Image for Liberal Cadart stands firm on his grand vision

Graphic: From Bertrand Cadart’s website:

Pic: of Bertrand Cadart

“Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road”  - Voltaire, Paris

“Pack your bags.  Go back to France”  - Richard Parker, Triabunna

We stopped for a rest south of Bicheno, where the road rises above the fields of pinot noir and chardonnay vines.  I climbed off my bicycle, and a beaming Bertrand Cadart parked his Honda.

“Is this not the best view in the world?” he asked, waving at the panorama of Great Oyster Bay and the Hazards.  It was hard not to agree.

We were on the second leg of Pollie Pedal, a three-day ride from St Helens to Hobart, raising funds for diabetes research.  I’d tagged along as a bike-riding journalist who could take reasonable photographs.  Cadart’s role was infinitely more varied – acting as tour guide, raconteur, motorcycle escort, council representative and historian, sometimes all at once.

As the remaining 15 or so riders pulled off the road for a break, I questioned Cadart about the new road sign adjacent to the viewing area which declared Glamorgan/Spring Bay as ‘a motorcycle and bicycle friendly’ council

“ We don’t really know what it means yet,” he confided.  “But we’re hoping good things will come of it.”

This was 2007, not long after Cadart first grappled with the parochial and stodgy affair that passes for local government in Tasmania, and what might have appeared to be a simple road safety initiative still didn’t get universal endorsement.

“My original motion was we would become motorcycle friendly, and during the debate another councillor insisted that the word bicycle be added,” he said

Another councillor went further, warning that ‘those motorcyclists will come here and rape our women and pillage our villages’.

“I tried to explain to him that most touring motorcyclists have lots of money and expensive bikes,” Cadart said.  “And I think in terms of raping, their equipment no longer works.  They all have white beards and white hair.” 

I caught up with him this weekend, seven years on, and it seems the virtue of the region’s womenfolk appears to have remained relatively intact despite growing numbers of visitors on two-wheeled conveyances.  But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the French-born Mayor since securing his position with the help of preferences in late 2007 (he’s easily scored outright victory in the two succeeding polls.)

Until now, most opposition has related to his leadership style – some traditional feathers were ruffled when he ditched the Mayor’s car in favour of a scooter – and his attempts to shift to a State Government seat for the Liberal Party may not have been well-received by traditional Labor voters.

But nothing in his seven years of leadership had triggered as much vitriol as last week’s widely misinterpreted (and poorly reported) use of the ‘Bogan’ word ( TT here ).

Leading calls for the Mayor’s head was Triabunna alderman Richard Parker, who despite being outpolled sixfold by Cadart in the last local government elections, is understood to be angling for the top job himself.

Other community leaders have expressed outrage, including one concerned about Cadart’s use of ‘strong language’ in his description of Triabunna.  Even businessman Michael Kent, now retired to the wealthy enclave Orford, accused the Mayor of ‘setting this community back five years in its struggle against its unsubstantiated stigma of being an industrial village.’

That Triabunna is a community in transition isn’t in doubt.  Whether the town is the charming local village portrayed by some supporters is less transparent.  The fact Michael Kent, along with many of his peers, choose Orford ahead of Triabunna as a retirement destination is indeed telling.

To the casual observer Triabunna is, as Cadart has been accused of saying, an ugly place.  Many industrial towns are, and Triabunna bears the scars of nearly 200 years of resource extraction industries – starting with whale and seal hunting, and finishing three years ago when Gunns closed its woodchip mill.  In the interim, various land and sea creatures have been hunted and exploited commercially.  None of these industries have provided sustainable wealth for the local community.

Like many regional towns, Triabunna is deeply socially conservative.  That may be an Anglo Saxon trait – census data confirms that all but a handful of the town’s residents hail from the British Isles.  Few have an education beyond high school.  Despite around $28 million in logging subsidies paid to residents in recent years, there’s a palpable feeling of desolation in the town.

There’s nothing to entice the casual visitor to stray from the main highway.  Even the handful of businesses located on the main road appear to be on life support (the takeaway shop boasts a large sign saying ‘Greenys (sic) not welcome’), and the motor inn, although refurbished,  no longer has 100 log trucks parked outside.

And that’s the rub with Triabunna.  Since the collapse of Gunns, the log trucks have vanished, together with the local operations which supported them.  And they aren’t coming back, a fact some locals are struggling to come to terms with.

Perpetual Mayoral candidate and Triabunna resident Cheryl Arnol, a recent Senate candidate for the Country Alliance Party, summed up Triabunna’s zeitgeist in a recent parliamentary submission.  Timber workers, she said, didn’t necessarily want to be retrained as ‘baristas or tour guides.’  They just wanted their old jobs back.  Three years after Gunns pulled out, they are still waiting.

Further north in Mayor Cadart’s fiefdom, there’s a nest of baristas and tour guides all flat out plying their craft.  Swansea, a short drive north of Triabunna has undergone a remarkable renaissance in the last few years.  Despite having a similar industrial heritage to its bigger neighbor, the seaside town boasts around 14 restaurants and a growing number of accommodation enterprises.  Most days, the main street is crowded with visitors.

Across the bay from Swansea, Federal Group’s Saffire is adding another dimension to the local economy.  Cadart is quick to recognize few people can afford the $2,000 per night ticket, but says with the resort running at 80 per cent occupancy year round, the operator has silenced some of those claiming tourism can’t create jobs in a regional economy.

He also points to the growing importance of the wine industry, with industry stalwart Brown Brothers expanding operations at the former Gunns vineyard, and a new contract winemaking venture set to open in Bicheno.

And if this sounds like the political philosophy of somebody with a Green tinge, it’s worth remembering Cadart is a Liberal man, albeit one without dogmatic support for the woodchipping industry.

He missed out on endorsement for the Federal seat of Lyons to Eric Hutchinson, and a bid for a State seat was always a tough ask given the small voting base on the East Coast.

So he’s put any parliamentary ambitions behind him, and has no intention of abdicating his mayoral seat regardless of how many enquiries, votes of no confidence or petitions are launched by his opponents.

He has unfinished business.  In fact although he claims to be getting too old for another tilt at parliament, he can reel off an impressive list of ambitions to develop the economy of the East Coast:  Creation of an artisan coopering industry based on plantations of French Oak.  Expansion of the wine trade.  Securing funding to seal the link between Orford and the Tasman Peninsula.  Greater ties with Europe.

And to explore the untapped potential of Maria Island, with Triabunna as a key tourism hub.  Perhaps ironically, he suggests that can only happen now the woodchip mill is closed forever.

“It was irreconcilable to have the chip mill the way it used to be, and expect people to go to Maria Island.  Not just visually, but philosophically,’’ he said.

“ The people that want to visit Maria Island are not the kind of people to condone woodchipping.”

Today, when he faces a vote of no confidence, we’ll find out whether his fellow aldermen share that vision.

All Tom Ellison’s Tasmanian Times articles are: Here (including bios)

• John Hayward, in Comments: I remember, more than 20 years ago, taking the ferry to Maria Island. The skipper was drawing our attention, on the PA, to the vast pile of Triabunna woodchips off to our left, informing us that it contained the remains of myrtle, sassafras, and other special timbers being sold as scrap. Some months later we read that the Maria Island ferry had been torched. This is the culture that is threatened.

ABC: More jobs go as Henty Gold Mine set to close EARLIER: Here

Paul Harriss: Henty mine decision disappointing, but cautious optimism remains

• Pete Godfrey, in Comments: I am still wondering who the Bogans are. They obviously know who they are and are upset enough to out themselves. But what about the pain in the arse Greenies. By the way having read the article Bertrand was referring to the whole of Tasmania in that comment not just Triabunna. The reference to Triabunna being an ugly town was spot on. If the residents don’t like it then guess who can do something about it. The town is in a great place, with an amazing bay to add to its attractiveness. Try following a couple of other towns in Tasmania and make the town somewhere worth stopping at.

Deputy Mayor Jennifer Crawford, before entering the tranquil chamber.

Outside the new council chambers, tranquility within.

UPDATE by Triabunna Correspondent PAUL TAPP:

She Protesteth Not At All

Local police and Hobart media were out in force at a special council meeting in Triabunna tonight after a widely-spread tipoff of a single and short protest by Deputy Mayor Jennifer Crawford.

Cr Crawford was to use a special meeting for planning matters to protest their ire at last week’s bogan gaffe by Glamorgan Spring Bay mayor Cr Bertrand Cadart.

Councillor Crawford, was reportedly so hopping mad at the self-named Le Frog’s refusal to put a mayoral no-confidence motion on the agenda, that she planned to have her say and leave the chamber in protest.

In the meantime local police, from Orford, Triabunna and Swansea, had gathered to the fray-on-notice along with a rare gathering of media in Triabunna. This was in expectation of Cr Crawford’s intended protest ... a catalyst for a sunset showdown.

Mayor Cadart told councillors and the media that tonight’s meeting was a two-item special meeting on planning issues.

“As such no public question will be taken. No other matter will be debated.”

In the room I sat next to former mayor Howard Harris, who last week went public with his criticism of Mayor Cadart’s conduct that has upset many locals and brought Triabunna into the national media spotlight.

After Mayor Cadart’s directions tonight to councillors and the media, tripods set in the cramped chamber, all eyes were on Cr Crawford, looking decidedly composed and confident. When would she make her move? Would she interject? Would she raise a point-of-order and let her feelings be known and storm out of the building, with police standing-by in case of ... some sort of uprising? The meeting was a setting for a mid-sixties televised Mickey Mouse Club episode, where nobody knows what’s gonna happen.

And indeed, nothing did. I had seen Howard Harris talking to the Deputy Mayor just before she entered chambers. Sitting alongside police, media and Howard, I awaited the climax along with everybody else.

Howard moved to me and whispered in my ear.

“Jenny’s not going through with it. She’s not walking out.”

“Oh well, me too,” I said, whispered into the ear of a journo, that it was a non-story and went home for freshly caught flathead and chips.

Today’s meeting in the new waterfront chambers overlooking water-fowl and sombre islet graveyards of colonial pioneers, has had a background of discontent with Cr Cadart’s view of both the ‘ugly’ township of Triabunna and its ‘bogan’ residents, his ratepayers and collective employers.

Mayor Cadart told The Monthly magazine that he didn’t ‘give a shit’ about Triabunna because of attitudes within the community.

In the week that followed his invective against not just residents of the struggling woodchip and fishing township, but the entire Bogan State of Tasmania, there has been diverse commentary, both outside and within the municipality as to the Mayor’s statement that has amused some outsiders and bemused and even incensed many locals.

It has given rise to a petition censuring the Mayor, and calling for his instant resignation. I am at this point not privy to its contents but am apprised that it paraphrases as Mayor Cadart compromising the integrity of his main role as promoting the value of the region to visitors and developers.

One spokesperson who has played a key role in distributing the offending article in its entirety, originating from a senior Federal Liberal MP’s office, that the petition, has in fact crossed municipal borders in unison with Mayor Cadart’s refusal to call a no-confidence meeting in himself.

Apparently only the Mayor has the discretion to put a no-confidence motion on the agenda.

But where the stalling the no-confidence meeting may be in his favour, it may also work against the flamboyant media-magnet flag-flyer, whose sartorial op-shop elegance matches his broken English eloquence.

Time may in fact heighten the anger against him and increase the volume of online and hard-copy petition signatories who appear to have abandoned lynch-mob ropes for a more fitting French-style execution tower.

Whatever happens the momentum of anger has increased, not dissipated. An informant this day has told me that locals are demanding some action, are incensed at his refusal to resign and even one observer is looking at actions against a Mayor for alleged breach of codes of conduct.

Contrary to the view of some commentators, some polemicists, some gallery-chucklers, (mostly outsiders) of a storm in a teacup that will dissipate over time, it appears to be a storm under a tea-cup. A tea-cup that Le Frog has put himself into ... and one that may boil him to death before he gets a chance to hop out.

After tonight’s mayoral tactical win-win, anti-climax it’s gonna be hard to get the media back, who would consider traveling all the way to Triabunna to hear a Deputy Mayor renege on her threat to vent her feelings ... a waste of time and media resources.

On another front, Cr Jenny Woods told me at the weekend that she had made an appointment to see the Premier Will Hodgman today (Monday), in regard to a related matter where the town’s anger also resides, the woodchip mill itself. I hopefully will catch up with Cr Woods for a run down on the meeting. While I cannot at this point confirm the basis of the meeting, but understand that it revolves around the allegedgutting of the mill’s vital organs by its new owners soon after take-over.

Tonight’s well-circulated expectation that was to punctuate ire and discontent with Mayor Cadart, add a step in the ladder to his resignation and keep the controversy alive will more than likely send a message to the Premier’s office AND the media.

That message? Who really gives a shit what happens in Triabunna. 

If there was a change of heart from Cr Crawford and she did in fact remonstrate, then I missed it. By now you’d be reading all about it in the mainstream news. A much-respected councillor, she may have had good reasons for her change of heart, but in the real world of politics and media-driven events, as this has become, Cr Crawford may have missed a chance to further the cause of retribution for her electorate.

• Charles Bruce, in Comments: Ok who won the national bogan title? seven contestants made it through to the event, four from Tasmania. It was televised on channel 7 mate, 9.30 last night.