Year in reviewSomething for everyone in 2014 – and then some

SOME things never change – the trains don’t run on time, people drive like idiots on our roads, rates rise, and winter is cold and windy.
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As such, there is a sense of deja vu when compiling these annual year-ender stories, and looking back there were some repeated themes that came to the fore yet again.

. . . AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

But let’s start with the stories that you don’t often see, such as the 40-year-old woman (i.e. old enough to know better) who got stuck trying to do “the gap” between the ice creamery and the tenpin bowling alley in Warrnambool. The fire brigade had to free her and we imagine the embarrassment endured by the poor woman will be enough to last a lifetime.

Then there were the Warrnambool brothers Barry and Geoff Hose (pictured below) who got the ride of a lifetime while out fishing when a whale grabbed their anchor line of their boat and towed them for 60 metres before they could cut themselves free.

Speaking of large mammals, Warrnambool Base Hospital welcomed its biggest baby ever on record, with Rochelle Trew weighing in at 6.54 kg (or 14lb 7oz), smashing the previous record of 5.74kg (12lb 10z) set in 2005. A standing ovation is warranted for baby Rochelle’s mother.

And speaking of records, a handful of Brauer students played MarioKart for 36 hours in the name of fund-raising, earning a spot in the Guinness Book in the process. That’s a lot of flying turtle shells to put up with.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

The Big Bad of 2014 was ice – the drug that was destroying lives and families, clogging our courts, and causing drug-related crime in the region to double. A statewide inquiry into the narcotic came to Warrnambool, with police calling for more powers and the health sector calling for more funding. Meanwhile, the ice age continues.

It wasn’t just ice that was keeping our justice system busy. The “bizarre” Diane Brimble case attracted national headlines, with the Hamilton teacher sentenced to a two-year community corrections order for committing an indecent act with a 10-year-old boy, whose name she had tattooed on her chest. Another south-west teacher was jailed for 45 months over a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student.

A young Panmure man who crashed into and killed a mother-of-four while she cycled along Warrnambool’s Hopkins Point Road was jailed for four years and three months. Meanwhile, a drunk woman who ran over and killed her husband while he lay in a Warrnambool driveway had her two-year jail sentence wholly suspended for two years.

For Jennifer and Robert Lowe, their long-running legal nightmare ended when more than 600 charges relating to the alleged misappropriation of funds from Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Co-operative were dismissed just three days into a planned four-week contested hearing their lawyer described as “a witch hunt” instigated by “liars”.

Jennifer and Robert Lowe

The nightmare was just beginning for Port Fairy P-plater Kimberley Davis, who became the subject of international attention after she hit a cyclist while texting and driving near Koroit and told police, “I just don’t care”. Davis lost her licence for nine months and was fined $4500, but perhaps the biggest punishment was the ignominy suffered after the comments she made in her police interview came back to haunt her in a big way as social media went nuts and TV news crews hunted her down.

Check out our most read stories of 2014The year began with shots being fired into a Wanstead Street unit, continued with a man who believed he was Adolf Hitler’s grandson being sent to jail for 17 years and six months for the 2011 stabbing deaths of two men in Casterton, and ended with Allansford’s Robert Conn being jailed for two years for setting fire to his historic homestead in an insurance scam.

And even international court cases reverberated around the world and back to the south-west. As Rolf Harris made his way to jail for child sex offences, the mural he painted in the back stage area of Warrnambool’s Lighthouse Theatre was being viewed in a different light. Following calls from sexual abuse experts and public figures, the council covered it up.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Less controversial works of art popped up around Warrnambool’s alleyways as the Laneway Festivals proved to be a huge success, bringing extra life to the CBD. Wunta did the same thing, returning to Liebig Street and earning praise from businesses, punters, police and organisers.

The Port Fairy Folk Festival was also a hit (as usual), and so was Fun4Kids (according to the kids). The latter proved less popular with some grumpy grown-ups unhappy about the budget over-run. The knives were out, but the majority of councillors remained convinced the economic benefits of the festival meant it deserved to continue.

Oddball star Shane Jacobson with Allan “Swampy” Marsh.

And Warrnambool became a cinematic backdrop for a short while as Oddball came to town, with the story of Swampy Marsh and his penguin-guarding Maremmas bound for the big screen some time in 2015.

TRAGEDY

It was a horror year on our roads. By July, 13 people had died in road accidents in the south-west, including three people near Broadwater after a couple of good Samaritans attempted to clear a fallen tree from the road.

Fires in the Grampians north of Halls Gap in January claimed the life of one woman, as heatwaves swept the state and delivered one of the hottest Januarys on record. There wasn’t much respite from the blazes as more fires hit Stonyford in February and Narrawong in March, and a dry 2014 points towards another dangerous fire season ahead.

Derrinallum became the focus of the nation when eccentric but much-loved mechanic Glen Sanders set off a home-made bomb following a seven-hour siege with police, killing himself and injuring two police officers. The huge explosion shook the town of Derrinallum in more ways than one as the story behind the tragic incident began to emerge and the townsfolk tries to make sense of what happened. The Hamilton Highway was blocked for three weeks as police searched Mr Sanders’ property (pictured below) for more bombs and during that time a portrait of a troubled man began to emerge with his wife’s death seeming to precipitate a fatal slide into depression. More than 200 people attended his funeral.

BIG BUSINESS

A few days prior to Australia Day, Warrnambool Cheese & Butter came under Canadian control, with Saputo taking the reins after gaining a majority of shares. Another iconic south-west factory also changed hands when Dean Montgomery stepped up and purchased the old Fletcher Jones building for an undisclosed figure north of $1 million. He pledged to retain as much of the heritage and history of place as possible and stop the deterioration of the building – a declaration welcomed by Warrnambool residents.

Fletcher Jones factory “savior” Dean Montgomery

Less popular were Midfield’s plans for a milk powder production facility, which not only caused headaches for Premier Denis Napthine (who was accused of playing favourites with “mate” Colin McKenna) but triggering protests from more than 100 residents in nearby Merrivale and almost 200 objections, who were aghast at the idea of a 34-metre-high milk processing factory being built a stone’s throw from their homes.

Just up the road, plans were being proposed for a $20 million, nine-storey apartment complex overlooking Lake Pertobe and Lady Bay. As usual with these things, it drew a typically mixed reaction. As did plans for a $9 million motel in Peterborough, which was eventually given the go-ahead.

A TALE OF TWO COUNCILS

Over at Moyne Shire, things were peachy. The biggest issue they faced was when a man planned to build a nine-metre-high home on a block in Gipps Street which he had been awarded through an adverse possession claim. The shire refused the permit, more than 1000 people signed a petition to review the adverse possession claim, and Port Fairy saw its first public protests since the Apex Park saga a decade ago. But aside from that, Moyne Shire was harmonious, except when someone said the words “wind farm” around Cr Jim Doukas, as it tended to turn him apoplectic and cause the councillor to suggest the whipping of wind farm companies and to refuse to accept peer-reviewed reports. But aside from that, things were peachy at Moyne Shire Council.

Things were less peaceful in Warrnambool City Council, where the Three Amigos and the other four continued to butt heads like a flock of goats. Whether it was over live streaming of meetings (nope, still not happening), the print quality of the budget document (ow, my eyes!) or good old Fun4Kids (won’t somebody think of the children!), there was no issue too big or too petty to spark a division between the two sides in council.

Warrnambool City Councillors (Back) Rob Askew, Mike Neoh, Kylie Gaston, (Front) Brian Kelson, Peter Hulin, Peter Sycopoulis and Jacinta Ermacora.

One of the really big headaches for Warrnambool City Council – and Moyne and Corangamite for that matter – this year was the issue of saleyards. Some backed maintaining the status quo, some thought they should be moved out of Warrnambool, Moyne and Corangamite were both keen to build new ones in their backyards, and no one could agree on anything. It all came to a head at a council meeting at the Lighthouse Theatre on April 28 that was filled with accusations, backflips, dissent and a very strange moment when Crs Hulin, Sycopoulis and Kelson called for more consultation, then voted against a motion to do just that. But things got really out of hand a few days later when saleyards advocate Gerald Madden suggested Warrnambool City Council’s two female councillors weren’t smart enough to form their own views on the matter. He eventually apologised. In the meantime, Moyne and Corangamite shires made their own plans, but by the end of the year nothing had changed.

Equally contentious was a proposed business levy suggested by Commerce Warrnambool, which aimed to promote the city and its businesses. It was met with a not-so-polite “oh hell no!” by a large number of businesses, and while some supported the levy, the “no” campaign – which offered no alternative to boost local businesses – won out in the end. The levy sunk and it was back to business as usual in the CBD.

Speaking of the CBD, Warrnambool City Council called on residents to have their say on renewing Liebig Street. In typically Warrnamboolian fashion, the feedback suggested we needed more parking/less parking, more trees/less trees, four lanes of traffic/two lanes of traffic/no traffic, and the inevitable redundant calls for “better shops”. After some head-scratching by engineers and designers, plans have been drawn up for a renewal of the main street, which will take place over the coming years.

Unfortunately, after 12 months of trying to work together and focus on the real issues, nothing had changed at Warrnambool City Council. The Three Amigos – who previously refused to sign a document compelling all councillors to work harmoniously – didn’t show up for a crucial budget preparation meeting. They all had good reasons, including Cr Hulin, who was attending a Victorian Liberal Party state council. This unfortunately backfired on Cr Hulin when he later accused fellow Liberal Party member and fellow councillor Michael Neoh of putting his political ambitions ahead of council, to which Cr Neoh responded by calling Cr Hulin a hypocrite. By the end of the year, Cr Hulin claimed he had “torn up” his Liberal Party membership and was gunning for Dr Denis Napthine (over his supposed friendship with Colin McKenna) and chief executive Bruce Anson (for a myriad of reasons). Unsurprisingly, the councillors’ traditional end-of-year Christmas dinner didn’t go ahead this year.

Meanwhile, Knoxville, Iowa became our third sister city. Welcome to the family.

POLITICS

As for Dr Denis Napthine, it was a pretty big year for the premier. When he wasn’t assessing injured horses on the Western Ring Road, offering his own Port Fairy home to Morwell residents fleeing the Hazelwood coalmine fire, helping people who have been in car accidents near Port Fairy, posing for an endless array of ridiculous photos, and promising money left, right and centre, especially in his own electorate, there was the small matter of an election to deal with.

South West Cosast MP and former Premier Denis Napthine with wife Peggy and son Tom after the Coalition’s election defeat.

In one sense, Dr Napthine won, retaining his seat of South West Coast by a comfortable margin. In another, more accurate sense, he lost, and was forced to hand over the premiership to Labor, who romped home.

The other big winner was Port Fairy’s James Purcell, who launched a new party – Vote1 Local Jobs – and snuck into parliament’s upper house on preference deals.

James Purcell

Prior to the election, the state budget was welcomed in the south-west as it doled out $4.2 million for a new mental health centre in Warrnambool and $3 million for Port Fairy hospital redevelopment. Less welcome was the federal budget, which had councils scrambling to fill gaps and welfare groups concerned about the “fight for survival” that would face the region’s poorest and most underprivileged. What remains to be seen is what becomes of the money that was planned and promised for the region by the outgoing and incoming state governments, whether it be the $5.2 million upgrade for Timboon P-12, the $5 million Labor pledge for the Warrnambool Special Development School, or Terang’s multi-million-dollar natural gas hook-up.

But if you thought the 2013 federal election was continuing to haunt us in the form of $7 Medicare co-payments, university deregulation or cuts to the dole, spare a thought for Lake Bolac grandmother and former Wannon candidate Tess Corbett, who continues to refuse to apologise for comparing homosexuals to paedophiles during the 2013 federal election campaign despite a tribunal order to do so. The gay rights activist behind the battle said he wasn’t giving up, so it looks Ms Corbett will find that one haunting her for a good while to come.

And in indigenous politics, a so-called new chapter for the Framlingham Aboriginal Trust came crashing down when former chief executive Geoff Clark and his family and supporters took the trust to court, claiming they had been shut out of the fresh beginning, which had come about when Mr Clark and his cohorts got ousted in the first place. Meanwhile, Mr Clark declared he was no longer bankrupt, which meant he had rather conveniently avoided paying damages worth $20,000 to Carol Stingel, which were awarded after a County Court jury linked him to her sexual assault in Warrnambool in 1971.

THE END OF AN ERA

All good things must come to end, and such was the case for Warrnambool’s longest-running gym Action Fitness Club after approximately 30 years, Warrnambool Disposals after 31 years, the Savoy Restaurant after 55 years, and Capricorn Records after 35 years.

Savoy Restaurant owner Allan Tampion

The Peter’s Project $5 million fund-raising campaign also came to a conclusion, hitting its target after just nine months. Meanwhile Epworth Healthcare were named as the successful contractors to will build and operate the cancer care centre.

It was sad news for Tarrone farmer Pierre Johnson, whose ultimately futile 12-year legal battle with his neighbour and Moyne Shire ended in bankruptcy and the sale of his property. There was also sad news in Portland, as the Abbott government’s uncertainty regarding the Renewable Energy Target not only holding up wind farm projects in the south-west but also leading 100 jobs being axed at Keppel Prince.

And as usual, we farewelled some much-loved and important people from our community – Mepunga sporting identity Robert Haberfield, Port Fairy netballer Rebekah Moroney, Warrnambool musician and researcher Denis O’Keeffe, Mortlake journalist Donald Atchison, prominent Warrnambool businessmen Stan Philp and George Taylor, Warrnambool historian Les O’Callaghan, and horse trainer John “Jocka” Baillie” were among those we lost this year.

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