Huon Valley Guessing Games Cygnet’s Burtons Reserve has a perfectly good children’s playground. So what is council doing? It’s going splurge a spare $70,000 to give the reserve yet another one (just as, wastefully, happened on Huonville’s Esplanade).

Mike Wilson

Robert Armstrong

Cygnet’s Loongana Park had a refurbishable public toilet block that was delightfully muralled two decades ago by primary students. So what did council do this year? It demolished it, and, splurged nearly a quarter-of-a-million dollars on building a drab rectangular block, described to Cr Bruce Heron by one person at the November Cygnet Town Forum as looking “like a jail”.

Cygnet long had a perfectly good water supply from Grey Mountain (the pipeline admittedly in need of refurbishment after long years of council neglect, and it might have cost a couple of million or so to fix it). So, what did council do? Because federal pollies were throwing millions around in promises at 2007 election time, Mayor Robert Armstrong and his men secretly dreamed up a ‘Huon Valley Water Scheme’, initially costed at $18-million, a substantial portion to be covered by Canberra money. The project was eventually passed to Southern Water, which finally ran up a bill admitted to be at least $30 million. (Don’t know where the extra $12 million was found, but we can rest assured it will ultimately come out of our pockets, probably plus interest.) A new water supply certainly was needed for Geeveston, its own supply having been stuffed up by forestry activity in its water catchment area; but the east side of the Huon could have continued to be served much more cheaply from Grey Mountain rather than by laying miles of pipeline and spending millions on electricity-heavy pumping infrastructure.

Cygnet had a passably good walking track to the Port Cygnet Sailing Club. So what did council do? It spent thousands refurbishing it. The track certainly was improved, but the money could have been better used.

Cygnet doesn’t have a serious parking problem; it’s just that Mayor Robert Armstrong seems to think no one is capable of enduring a short walk from the hundreds of parking spaces along Mary Street. So council is now in the process of blowing more than half-a-million dollars on a car park (for 37 cars, two disabled vehicles and eight large vehicles) behind the Town Hall; when it would be better advised to use the money to build a roadway behind the east side retail strip (as shown on the 2010 council-endorsed township plan). Such a development would simultaneously (i) ease traffic flow; (ii) provide many more parking spaces than the over-engineered car park design council has in mind; and (iii) allow for easy rear-delivery access to all properties along the east side of Mary Street.

But when it comes to something the people of Cygnet are actually calling for, you can forget it! Cygnet’s Town Hall really needs a lift to its second floor Supper Room, which is much more often used for public functions than the grand hall downstairs. But, surprise, surprise, such a project is still well over the horizon. In fact, if council sticks to the stated schedule of its 10-year new-asset plan, the sun will have long set for many of the elderly and infirm who can’t easily access Supper Room events. Tentatively, a lift for the Cygnet Town Hall is slotted for financial year 2022-23. Long-time lift campaigner Marianne Bekkema is not impressed — and, in a humorously chiding way, she told the mayor so at the November 13 town forum. The mayor lamely responded that the new-asset program was “unanimously agreed by all councillors”.

Not just Cygnet gets a raw deal from the Futures Team-controlled council. For example, Franklin had a delightfully quaint historic building alongside its oval that had been since its 1940s beginnings the football clubrooms and scoreboard. One of its features was a fine, recently laid, dance floor. The building could have earned council thousands as a set for period-film making, or perhaps as a museum. Whichever use it might have been put to, it would always have been a quaint tourism drawcard. Despite a popular and growing petition to save the clubrooms, the mayor, his councillor backers and senior council management saw no intrinsic value in the building. So, back on February 26, 2009, council-contracted bulldozers (with police in attendance) turned up at dawn, and, amid clouds of asbestos-contaminated dust, the building was destroyed (see ‘Outrage at Franklin’ and ‘Death in the Morning’ By day’s end, the site had been levelled and gravelled. Today, nearly four years later, in that lovely building’s place stands a couple of wooden picnic tables. I understand Franklin Township Committee is now mulling over what to do with this barren space. Council, having indulged itself in a manic bout of cultural philistinism, obviously had no formal plan for the site.

Another episode of Huon Valley Council’s sad saga of wrongheaded thinking was played out last Monday (November 18) in the Huonville Council Chambers. At a grumpy monthly meeting, Mayor Armstrong and Deputy Mayor Mike Wilson were in hectoring mood. It may possibly have been something they had eaten — or perhaps it was because sidelined General Manager Glenn Doyle was not there to keep things nice.

Repeatedly, Armstrong demanded of Cr Liz Smith, “Do you have an engineering degree?” He was hassling her because she had had the temerity a few weeks earlier to offer up an alternative, more township-plan compatible, suggestion for the proposed Cygnet car park. Smith responded that although she did not have an engineering degree, she did have a planning degree. (The mayor seems unaware that planners plan and engineers execute planners’ plans.)

Earlier, during “questions without notice”, Wilson had aggressively demanded of Cr Rosalie Woodruff whether, as a “pre-selected” Australian Greens candidate for the federal seat of Franklin, she supported the “illegal” actions of protesters at Ta Ann. (This writer is not aware that charges laid against those demonstrators have yet been before the courts for testing as to whether “illegal” acts were committed. Perhaps Wilson is not much impressed by the concept of “innocent until proved guilty”.) Woodruff, despite repeated urging by Wilson, stood on her dignity, responding that she supports the rights of anyone to indulge in non-violent action.

What was noticeable about these two exchanges was the consistently respectful and polite demeanour of Smith and Woodruff while they were being hectored. As Huon Valley’s top two “civic leaders”, Armstrong and Wilson might remind themselves that they, too, should take on board pleas such as we have been hearing these past weeks at town forums from acting General Manager Simone Watson. She has been calling on all forum participants to “show respect and goodwill”.

If I were Smith or Woodruff, I would be considering lodging, to the appropriate authority, at least harassment (if not bullying) charges. What I saw at council on November 19 was unacceptably offensive verbal behaviour not becoming of civic leaders.

Three other happenings of note at the November 19 council meeting:

— The normally respectful and thoughtful Cr Peter Pepper was, for a second time since returning to council last year, going on about “anarchists”, this time the “anarchists that attacked Ta Ann”. He urged the mayor that council should do its best to get both sides of the forestry story out there. I agree, with the proviso that everyone does their best to stick to the facts and ignore the myths.

— Cr Rohan Gudden’s, vis-à-vis the Burtons Reserve second playground project, said, “We’ve got the money. Let’s spend it”. Council’s youngest member, a man of few public words, is getting a handle on Futures Team lingo. Council’s motto, a la Futures Team, might just as well be, “Bugger the finessing, let’s get on with it”. Partly because of this near-enough-is-good-enough-ness, innate Huon Valley attractions and old-time charm are constantly in danger of being whittled away by the effects of Futures Team-style “progress”.

— And a bit of good news. Despite rumblings that Glen Huon Hall was to go the way of the Franklin football clubrooms, the building is to be saved. Resistance from people in Glen Huon, and, it seems, persuasive argument from Manager Corporate Services Mike Norman, have resulted in the allocation of more than $200,000 to refurbish the hall over the next two years.

It’s amazing just how flexible the Futures Team can be when it suits them. It’s just that they rarely seem prepared to be flexible when it comes to listening to Cygnet people who care about the image and efficiency of their township.

(Bob Hawkins is a friend of Crs Liz Smith and Rosalie Woodruff.)