My car sits in the driveway at home covered by dust day in day out, rain is the only thing that gets my Subaru sparkling. A couple of hours at Cooma MotorFest on Saturday (Nov 4) is not going to change that but it has left its mark.
Brilliant blue Monaro skies backed the hard work of the Cooma Car Club and other local service groups; it was a magic day, not just for rev heads but for anyone that appreciates hard work, style, colour, and nostalgia.
This bi-annual event raises money for local charities and draws around 3000 people to Cooma Showground, not to mention car, truck, and machinery clubs from Canberra, the Far South Coast, and southern Monaro.
A new playground is turning heads at Nimmitabel on the eastern edge of the Monaro.
The bubblegum coloured update sits side by side with an existing ‘old school’ playground that has been there for at least 40 year according to Vickie Pollard, President of the Nimmitabel Advancement Group.
Using money from the Boco Rock Community Enhancement Fund, a climbing frame, rope net, and rock wall have been installed along with a spring loaded motorbike and seesaw and raised stepping stones.
“We haven’t had new equipment for such a long time, all the local children are very excited,” Vickie says.
“The playground also encourages visitors to stop, have a picnic lunch, get some nice food from up the street, it gets people to stop and enjoy Nimmitabel.”
The kids of this town of 224 people had input into the design and the equipment that was chosen, while inmates from Cooma Correctional Centre worked as part of the crew with Snowy Monaro Regional Council installing the new pieces.
Snow that could start falling any day now will add an extra dimension to this new attraction. It’s a space that has seen many happy times in winters past; on the handful of days snow does settle on the ground in Nimmitabel, this playground has offered a cheap and quick snow experience for kids from the coast.
And more so this winter!
Families with a connection to this spot at the northern end of town, just off the Monaro Highway will be pleased to know the old swings, steel slippery dip, and carousel remain.
At a time when many older parks are being pulled out, Nimmitabel has been able to hang on to its ‘old-school’ playground while getting an upgrade.
Vickie beams as she explains that all the older gear met current regulations, so was allowed to stay.
“And once the old gear gets a coat of paint, in the same purple and orange as the new gear, they’ll be brand new too,” Vickie says.
There’s more to come though.
Nimmitabel Lions Club has received funding to install tables, chairs, and shade, and there’s talk of a barbecue.
“And hopefully, a few years down the track we might be able to get funding for a flying-fox,” Vickie says.
In a brief statement to About Regional, Snowy Hydro’s Corporate Affairs boss, Jane McMillan said that Snowy Hydro had been informed it was not possible to remain the naming rights sponsor of the ACT based chopper from 1 April 2017.
The news is part of a bigger change underway for aeromedical services across NSW.
The Toll Rescue Helicopter Service has forged a new 10-year partnership with NSW Ambulance to provide rescue, patient retrieval and treatment services across Southern NSW.
The deal is part of reforms first flagged in 2011 by NSW Health Minister, Jillian Skinner.
“When I became Minister for Health it was clear that we needed a long-term strategic direction for this vital service,” Ms Skinner said.
At the heart of the Government’s change is a desire to streamline aeromedical services, reducing the number of operators in NSW from five to two, covering the top and bottom halves of NSW.
The change over includes a new purpose-built Agusta Westland 139 helicopter, replacing the well-known Bell 412 which is notching up 35 years in the sky, 18 years of which as the Snowy Hydro SouthCare chopper.
The new Italian helicopter will have increased power, range and performance and will be fitted with the latest aviation, safety and medical technology. The flight team of doctors, paramedics and nurses will also have a larger work space in the rear of the aircraft.
Two helicopters will be maintained as back-up allowing for greater interchangeability amongst the Southern NSW fleet, which apart from the current base outside of Canberra will operate out of Bankstown, Wollongong and Orange.
“The new highly sophisticated fleet of Agusta Westland 139 helicopters will ensure we are even better equipped to care for communities, now and into the future,” Commissioner Dominic Morgan, Cheif Executive of NSW Ambulance said.
The deal with Toll to cover Southern NSW is part of the Government’s $151.2 million statewide package of reforms.
Sponsorship similar that provided by Snowy Hydro over the last 15 years is key to making the new Toll service financially viable, especially considering that each mission currently costs around $6000.
Speculation has suggested that Toll is looking to secure one naming rights sponsor across its fleet of eight helicopters, and while it seems Snowy Hydro were at the negotiating table, funding just one chopper wasn’t an option.
In her statement to About Regional, Snowy Hydro, Corporate Affairs Manager, Jane McMillan said the electricity generator had been a proud sponsor and during its time had contributed more than $7 million to the service.
“We are heartened that the service will continue with a new fleet of choppers and wish the service all the very best,” Ms McMillan said.
Community fundraising and donations have also helped keep the rotor turning.
A passionate and tireless charity effort from the regional communities that surround the ACT has been key – worth between $1 and 2 million each year.
The fundraising arm of the service is the SouthCare Helicopter Fund, which was established in 1998 to supplement sponsorship dollars and government funds.
A spokesperson for the Fund told About Regional that the financial support provided by sponsors and donors has and will continue to contribute to missions, as well as purchasing equipment and providing training for the aeromedical crews.
The spokesperson went on to acknowledge the backing of Snowy Hydro.
“It’s been invaluable in contributing to the life-saving legacy of the rescue helicopter service.
“We have been proud to partner with such an iconic local organisation and make a real and positive difference to the communities in which we both live and work,” the spokesperson for the SouthCare Helicopter Fund said.
So what will be the colours and name of the new service when it becomes operational in South East NSW on April 1?
While keeping an eye on swimmers, Dr Nott was reading ‘The Weather Makers‘ by Tim Flannery, a look at the history and catastrophic future impacts of a warming planet.
And a warming planet we have.
The region’s run of beautiful beaches and cool mountain streams will offer blessed respite as South East NSW heads into a week of warm days, with forecast top temperatures above 30 degrees every day for most centres.
The sweaty weather is no surprise, it’s January, a month where records are set. But it coincides with news that 2016 was the world’s hottest year on record, due to the continuing influence of global warming according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).
Dr Nott says he remains committed to the cause of addressing global warming eleven years after that famous beach patrol but despairs that people and governments fail to respond to the mounting science.
“It’s really so terribly clear that we are hurtling towards an environmental disaster,” he says.
“That’s going to be something that has an enormous impact on my kids.”
Dr Nott is frustrated by but appreciates the fact that many people don’t understand or ignore the science.
“People think about climate change in the [same] way they think about death,” Dr Nott says.
“They think it’s a long way away and I am not going to think about it now.
“I find that really frustrating because that’s putting my kids future at risk,” he says.
There’s no hiding from the science for those who will inherit the future.
Like CEFE, the AYCC recognises the opportunities climate change presents, while also warning of the total fossil fuels take on our future.
The impacts include rising sea levels and more extreme weather events and the myriad of human, environmental and security challenges that follow.
The opportunities include cleaner cheaper power production using renewable energy sources.
The understanding youth have for this issue was further highlighted to me in the run up to New Years Day 2017, when my eldest son produced a poem – at the pushing and pulling of his Bega based English tutor Elizabeth Blackmore.
by Jim Campbell, 14 years
I am the meanest thing on earth yet also the calmest
I have seen changes that no human could imagine
I was here at the beginning
And I will be here at the end
I am the most powerful on this earth
Nothing rivals me
Why do you kill me? Yet you wouldn’t be alive without me
I am getting bigger
With every factory you build
With every atom that you let go
Very soon I will crack and destroy everything
I will rule again just like I did
A few billion years ago
I am the sea
Jim was just three years old when CEFE went about installing solar panels on community buildings around South East NSW.
Every community building in Tathra now generates it’s own power and puts the excess back into the grid. Countless Rural Fire Service sheds, surf life-saving clubs, community halls, and schools in other towns now do the same, all with the backing of CEFE.
Eleven years on similar projects continue, building towards CEFE’s 2020 goal of reducing the Bega Valley’s power needs by 50% while at the same time generating 50% of the Shire’s energy needs from renewable sources – 50/50 by 2020.
If you are keen to add some science to the emotion and colour of Jim’s words, the BOM’s Annual Climate Statement is great reading (and viewing) for weather nerds and paints the full picture.
In short 2016 was:
*The world’s hottest year on record and the third year in a row where that record was broken.
*Australia’s fourth warmest year on record, with the annual national mean temp 0.87 degrees above average.
*Ocean temperatures were the warmest on record, with the annual mean sea surface temperature 0.73 degrees above average.
Only 20km of ice now connects this 5000sq km (twice the size of the Australian Capital Territory) ice sheet to the Antartic continent. The result’s come from the MIDAS Project, a collaboration of UK universities and academics monitoring the effects of global warming in West Antarctica.
As Matthew Nott suggests, the future is being shaped now.
The science gives the facts and figures of it, my 14-year-old son gives it a voice.
As adults imagine being one of the next generation/s knowing that this is part of your future.
*Poem reproduced with permission of the author, he even made me pay an artist fee!
Those payments have been delivered as credits and deducted from the total price on electricity bills, offsetting the cost of installing a solar system.
Perhaps what many didn’t realise or had forgotten was that the scheme and those payments had an end date.
A letter in the post back in March from the NSW Department of Industry was the first call to action for Solar Bonus Scheme customers; the Deputy Secretary of Resources and Energy nudging people towards an electricity retailer to work out a new deal.
It seems the best you can expect from January 1, 2017, is around 6 cents/kWh.
Tathra based renewable energy champion, Dr Matthew Nott says it won’t be worth much for a household to export energy to the grid.
“The fact that the [premium] feed-in tariff is going means we have to start thinking a little differently about solar panels on the roof,” Dr Nott says.
The success of the scheme has prompted nips and tucks along the way by the Government.
In October 2010 under Premier Kristina Keneally, the tariff was cut by 40 cents/kWh for new subscribers as households rushed the generous 60 cents scheme.
At the time the Sydney Morning Herald reported that solar grid connections had jumped from 2900 in 2008 to 50,000 in 2010 when the scheme was launched.
The Government says 146,000 NSW homes have joined the scheme, around 20% of households.
Matthew Nott says it has been an enormous boom for renewable energy, and a positive step towards reducing the impacts of climate change.
The action group he founded in early 2006 – ‘Clean Energy for Eternity’ has used the generosity of the scheme to install solar panels on Rural Fire Service sheds, surf clubs, and other community buildings across the Eurobodalla, Bega Valley, Monaro and Snowy Mountains.
The group’s aim is that by 2020, 50% of the Bega Valley’s energy needs will come from clean, green sources.
“The feed-in tariff was always going to expire by the end of 2016,” Dr Nott says.
“Although I think as that date gets closer and closer it’s taking a lot of people by surprise.”
But Dr Nott believes there are still ways to save money and that solar panels are still a good investment.
“What a household with solar now needs to think very carefully about, is using the electrons that are generating on their rooftop to power their house,” he says.
Rather than exporting that power to the grid Dr Nott says it makes more sense to keep as much of that energy as possible on site.
“Put timers on your appliances, like washing machines and dishwashers and dryers – those high energy appliances, so that they are being used during the day and powered by your solar panels,” he suggests.
“That stops you from having to purchase electricity from the energy retailers.
“We have got to get smarter and be using more electricity during the day,” the orthopedic surgeon says.
Night time should be the only time you need to purchase electricity from an external supplier according to Dr Nott – however, there is a ‘but’.
“There are some options on the horizon, in fact very close on the horizon,” he says.
“Look at investing in household battery storage, so that you can use the electrons generated during the day – at night.”
Dr Nott accepts that there is still a little way to go for those storage options to be affordable for the average family, but believes the winding back of the tariff will be a game changer.
“You’re looking at about $10,000 with a 15-year payback on your investment,” he says.
“But there’s a lot of companies in Australia making household batteries now.
“I think the cost is going to come down dramatically over the next couple of years and make it much more affordable, shorten the payback time and allow people to use less and less electricity from the grid,” Dr Nott says.
“You want to have a system that is big enough to power the majority of your house,” Dr Nott says.
To help people start making the transition to battery storage, Dr Nott has flagged a new initiative from CEFE.
“We’re just starting to have discussions with some Australian companies about doing a bulk buy for the community,” he explains.
“If we can bring the cost down by doing that, it would be more affordable for people and reduce the payback time on their investment.
“Clean Energy for Eternity want to do whatever we can to raise awareness about the value of household batteries in the same way as we have done with solar panels,” he says.
Money from the sun continues, but as always you need to have a few dollars first to make the most of it, but as Matthew Nott and Clean Energy for Eternity believe, the price for not investing is our children’s future.
For further info on the NSW Solar Bonus Scheme and what to do now, click HERE.
*Listen for more from Matthew Nott in episode five of the About Regional podcast out in the second week of December
Cooma’s annual busking festival is going national.
For the last five years, the Australian National Busking Championships have been based on the Monaro. And while talent from across the nation has been drawn to the streets of Cooma to compete and take part, that claim of being a ‘national championship’ didn’t carry the weight the name implies.
That changes in 2017.
With the backing of Rotary Clubs along the East Coast, the Busking Championships will cover three states and at least six regional centres.
Cooma based Championship Founder, Allan Spencer is delighted as he rattles off communities that have picked up the idea and run with it, including Stanthorpe and Noosa Heads in Queensland, Ballarat and Wangaratta in Victoria, Narooma and Berry in New South Wales.
Most of the towns taking part are combining the Championships with an existing festival that needs a bit of ‘sparkling up’ according to Allan.
“I think that works well, because busking won’t work unless you’ve got a lot of people,” he says.
“In Stanthorpe for instance, they’ve got an apple and grape festival that’s in it’s fiftieth year and it’s tremendously well attended, they have sixty thousand visitors, so the busking was quite an easy fit.”
Surrounded by the instruments and sheet music of his long-running business, Allan becomes emotional talking about the success of the Busking Championships.
“Yeah we’ve got some wonderful stories,” Allan says.
“There’s Guy Lilleyman, who’s a Canberra based musician, he won the title – Open Champion in 2013 and 2014. And on the strength of 2013, he was picked up by an agent and he had a tour of South Africa.
“He’s just come back from a 10-week tour of Afghanistan, entertaining Australian and NATO troops,” he says.
Allan’s connection with the Cooma community goes back 30 plus years, his connection with music even longer – around 40 years.
“It’s always been a bit of a crusade of mine to try and promote talent,” Allan says.
Over 2200 motorcycle riders took part in this year’s Snowy Ride, adding a whopping $250,000 to the $6 million that has been collected since 2001. The Australian National Busking Championships that were created to serve the Ride are now very much a part of the whole weekend each November, covering 28 locations around the Cooma CBD with over 160 acts.
“I’ve been talking to businesses after this year’s event,” Allan says.
“A lot of them are saying it’s their best trading day of the year.
“The proof is that every year all our wonderful local businesses put up their hand to sponsor the event.”
Ten thousand dollars was shared among the winners this year adding a serious edge to a craft some see as worth nothing more than loose change.
“There are buskers that do it as their career,” Alan says.
“It’s not an easy career, but they really enjoy the freedom.”
Allan says the prize money is key in attracting artists to play but he believes that local talent needs to be looked after as that stiff competition lands.
Matilda Rose, a 15-year-old country singer won the local category this year, scoring return plane tickets between Cooma and Sydney from Rex Airlines.
“They marched down Vale Street, straight to our war memorial, and they gave their first set there.
“It was a ‘hairs standing on the back of your neck’ kind of situation, it was really a moment to treasure.
“Then they played outside various pubs, they were busking, and they raised $500 for their group, they were over the moon,” Allan says.
Allan believes we should celebrate our buskers and the contribution they make to life and culture in regional towns especially, he’s hoping more country towns come on board with the Championships.
“We’ve kept this a regional festival,” Allan says.
“We think this is a great opportunity for regional centers to add something to their town.”
The program for the expanded format in 2017 is still being finalised, with Allan keen to speak with his partners Cooma Rotary.
At this stage, however, his thinking is that the South East Regional Final will be held on the first Saturday in November, followed by the National Final the next day – both held in Cooma not Canberra or another capital city where national finals are normally held.
Cooma – the town that built the Snowy Scheme is influencing Australia yet again.
The first warm, fragrant licks of spring struggled to get up and over Brown Mountain on the day I visited Nimmitabel.
A cold, icy wind (not unfamiliar to Nimmitabel) laughed as I arrived with no jacket or jumper to inspect Lake Wallace Dam southeast of the township.
I was meeting two well-seasoned ‘gents’ of this community, one of which offered me his jacket as the breeze really started to bite.
Howard Charles and John Alcock first started pushing for this dam to be built over 11 years ago, and just a few days prior to our meeting it had been officially opened by the NSW Agriculture Minister.
Beaming with pride for what had been achieved, both men were keen to jump the two fences at the main entry to show me a vision they had been living with for a long time, one that was now a reality.
Named after the former owners of the landscape it sits in, Lake Wallace cost $5.3 million to complete and now holds 320 megalitres of water.
An East Coast Low just after the 13 metre high dam wall was completed ensured Nimmitabel, once described as the driest town in South East New South Wales, would have water security this summer for the first time in many summers.
The potential of this site to capture and store water was recognised during some of the region’s driest times.
“I had cattle on the block next door,” John remembers.
“And I was riding around there, in the midst of the 10-year drought, and there were all sorts of springs (water) still out through the bush.
“And then I noticed what a magnificent big catchment area it was,” John says.
Later hydrogeological studies would also find ‘excellent clay’ in the area, meaning a good seal on the dam floor.
The potential John saw was not obvious to everyone, the dam site had a dry creek bed running through it known as Pigring Creek, and only tended to flow into the nearby Maclaughlin River during and after big rain events – an action that would be used in the dam’s design.
From the About Regional Podcast, John Alcock and Howard Charles:
With the people of Nimmitabel only able to wash themselves out of a bucket at the depths of the drought, in the mid-2000’s the case for a dam was building, spurred on by lobbying lead by the Nimmitabel Advancement Group.
But for a dam to work and capture the imagination of government it needed to rain, and that seemed impossible at the time.
The 2007 Federal Election injected some momentum with the sitting Liberal member Gary Nairn committing $550,000 for geotechnical studies and construction of a smaller farm style dam.
Labor matched the commitment but suggested a bigger plan overseen by Cooma-Monaro Shire Council.
Feasibility studies followed and in 2014 the NSW Government through the Member for Monaro, John Barilaro stumped up $5.3 million to build the dam.
Nimmitabel takes it’s drinking water from the Maclaughlin River, which in 2004 all but dried up.