley also point to agriculture and environmental management services.

“We are going to have a big conversation around this over the next six months,” Senator McKenzie said.

All those on the call encouraged the two Senators in their suggestion that there should be a parliamentary committee formed with broader terms of reference than their own to fully develop a transparent and fair criteria and assessment process around decentralisation – the suggestion being, to avoid the allegation of political pork barrelling that has been leveled at Barnaby Joyce in the APVMA decision.

The findings of Senator McAllister’s committee will be delivered in June, it’s understood Turnbull Cabinet ministers have until August to complete their departmental reviews and report back to Senator Nash.

With 83% of Commonwealth employment located in Canberra or the five largest Australian cities, the potential of shifting some of that into regional areas is huge, hence the level of interest. In the Bega Valley’s submission, Cr McBain points to NSW Government data that estimates for each public sector job in a regional area, two jobs are created in the private sector.

However, “Government can’t fix everything,” warned Senator Nash at the Press Club, signaling that the Turnbull Government would be looking to partnerships with local government and the community more broadly as decentralisation rolls out.

It would appear that regional Australia is interested to know more and ready to play its part.

Disclaimer: Author is part time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council