PORT Welshpool’s iconic Long Jetty still has legions of supporters keen to see the historic structure restored and re-opened.
That was made apparent at a public meeting, attended by upwards of 100 people, at the old ferry terminal in Port Welshpool last Friday night.
For more than two hours, impassioned speakers took a turn at the microphone to air their views. Many vented their spleen at the jetty’s managing body, Gippsland Ports, accusing the authority of treating the Long Jetty as a liability rather than an asset. Emotions ran high, with rational argument coming a poor second to passion, but the meeting left no doubt in anyone’s mind that despite widespread frustration after years of unsuccessful lobbying, the will to go on with the fight for the jetty is still strong.
The meeting was called by South Gippsland Shire Councillors Jeanette Harding and Mohya Davies in a bid to gauge support for the jetty in the wake of another failed attempt to get federal government funding for restoration work.
Fellow councillors Andrew McEwen, Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks, Kieran Kennedy and Don Hill also attended the meeting, along with Gippsland South’s representative in Victorian Parliament, The Nationals’ Danny O’Brien, and the endorsed Labor candidate for the federal seat of McMillan, Chris Buckingham. The federal (Liberal) member for McMillan, Russell Broadbent, was an apology, and there was no representative from Gippsland Ports at the meeting.
Roger Harvey, who owns land at Port Welshpool, and has long campaigned for the rebuild of the jetty (he was behind the WANTED poster which injected some humour into the campaign for federal funding) said it was “incredibly disappointing” that Mr Broadbent did not attend. The word from the federal member’s office was simply that Mr Broadbent was unavailable on that day.
Mr Harvey was also highly critical of Gippsland Ports. He noted that the Gippsland Ports website states that ‘Gippsland Ports was established in 1996 to provide a regional service to the local community, visitors and other user groups’.
“It seems they are not meeting that charter, and appear to behave as an autonomous government agency with little regard for the local community in which they are located, or visitation to that community that will be drawn by the rebuilt Long Jetty,” said Mr Harvey.
The Long Jetty has been closed for many years – ever since it was closed for safety reasons following partial destruction by fire in June 2003. There have been countless pleas from the public, amateur fishermen in particular, for money to be spent on restoring the jetty to at least a standard safe for pedestrians.
At last Friday’s meeting, Shire CEO Tim Tamlin ran through a question and answer sheet on the Long Jetty restoration project and outlined the situation as it currently stands.
He said that in July 2015 Gippsland Ports estimated the cost of the restoration project at $10.6 million. Council has committed $1 million through the Corner Inlet Tourism Development Project and the state government $5 million. Even this money, however, is dependent on federal funding.
Council has applied for the balance of funding – $4.6 million – through the Commonwealth Government’s National Stronger Regions Fund (NSRF) – or equivalent – four times, without success.
Mr Tamlin stated that Gippsland Ports recently announced that an updated condition assessment will need to be undertaken in the coming months due to the rapid deterioration of the jetty. This assessment, due to be undertaken by mid-March, is likely to result in an increase to the overall project cost.
Gippsland Ports is now saying that support for a fifth application from Council to the NSRF is conditional on additional funding being provided to undertake risk mitigation works and a detailed condition assessment, which is expected to cost approximately $310,000.
Cr Harding said that the restoration of the Long Jetty would have far-reaching benefits. She said that signatures on a petition calling for funding for the jetty had come from people who lived far from the jetty – but liked to visit the area – and she urged the shire to work with neighbouring shires with a view to maximizing the tourism potential for Gippsland as a whole.
Mr Harvey invited the ALP candidate for McMillan, Chris Buckingham, a former manager of Gippsland Tourism, to speak from a tourism industry point of view. Mr Buckingham urged the community to be positive in its vision for the future of the jetty. Any application for funding, for example, should perhaps include a vision of hundreds of people enjoying the experience of fishing from the jetty.
Cr Davies expanded on this point. “We need to fall in behind the funding application with letters of support, perhaps even stories about good times on the jetty and its cultural and historical significance to the community.”
Several people spoke enthusiastically of seizing management control of the jetty from Gippsland Ports and turning it over to the community.
Danny O’Brien offered to investigate the possibility of a new system of management, but cautioned against the community running a multi-million dollar enterprise, saying it would be “a very big undertaking”.
Brian Mattingly, chair of the Port Welshpool Working Group, said the jetty was once engagingly referred to as “the poor man’s boat”. He invited the community to make pledges of funding for the jetty in a book which the working group has started.
One of the most constructive suggestions came from Peter Rose, who runs the general store at Port Welshpool. He recommended seeking funding from Esso-BHP Billiton and/or Dick Smith, both of whom have indicated support at one time or another.
“That’s a cracker of an idea,” said Tim Tamlin. He said this would fit in well with the recommendation from the federal funding body to involve an extra funding partner or two in the project.
Cr McEwen supported the plan to apply to Esso-BHP Billiton for funding. He also suggested sourcing crowd funding.
“The reality is that we have to put an application in by March 15,” he reminded everyone.
After the meeting, Roger Harvey singled out a couple more suggestions as worthwhile of pursuit. “Paul Hamlett has previously suggested an interactive display at the end of the jetty showcasing the oil rig and drilling process. That’s a good idea, together with the original underwater observatory.”
Mr Tamlin said that the community will be kept informed on the campaign to restore the Long Jetty through a link on the council web page, which will also be open to receive comments. Council will review progress on the restoration project and discuss further action at its next meeting at the end of February.