Hospital wise on water

ALBANY Regional Hospital (ARH) was recognised as a Waterwise Champion at the recent inaugural Waterwise Business Recognition event held in Perth.

The hospital has been a long-time participant in the program and continues to demonstrate a commitment to finding new ways to save water.

ARH facilities manager Andy Smyth said the hospital achieved gold status in both 2016 and 2017, saving more than 35 per cent of their regular water use each year.

“This is a wonderful result for the hospital and shows our commitment to water efficiency,” he said.

Mr Smyth said the hospital had worked hard to reduce their water use, including reprogramming the reticulation to allow for rainy days and cooler weather.

“You simply don’t need to use as much water when it’s cooler, and our gardens are still healthy and are looking good,” he said.

“We also installed flow restrictors throughout the facility. It is just a matter of tweaking the settings – two minutes less here, 25 per cent less flow there – to get the best possible result.”

WA Country Health Service Great Southern Regional Director David Naughton said it was fantastic to see Mr Smyth and the facilities management team recognised for the work they did to maximise water efficiency.

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$17m wastewater upgrade

WORK on $17.6 million worth of upgrades to the Albany wastewater treatment plant is expected to begin later this month.

The Timewell Road project will ensure the treatment plant is able to accommodate future growth in the Great Southern and likely to be completed by mid-2018.

The McGowan Labor Government’s multi-million dollar upgrades will ensure the wastewater treatment plant continues to provide a reliable service to residents and businesses by increasing the plant’s capacity.

Most of the work will be confined to the wastewater treatment plant site.  Water and wastewater services in the area will not be disrupted during the work.

Minister for Water Dave Kelly also confirmed that the treated wastewater would continue to be reused by the Water Corporation during and after the upgrade to irrigate a nearby tree farm, which he said was an environmentally friendly way to manage the disposal of Albany’s wastewater.

The Albany Wastewater Treatment Plant is an important sustainable wastewater management initiative, as 100 per cent of the treated wastewater from the plant is reused to irrigate a nearby tree farm.

The 400-hectare tree farm is made up of blue gums, which are harvested by the Water Corporation every four years and sold as woodchips.

The tree farm helped the Corporation to achieve a greenhouse gas abatement of 110,000 tonnes in 2003, a major reason behind the Water Corporation winning that year’s Australian Greenhouse Challenge Gold Award.

“The contract for the project was awarded to Guidera O’Connor, with up to 12 of its employees to take part in the upgrade.

“The expertise of local subcontractors from Albany, Capel and Bunbury will also be used as part of the project,” Mr Kelly said.

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Mokare exhibit award

THE recent landmark exhibition of Aboriginal artefacts in Albany received national recognition at the Museums and Galleries National Awards last week.

The Western Australian Museum was awarded for the Yurlmun: Mokare Mia Boodja exhibition in the Indigenous Project or Keeping Place level 2 category.

Co-curated by the Albany Heritage Reference Group Aboriginal Corporation, the Yurlmun exhibition saw the return of objects collected from the Albany area in the early 1800s by settlers.

These included objects collected by local surgeon Dr Alexander Collie, who became close friends with significant Menang man Mokare.

The objects, including stone axes, spears, spear throwers and knives were loaned by the British Museum and displayed at the WA Museum Great Southern and were viewed by nearly 23,000 visitors.

WA Museum CEO Alec Coles said the exhibition showcased the significant shared history of Albany’s Menang people and early European settlers through the historic objects on display.

“Yurlmun is an astounding project that forged new ground in relationships between collecting institutions and source communities,” he said.

“The loan of a whole collection of British Museum objects back to Country and to their place of origin, is unprecedented. It has never happened before in Australia.”

Mr Coles said he was grateful to the British Museum as well as colleagues from the National Museum of Australia and the Menang people.

“It represents a significant step in reconnecting museum collections with people and place, and in reconnecting communities with their cultural heritage,” he said.

“The story of friendship and the sharing of gifts between friends is also something that everyone can relate to.”

Mr Coles said the exhibition introduced the Emerging Curators program where young Aboriginal men and women could participate in the program by working alongside lead curators and specialist WA Museum curators.

“The Emerging Curator program has been so successful we are expanding it to other Aboriginal communities across the State,” he said.

“Albany’s Shona Coyne and Lindsay Dean provided great insight into the exhibitions through the Emerging Curator program.”

Minister for Culture and the Arts David Templeman said the awards recognised the Museum’s commitment to co-curating content with communities to share their stories.

“The Museum does a fantastic job working with communities and bringing shared stories to the people. These rewards are well deserved,” he said.

Judges referred to the Yurlmun exhibition as an excellent project leading the way in how museums and communities can work together.

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Former POWs share wartime encounters

LOCAL man Neil McPherson is reminiscing over coffee with fellow former prisoner of war Harold Martin a few days before his 95th birthday last week.

He invited The Weekender to sit in and share his wartime memories.

“People say to me ‘do you hate the Japanese?’” he said.

“My son is a lawyer. He lives in Japan and married a Japanese midwife so I have two grandsons half-Japanese and half-Australian – that’s the answer.”

Neil was a shipping clerk in Perth when he enlisted in the Australian Army and found himself deployed in the Middle East.

“I was very fortunate; I got leave in Jerusalem and leave in Tel Aviv so I saw a bit of the country up there,” he said.

“Then I was posted to a Victorian unit and they were the first troops to be sent back to Australia when Japan came into the war.

“We were on the Orchades coming back. They diverted us to Java when Singapore fell and of course something like 54,000 Japanese troops landed on Java and there was 3,000 of us.”

The 19-year-old found himself working on the Burma end of the notorious Burma to Siam railway that claimed the lives of thousands of allied prisoners.

Although they never met at the time, Harold Martin also worked on the same end of the railway as Neil McPherson.

“I think I might have been born with the right genes,” Mr McPherson said.

“I was a 19-year-old and Harold was 23 so we had youth on our side.”

Neil was a group settler’s son from Margaret River where during the depression he frequently went to bed without a meal, so hunger pangs did not frighten him as a prisoner.

“I had malaria and dysentery and I escaped ulcers which were a terrific killer because once they amputate a limb you haven’t got much resistance to the different diseases,” he said.

“I escaped beri-beri which was another killer.

“Another thing that killed a lot of chaps was the stress – chaps with families at home, the worry about how their wife was coping on their own was instrumental in a lot of them dying.”

Both men were selected to go to Japan and work in a coal mine in Kyushu prefecture which Mr McPherson said probably saved their lives.

“I was fortunate that when I went to Japan I went to a little village,” he said.

“We were working in a coal mine but the village had never been bombed and the people probably didn’t hate the Americans and Australians as much as in other areas.

“Sharing the hazards of the mine with the Japanese miners created a certain amount of camaraderie.”

When Japan fell, the Americans dropped rations. Prisoners would often fill  haversacks and go hiking in the country visiting local farms and sharing their food.

“They showed us photos of their sons who were overseas. They were very pleasant times,” Mr McPherson said.

“I put on about three stone and when I got home people would say ‘I thought you were supposed to be hungry’.”The Hardie Group, Mr McPherson’s employer, had a surprise for him when he returned.

“The Reid family who owned
the company, made up the difference between their employees’ wages that they would have got if they’d continued on working,” he said.

“So when I got home there was something like five or six hundred pounds waiting for me which enabled me to buy land.

“I worked for them for 50 years.”

“I started work in Perth, transferred to head office in Melbourne, came back and became manager of our Perth branch where I started as a message boy 50 years before.”

Since moving to Albany several years ago Mr McPherson met Mr Martin for the first time.

As two of the hundreds of workers deployed on the railway they had not known each other and although Mr Martin was also selected for mine work in Japan his ship had been torpedoed.

“He survived being torpedoed in a prisoner-of-war ship and was in the water for six days,” Mr McPherson said.

He paid tribute to his friends’ ability to survive and support each other during their time in the prisoner-of-war camps.

“The greatest thing that could happen to the camp was if we had some Australian farmers there because they could turn their hands to anything,” he said.

“They could take a bit of barbed wire and turn it into something useful like crutches or something like that.”

Mr McPherson has been back to Thailand, the former Siam, twice and celebrated his birthday a few months after Mr Martin who is now 100.

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Classic poster unveiled

FINAL preparations for the Great Southern Weekender Albany Classic on Sunday, June 4 are underway.

Albany artist Sue Halsall was again commissioned by the organising committee to create the painting that would be used for the infamous promotional poster and as a special auction item at this year’s sponsor’s dinner.

The painting recreates the excitement of the historic motoring event and pays tribute to the Theyer family’s involvement in racing, with Elizabeth Theyer waving the flag for the late William Theyer racing his TQ.

Posters are available from The Weekender, price $10 each.

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What, no potato?

THE reality of a crippled market is starting to mount as the region’s potato growers face the threat of a psyllid outbreak.

The tomato potato psyllid (TPP) is an exotic pest that has been detected by both commercial and domestic growers in the Perth metropolitan area.

Although the pest affects productivity in other fruit and vegetable crops, the specific threat for potato growers lies in the associated bacteria that TPP is known to carry which causes zebra chip, which renders the vegetable inedible.

As a result of the detection of the insect in Perth, the movement of host fruit and vegetables and used machinery and equipment from WA has been blocked by eastern states.

TPP has not been detected near Albany and there is no evidence of the zebra chip bacteria Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum (CLso), despite the Department of Agriculture and Food setting hundreds of traps since the outbreak in Perth.

Third generation Albany potato farmer Julian Ackley said the trade restrictions to the eastern states were frustrating as it had not only impacted big exporters, but also created an oversupply in WA.

“We’ve all got product sitting here that is fine, but we can’t sell it because the door is shut.

“The problem is the crops are all available now and it’s all perishable. It’s not like it only affects a little bit of product over a longer period of time.”

Mr Ackley said his attempts to divert potatoes bound for the Eastern States to the local market were not viable, with prices depressed at least $100 per tonne.

“We didn’t even get a quarter of our costs back,” he said.

Remaining potatoes would more than likely be fed to livestock or go to diary farmers who were already oversupplied with wasted potatoes.

The future of his own operation and the industry in general was not something Mr Ackley preferred to dwell on.

“It doesn’t bear thinking about. I have my doubts about next year,” he said.

Fellow local grower and industry representative Colin Ayres exports the majority of his seed potato crop to the eastern states and has been hit hard by the trade restrictions.

He has already made the tough decision to lay-off four permanent staff and would not be employing backpackers and other casual labour. While he had one eye on the broader impact of the industry, Mr Ayres said he had some challenges to face with his own operation.

“Our program will be about half of what it was this year: hence, our labour force has been drastically reduced,” he said.

“To downsize, there is also a mountain of work to do in the office before you even get near a tractor.”

Mr Ayres said he was comfortable with the WA Department of Agriculture’s efforts since the detection of TPP and new Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan in her response to the crisis.

But he was scathing of the industry’s failure to act on a national level and enact the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed sooner. The deed is in place to deal with the response to national pest incidents.

“It took six weeks for the deed to be triggered. If that’s an emergency response then God help us,” he said.

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From snippet to stage

By ANTHONY PROBERT

IN 2005, a single paragraph from an article in the Weekend Australian caught Dianne Wolfer’s attention.

It briefly mentioned a young girl who lived on Breaksea Island and the postcards she received from troops gathered on Navy ships in King George Sound before departing for war.

The postcards thanked her for relaying messages to the troops’ families as the soldiers anchored in Albany’s protected waters.

And that’s about all there was to the story – a short, sweet little snippet humanising the departure of 30,000 troops from Albany in 1914.

But Wolfer’s fervent imagination just couldn’t let it go.

She was curious about that little girl, Fay Catherine Howe, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter.

“It got me thinking when I was walking down the beach,” Dianne said.

“I was looking across to Breaksea Island and kept imagining her out there and couldn’t get her out of my head.”

It was the genesis for two of the local author’s books Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy.

These books’ recent stage adaptation by Black Swan State Theatre Company in Albany and the ensuing extended season of the play in Perth, has had Wolfer’s name buzzing around town.

She’s grateful for the recognition and is more than happy to jump back into conversation about the story of little Fay Howe and those troops.

But there is much more to discover about the award-winning author.

Wolfer is a primary  school teacher by profession and without lamenting the fact, she knows the grind of making a living from being an author – even with 16 books to her name. There are no million-dollar best-seller contracts. With guest-speaking visits to primary schools and public libraries and royalties on book sales, she still earns less than a first-year teacher.

“Most authors have another job, so it’s a matter of what job and how much can you survive on versus having time to write. So that’s always the trick,’ she said.

“For me it’s not that you sit down one day and say ‘I’m going to be a writer’.

“It creeps up and then slowly you get more books published as you spend more time at it.

“But I just can’t not write. You get ideas and you write them down and they stay in your head and I shape some of them into stories.”

The work ethic that accompanies Wolfer’s vivid imagination and relentless researching also becomes apparent as she discusses her approach to writing.

She can write anytime, anywhere and often takes a few pages of a manuscript with her for editing to fill in some of life’s idle moments.

“You don’t have to be on a Greek Island, but you just need a space.

“Sometimes it’s the quiet corner of a café.

“Sometimes getting out of the study works really well for me,” she said.

“I think if people are sitting and waiting for inspiration, then good luck it might happen, but it’s like any job.

“You can’t just go to work and say ‘I’m not feeling inspired.’”

That constant drive to write usually results in Wolfer penning several stories at once and regardless of whether it’s a 6,000-word piece of historical fiction or a 32-page playful picture book, the process is incomplete until it’s as perfect as the deadline allows.

“Usually I’ve got three or four things that I’m writing at once,” she said.

“For example Light Horse Boy and Granny Grommet and Me. They are completely different books.

“I was writing them at the same time and they both took three years.

“I know it’s crazy. Why would a picture book take that long? There’s so few words.

“But you wouldn’t believe the emails back and forth with an editor over a sentence.”

With the whirlwind of excitement from the premiere of the production of Lighthouse Girl easing, Wolfer still has plenty on the go.

With its release due next month, her forthcoming picture book Nanna’s Button Tin will break stride from the run of historical-based fiction for a moment.

Although Wolfer is also happy to reveal she is working on a third, and perhaps final, installment to follow on from Light Horse Boy and continue the war-themed story to its conclusion.

With the fine details of the story’s plot lines still bouncing around the page, she confirms it follows Rose, a young English nurse who meets Jim (from Light Horse Boy) and is set in the shadow of WWI against the deadly Spanish influenza pandemic.

Her latest release The Shark Caller is another story for her growing number of young/adult readers to ingest.

The story was inspired by past family holidays to Papua New Guinea and was brought forward from the back-burner thanks to a scholarship from UWA.

The scholarship allowed Wolfer to write the book as part of her PhD on Anthropomorphism, the attribution of human qualities afforded to animals and objects.

Donning the graduation gown and throwing the hat in the air is also on her to-do list for the middle of the year, but please: don’t call her Dr Dianne.

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Licence for letting

By GEOFF VIVIAN

ALBANY residents who let property out on a short-stay basis using internet services such as Airbnb will have to be licensed with the City from July 1.

At last month’s meeting council voted to start enforcing its licensing conditions for tourist accommodation at that date with a two-month amnesty period to allow operators to apply for a licence and meet conditions.

Mayor Dennis Wellington said the licence was issued for the operator’s own protection in the case of an insurance claim.

“When you invite someone into your home on a commercial basis and you don’t have all the bases covered, like fire extinguishers, or fire alarms, you’re culpably liable,” he said.

“We’ve got to make sure it’s safe for the visitors and safe for the people who operate them.”

The two-month amnesty will give operators time to have properties inspected and meet requirements.

About 100 properties are already licensed in the city.  In proposing a motion to enforce licensing conditions Cr Paul Terry said at any one time about 100 unauthorised operators were advertising tourist accommodation online.

The motion passed 8–1 with Cr Carolyn Dowling voting against it.

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Shire flood rules change

By ANTHONY PROBERT

AN exemption allowing local shires to use their own resources to repair vital infrastructure from flood damage, yet still claim for reimbursement under the WA Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (WANDRRA),  has been met with mixed reactions.

Prior to the exemption, councils have been forced to use contractors if they planned to seek reimbursement under the arrangement.

The Shire of Ravensthorpe suffered extensive damage following the floods in January and February this year, with parts of the shire still under water.

Shire of Ravensthorpe CEO Ian Fitzgerald welcomed the move, but said there were still challenges ahead.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” he said.

“We’re still assessing our damage.

“We’ve got more than 2,100 jobs we’ve identified and each one needs to be photographed, recorded and costed out to meet engineering standards.

“It needs to be in a certain format to fit in with the WANDRRA process, and we’ve got to do that 2,100 times.”

Mr Fitzgerald said while the exemption gave the shire the option of using their own staff and plant and equipment, the cost of overheads associated with the work would still fall on the shire, under the current update to the arrangement.

“One of the good things to come out of the exemption is the funding arrangement,” he said.

“It’s 40 per cent up front.

“Previously the shire would need to spend the money and wait for it to be checked off before we’d see any reimbursement.

“This gives us a good starting point and puts less strain on our cash flow.”

Mr Fitzgerald said the shire would be looking at utilising a combination of its own staff and contractors to complete the work.

Shire of Gnowangerup CEO Shelley Pike said the floods at the start of the year were the worst in living memory and the repair bill had more than doubled from initial estimates of $5 million to $11 million.

Ms Pike said the exemption would work for smaller shires that had suffered minimal damage, but were not a complete solution for the Shire of Gnowangerup.

“We’ve had nearly $11 million worth of damage and there’s absolutely no way we can manage that in-house,” she said.

“Timing is also an issue. You’ve got 24 months to get the work done.

“You can’t carry out this work when it’s wet, so we’re not looking at starting until September and we’re looking at three years of work to get the repairs done.”

Ms Pike said the temporary exemption would help if shires could claim what she referred to as ‘opening-up’ costs in the short-term response to the floods.

“It’s things like clearing roads so they are trafficable straight after the floods,” she said.

Ms Pike said the shire had to increase its overdraft to cope with increased costs while it waited for reimbursement.

Member for O’Connor Rick Wilson said the restriction on the use of local government resources for repairs had been the most pressing issue in the electorate following the floods and acknowledged the frustration of local shires.

“It’s been a frustrating wait due to many unfortunate circumstances – a state election, a government in caretaker mode, changes at departmental levels, and lengthy negotiations between senior bureaucrats,” he said.

“We’ve seen reports from shires here in O’Connor that recovery work is costing far more than it should through the use of contractors, who are obviously in high demand due to the extensive damage across the Wheatbelt and Great Southern.”

State Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan also acknowledged the frustration felt by those affected by the floods.

“While this has taken some time to work through with the Commonwealth Government, I’m hopeful this new process will provide choice for our local governments in how they repair roads and other essential public assets, as well as being more cost effective for taxpayers,” she said.

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Budget will hit students

By ANTHONY PROBERT

THIS week’s federal budget has delivered a fresh list of fiscal winners and losers for the Great Southern.

One of the broadest measures was the increase in the Medicare Levy by 0.5 per cent to help fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

There was no silver bullet for flailing small business owners either, with the only bone being the continuation of the instant tax write-off for capital expenditure up to $20,000.

The federal government is also clamping down on drug and alcohol affected welfare recipients, with plans to run drug tests.

Measures that have been received positively include the proposed increase in school funding, the one-off power bill rebate for aged pensioners and lift the freeze on the Medicare rebate freeze, which will give doctors more incentive to bulk bill.

Ahead of Tuesday’s budget, the government attempted to soften the reaction to some of its less popular measures by making several announcements prior to Treasurer Scott Morrison’s budget speech and the media lockdown. It was revealed last week that university students will pay more for their degrees and will start paying them back sooner in an overhaul of tertiary education funding.

In the government’s bid to even out funding allocations, some course fees are set to rise to a maximum of $3,600 for a four-year degree, while Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) repayments will kick in when a student’s income reaches $42,000, down from the current threshold of $55,000.

In announcing the reform package this week, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham highlighted the need to sustain funding for the tertiary education sector, with student loans totally $52 billion.

The measures in the reform package are set to save taxpayers $2.8 billion over the forward estimates period.

For University of WA student Oniesha Vernon, the issue is more about the $8 a week she will need to repay under the reduced repayment threshold, rather than the pile of debt the government is sitting on.

Miss Vernon is enrolled in a psychology double major at UWA’s Albany Centre and has completed the first year of her degree.

But she has deferred her studies to gain a bit of real-world experience after entering university straight from high school.

She said the measures would deter some students from studying at university, although she intended to pick her studies up again despite the increased cost.

“Going to university is already considered to be the expensive option,” she said.

“I know people who have decided to go to TAFE instead, because of the cost.

“This will definitely put more people off as they finish school and decide what they want to do.”

Under the reduced repayment threshold, students will be required to pay back one per cent of their income when they earn $42,000, which equates to $8 a week.

Miss Vernon said it didn’t sound like a lot of money, but it would put some graduates under more pressure in a tough job market.

“I decided to go to university and study psychology to get the best job I can,” she said.

“Eight dollars doesn’t sound like much. Students and graduates are struggling now, let alone the increase in costs of completing a degree.

“I feel sorry for country students who are studying in Perth and supporting themselves

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