Airstrip upgrade option flies for water bombers

UPGRADING a private airstrip north of Mount Barker to handle water bombers has been ditched in favour of a revamped public strip at Cranbrook that would provide better fire fighting coverage across the Great Southern.

At a meeting in Mt Barker today, CEOs of the shires of Cranbrook, Plantagenet, Kojonup and Broomehill-Tambellup will discuss if potential exists to upgrade the council-owned strip on the northern outskirts of the town of Cranbrook.

“We’d be receptive to the plan,” Cranbrook CEO Peter Northover told The Weekender.

“It’s been something that’s been dear to my heart for some time.

“It would be fantastic for the region.”

Mr Northover said that, working together, the four shires might attract state government funding to reform the Cranbrook grass strip as a gravel one, improve lighting, and build an apron and turn-around areas – which would allow the strip to handle water bombers.

“It’s probably one of the largest strips in the Great Southern,” he said of the 850m long runway.

“Adding water bombing operations would improve [bushfire] response times.

“[And the planned improvements] would open up the region for eco-tourism operations.”

Mr Northover said circuit-training operators might also be attracted, given the region’s “uncontested airspace and good visibility”.

He said upgrading the strip might also bring the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s Pilatus PC-12 single turbine aircraft into the picture to respond to serious highway crashes.

The planned Cranbrook upgrade follows a unanimous decision at last month’s Plantagenet shire meeting to jettison an earlier plan by that council to upgrade the grass airstrip at the former Karri Oak vineyard now owned by West Cape Howe Wines.

Plantagenet Shire President Ken Clements said $200,000 would be a “very ballpark” figure for the Cranbrook upgrade.

Cr Clements said that upgrading the larger Cranbrook strip would make more sense than revamping the smaller Mt Barker one.

“It is more centrally located and could service the Stirling Range, northern part of Plantagenet, out to Frankland, the northern part of Cranbrook, and the southern side of Kojonup,” he said.

Plantagenet councillor Brett Bell was the man who moved that the Cranbrook option be examined in favour of Mt Barker.

“The Karri Oak plan would have overlapped the range of the Albany water bombers,” he said.

“It’s all about making better use of taxpayer funded water bombers for more communities.

“And the Stirling Range National Park is really something that needs to be protected.”

An estimate provided in March by Plantagenet CEO Rob Stewart considered a minimum $139,000 would have been required to up- grade the Karri Oak airstrip.

The shire would also have needed to rent the strip off West Cape Howe Wines, adding $10,000 a year to the cost of the abandoned plan.

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Free jabs for teens

GREAT Southern teenagers aged 15 to 19 years are encouraged to get the free meningococcal ACWY vaccine to help protect them and others against the life-threatening disease.

As a result of the recent increase in serogroup W disease in WA, a statewide meningococcal ACWY vaccination program for teenagers has commenced.

WA Country Health Service’s Kathleen Smedley said meningococcal disease is an uncommon, life-threatening illness caused by a bacterial infection of the blood or the membranes that line the spinal cord and brain.

“The vaccine will help protect teenagers against meningococcal, and minimise the spread of the disease,” Ms Smedley said.

Meningococcal disease is most common in teenagers and young children, but can occur at any age.

In the Great Southern, the school-based immunisation team has offered vaccination to students in year 10, 11 and 12 at all high schools across the region.

Vaccinations are now available from local doctors for those 15 to 19 year olds who missed out at school or do not attend school.

For those not in the program’s age group, the meningococcal vaccine can be purchased from your doctor.

Vaccinations are also available at the Warden Avenue immunisation clinic, which is open at various times on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays via appointment.

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Masterpiece strikes gold

ZAC Caramia humbly accepted his second Southern Country Home of the Year Award at this year’s Master Builders Association Excellence Awards on Saturday night.

The Zac Caramia Homes build in Mt Melville has unparalleled views of Princess Royal Harbour and is a stunning addition to the suburb.

The three bedroom, three bathroom executive residence sits on a 900sqm block, but despite appearing flawless upon completion, it initially proved a difficult project.

“It was quite a challenge because of all the rock,” Mr Caramia said.

“The granite was higher than the floor level and blasting the rock out was a challenge, and it created a two-month delay.

“The rock levels were different to the blueprint, so overall it was a 19-month project.”

The home was on a turn-key contract, giving Mr Caramia complete control over the entire build before the keys were handed to the owners.

The judges commented on the evidence of a good collaboration between the client and builder, and the high-quality finish.

The award was one of seven that Zac Caramia Homes took away from the gala dinner at Albany’s Dog Rock Convention Centre.

Zac Caramia Homes previously won Country Home of the Year in 2009 for a build in Little Grove.

“It’s a great honour to receive this award,” Mr Caramia said.

“To achieve this level of quality and finish, and to be recognised for our efforts, is great.

“Winning awards like this gives clients the confidence to build with a builder.”

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FIFO drivers run risk with midnight dash

GREAT Southern FIFO staff doing a midnight run up Albany Highway before flying out to start work are engaging in risky business, the mayor of Albany has told a parliamentary committee.

Giving evidence at a hearing of State Parliament’s inquiry into regional airfares last month, Dennis Wellington expressed concern that most fly-in, fly-out workers from Albany drive rather than fly to Perth before departing for the north of the state.

He estimated the number of FIFO workers driving to Perth from Albany exceeded the 173 mainly Rio Tinto staff that fly between the two cities.

Mr Wellington explained that many workers due to start a morning shift drive to Perth for an early morning flight to avoid spending a night in the state capital at their own expense.

“If people are doing that, then it’s dead-set dangerous,” Mr Wellington said.

He told the parliamentary committee the problem lay mainly with workers at BHP, Fortescue Metals Group and Chevron sites, because unlike Rio Tinto those companies do not fly staff in from Albany.

His warning was echoed by a FIFO contractor who, until 12 months ago, had driven from Albany to Perth Airport and back for four years.

The man, who The Weekender cannot name, confirmed workers often left Albany around midnight to avoid spending about $200-a-night to stay at a Perth hotel.

He said fatigued workers would drive back to Albany straight after a long shift to avoid another $200 slug.

“I’ve got mates who do it and have done it in the past,” the worker said.

“That would be people working for BHP without a doubt, or FMG.”

He said the problem was not limited to Albany, with workers headed for the Pilbara driving to Perth from other places even further away, including Geraldton.

“One in 10 people on site would have a long drive,” he said.

“It’s a grey area.

“Everyone knows you shouldn’t do it, but it happens a lot.”

He said the major companies had fatigue management plans for their own staff, but contractors – who made up much of the FIFO contingent from Albany – often slipped through the cracks.

The worker said Rio staff flying from the Great Southern have Albany as their ‘point of hire’ and are funded to travel from there, but everybody else is deemed to be hired in Perth and must cover their own costs to Perth.

“Years ago when things were booming, if you came, say, from Albany, you could get companies to recognise that as your point of hire,” he said.

“But that’s not the case now.

“Conditions have dropped.”

One ray of hope is Mr Wellington’s revelation that a Rio executive last month expressed interest in a plan to pool resources with BHP, Chevron and FMG to fill a future shuttle flight that could regularly leave Albany for Busselton and then to the Pilbara.

“The interest started from a presentation [the cities of Albany and Busselton] made to Rio in Busselton,” Mr Wellington said.

“They said: ‘Well, we really don’t know. We’ve never been open to [pooling resources with the other companies] in the past, but in the future we would be’.
“In the not too distant future we want to approach the other companies because it’s in our best interests to have people working up north and living down here, because population is one of those things that we do need.”

Mr Wellington said such a flight would “absolutely” improve the viability of Albany Airport, which each year derives about $250,000, or 12 per cent, of its revenue from FIFO flights.

“If you had a decent plane, say a 737 that you could pick up 170 for one company and another 100 for another, well, they’re sharing the cost of the flight, which would make sense,” Mr Wellington said.

Fortescue CEO Nev Power said his company would be “open to exploring opportunities to increase the viability of flights from the southwest to the Pilbara”.

“The safety of our people is our number one priority, and we have clear guidelines on journey management and fatigue to ensure all of our team members get home safely at the end of every shift,” Mr Power added.

Chevron, BHP and Rio were contacted for comment.

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Campaign digs deep for roller derby venue

ALBANY Roller Derby League’s meteoric growth in popularity has resulted in the burgeoning club setting up a new purpose-built venue in Gledhow.

ARDL president Natalie Jarvis said games should start this December at the new facility called The Track, on Roundhay Road.

“Albany Roller Derby League has worked hard to secure a space perfectly designed for smaller indoor sports and community groups in the Great Southern,” she said.

Ms Jarvis said The Track covered more than 1000sqm, with a mezzanine floor for smaller groups and an 825sqm playing area.

Facilities included team rooms, showers, kitchen and reception area.

“It is an Australian first to have a space to train and compete that is operated by a roller derby league,” Ms Jarvis said.

“Albany Roller Derby League wants to see all community groups able to access safe spaces to run physical well-being programs.

“The Track will be accessible 365 days a year at any time of the day for indoor events, training and competitions.”

Ms Jarvis said The Track would have a Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) regulation size track for training and competition.

She said it would also be available for any other roller sport.

The league is appealing to the public to help pay for flooring.

“We have one last piece of the amazing new venue to put in place,” Ms Jarvis said.

“We are launching our crowd funding Pozible campaign to fund the sport court surface so that we have a top quality and easy-to-maintain playing surface.”

Ms Jarvis said it would cost $70,000 to install 8000 individual tiles that would make up the floor of The Track.

“This all-or-nothing style campaign will not take any money until our goal is reached,” she said.

“This also means we raise it totally or we are back to square one.”

Further information on the Albany Roller Derby League’s crowd funding campaign is available at

The crowd funding campaign closes on November 5.

ARDL has been hiring court space at Albany Leisure and Aquatic Centre for training and derbys since its inception.

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Jury’s out in Premier Hotel case

THE co-owner accused of conspiring to torch Albany’s Premier Hotel will not face a jury after convincing a Supreme Court judge that recent media coverage could create an unfair trial.

Crown prosecutors allege that in May last year Graeme Roderick Cooper, now 35, engaged Scott Jon Gay to arrange for the historic hotel to be destroyed by fire so Mr Cooper could make an insurance claim.

On July 28 this year, Gay, Christopher Lyndon Paterson, Karl Hutchinson and Aaron Mark Hasson were convicted and jailed after being found guilty of setting the hotel alight.

The Weekender can reveal that, before Supreme Court Justice Joseph McGrath, Mr Cooper’s barrister Simon Watters successfully argued his client required a judge-alone trial given the extent and nature of pre-trial media coverage.

Murdoch University criminal law lecturer Lorraine Finlay has told The Weekender that Justice McGrath’s decision to dispense with a jury is “definitely the exception rather than the rule”.

“It was unusual, though perhaps not unexpected,” Mrs Finlay, a former State Prosecutor, said.

“It is interesting that the judge is McGrath, a former WA Director of Public Prosecutions, who is very well aware of these kinds of applications and the considerations that need to be taken into account.

“The decision makes clear why it would be an exceptional case.”

Before Justice McGrath on August 22, Senior State Prosecutor David Davidson submitted the risk of prejudice against Mr Cooper could be ameliorated if the trial judge were to appropriately direct the jury.

But Mr Watters argued media reports on the sentencing of Mr Cooper’s co-accused could prejudice a trial by jury. He also referred to publication on the Supreme Court website of the sentencing remarks, which on August 3 were slapped with a suppression order.

Justice McGrath considered the Supreme Court’s airing of the sentencing remarks would be insufficient to conclude Mr Cooper would not get a fair trial by jury.

But he did think a risk of injustice arose from the media’s coverage of the remarks, against the background of earlier coverage of the blaze.

“There is one feature of the media publications that is of significant concern and distinguishes it from the usual range of publicity expected with a notable criminal case,” Justice McGrath concluded in a judgment delivered on August 25.

“That is the widespread reporting, both in the printed media and on news websites, of the express findings made at the sentencing of the four co-accused.

“Those findings were findings by the sentencing judge that Mr Cooper orchestrated and carried out the plan to destroy the Premier Hotel by arson by enlisting the assistance of the four co-accused.”

On May 13 last year, Mr Cooper told police he had been violently robbed by two men who then started the fire.

He has pleaded not guilty to charges of arson, attempted fraud and lying to police, and is slated to appear for trial in Albany from January 15 to 24 next year.

The fire gutted the hotel, causing between $1.5 and $2 million damage.

Mr Cooper’s solicitor Marc Saupin declined to comment on Justice McGrath’s ruling.

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Tigerlily’s thriller awarded

DENMARK Senior High School student Tigerlily Plater was a finalist in the prestigious Tim Winton Award for Young Writers last week.

She won second place in the lower secondary division for her short story I Never Left.

It is a mystery thriller set in an Australian outback town featuring a teenaged boy who meets a beautiful mysterious girl on his first day in town.

Tigerlily said she had never lived in the Goldfields but loved writing stories using her own imagination.

“Sometimes I’ll find an idea will just pop into my brain and I’ll go and I’ll write down as much as I can before I get bored of the idea,” she said.

“Then another one will come along I really like, so I stick with it.”

Tigerlily said she was excited when she found out she was invited to the presentation.

“I was at the school when my teacher came over and he gave me a printout of the email saying I’d been accepted to go into the top 10,” she said.

“It was in front of the whole class and he made a bit of a deal about it, which was really nice.”

Award-winning author Tim Winton made the presentations at Subiaco Library last week.

Tigerlily said meeting Mr Winton was a bit intimidating at first.

“He was really lovely,” she said.

“I expected him to be bit more prim and proper, but he was really casual and very friendly.”

When addressing the finalists and their families, Mr Winton acknowledged the hard work of West Australian students not just this year, but stretching back more than two decades.

He also commented on the high quality of this year’s stories and the writers’ “very impressive use of language”.

“People are saying that this impressive use of language is being lost, but I did not see that in these stories,” he said.

A staunch advocate for storytelling, Mr Winton talked of its importance in today’s society.

“Stories are our culture; the stories we tell are the bedrock of our culture – we need to tell each other stories,” he said.

More than 1400 young authors entered the creative writing award, which is open to primary and secondary school students across WA.

The finalists’ stories can be read online at

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A chance to disappear

TO MOST people, a 3000km bike race across Australia’s rugged terrain and a personal plea from the event coordinator to not enter the competition is unappealing enough, but to Kevin Benkenstein and seven other cycling enthusiasts, life is too short to miss out on such a feat.

“At first, it seemed quite unreachable, being in Australia and me being in South Africa,” Mr Benkenstein said.

“But I kept thinking about it and talking about it and I thought, life’s a bit short, so I began the application process.

“I resigned from my job.

“I decided I was going to do it, whatever it took.

“It’s stupid, really.”

Race to the Rock is an unusual cycling challenge that begins in different locations in Australia, and ends at Uluru, in the Northern Territory.

The race kicked off without fanfare from the Deserted Mounted Corps Memorial after a minute’s silence in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The extreme trial is driven solely by individual riders’ determination and they are only provided with a bike GPS, to track their movement across the country.

Prospective entrants had a very specific postal application process to complete, including sending cash to the value of one kilogram of broccoli for their hometown and sending parts of their application in different coloured envelopes.

People are not encouraged to enter the race.

“I had no guarantee my postal applications would arrive in Australia, so my friend David in Adelaide had to help me, to make sure my application got through.

“I booked my plane ticket before I got accepted, because I decided I was going to do it.”

An immense amount of equipment decisions and mental preparation was involved in Mr Benkenstein’s pre-race organisation.

“Nothing will be done without purpose,” Mr Benkenstein said.

“I usually ride about 500km a week back home, so I didn’t need to do any extra physical training.

“It’s the preparation that’s the main thing, and a lot of planning, as the race is completely self-supported.”

Mr Benkenstein is riding for home charity Qhubeka, which donates bikes to disadvantaged communities across Africa, to give students a ride to school and access to education.

“You have to understand why you want to do it,” Mr Benkenstein said.

“It will test the limit of the body, mind and spirit.

“I’m a bit conflicted with society, so bike rides like this gives me the chance to just disappear for a while.”

Following the riders’ departure from Albany on Saturday at 6.22am, they made their way through the south-west of the state.

Mr Benkenstein estimated it would take about two weeks to reach the goal location – Australia’s red centre, at Uluru.

The riders’ progress can be followed on the Race to the Rock Facebook page.

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$3.6m seawall funds lay foundation for investors

THE revitalisation of Middleton Beach received another boost last week with Planning and Lands minister Rita Saffioti announcing $3.6 million in funding ahead of the State Budget.

Ms Saffioti said the money would be used to upgrade the electricity system and to build a seawall to prevent coastal erosion undermining new buildings and streets.

“It’s part of the Coastal Planning Framework the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) has developed,” she said.

“The Coastal Planning Framework is about rising sea levels, but also the freak storms and the impact that would have on new developments that are close to the ocean.”

Landcorp is creating a new subdivision with a luxury high-rise hotel and an “activity centre” containing shops, apartments and possibly offices, and now needs to find investors to develop the blocks.

Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington said the developments would boost Albany’s economy.

“It’ll be jobs for young people, people that want to come down here and study at the university will have jobs in the tourism industry,” he said.

“It is a big step forward and a great announcement and a great time for Albany.”

Mr Wellington said this announcement would help meet the subdivision requirements that would allow the creation of land titles, and Landcorp expects to be able to call for expressions of interest from developers around November.

Ms Saffioti said the $3.6 million she announced would not be enough to construct a longer wall to protect more of the shoreline.

“I think there was an expectation (the Federal Government) might have been offering some money in recent weeks but that didn’t happen,” she said.

“We’re going to approach the Federal Government again and say ‘can you move on this very quickly?’”

“But we’re not going to sit around and wait for them to commit funds, we’re keen to move forward as soon as possible.”

Ms Saffioti said the seawall would ensure the subdivision complied with a coastal development policy the Barnett Liberal government adopted in 2010.

“There’s quite a strict policy about trying to make sure that when we have development near the ocean that we protect that in case of storm surges and inundation,” she said.

“It means that we have to invest more in trying to prevent any incidents in the future.”

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Job boost for local business

GREAT SOUTHERN businesses will receive a much-needed shot in the arm under the Labor Government’s proposed jobs law which will provide the opportunity for regional businesses to compete for State Government contracts.

It is hoped the legislation will have significant flow-on effects, including boosting regional jobs.

The legislation would also require the promise of local employment from key contractors for major projects.

This would prevent large companies from establishing themselves temporarily in a city like Albany to fulfil a large tender, bringing in their own workforces, using non-local suppliers and leaving at the end of the job.

Member for Albany Peter Watson said the proposed jobs law was simply aimed at building jobs for regional areas.

“Businesses in regional areas often miss out when a lot of the contracts come out,” he said.

“We’ve got to find ways to increase job opportunities for these businesses. “We’ve got to spend money in Albany to create jobs for our kids.

“What we’ll be doing is supporting businesses to get a bigger share of work on government projects and creating more jobs,” he said.

Best Office Systems proprietor Phil Shilcock has spearheaded the Buy Albany Buy Local campaign that has ramped up in recent months in a bid to keep money from local shoppers from flowing out of the region.

He has been frustrated in the past at the centralisation of government purchasing and the lack of opportunity to apply for government contracts, despite being competitive.

He said it was pleasing to hear the announcement from Premier Mark McGowan.

“If it means it will give our local government buyers the capacity and confidence to spend our tax dollars locally, it can only be good for the Great Southern,” he said.

Direct Lighting Albany proprietor Greg Spaanderman has also experienced roadblocks to applying for government contracts in the past and said the proposed legislation was an attractive idea.

“The City of Albany has built seven or eight buildings in the past few years and we didn’t receive any of that work,” Mr Spaanderman said.

He said contractors tended to buy from larger suppliers, and the construction of the Albany Entertainment Centre, National Anzac Centre, Centennial Stadium and now the Albany Tourism and Information Hub did not benefit small local businesses.

“We have not seen a red cent of that,” he said.

“We’ve approached the council and they said ‘we can’t do anything about that because the electricians tender for the work and they go straight to wholesalers’,” he said.

“All that money goes straight out of Albany.”

Part of the government’s promise includes support for small and medium businesses during the tendering process.

“The jobs law will mean local businesses are given every opportunity to compete for this work and are provided appropriate support to do so,” Premier Mark McGowan said.

Staff within the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation and the Department of Regional Development will engage with local businesses in the tendering process.

“They will make it simpler and easier for them to understand how to tender for a government contract,” Mr McGowan said.

Mr Watson said the legislation would be introduced within the next three to six weeks.

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