First half full of ups and downs
The final year of the decade was full of highs and lows for Kununurra, Wyndham, Halls Creek and the wider East Kimberley.
Take a look back at the biggest news stories that made headlines in the first half of 2019.
Upside to low happy score
Wyndham-East Kimberley residents were declared among the unhappiest Australians according to a quality of life study — but they were still marginally better off than those in neighbouring shires.
Bond University researcher Caroline Graham said she hoped the findings would give communities a direction to tackle the challenges they were facing.
Fire damage hits $5m
The damage caused by a fire set at Kununurra District High School (now East Kimberley College) was estimated at $5 million by the Department of Education.
The accused Joshua Patrick Horne, then 18, was charged with aggravated burglary, two counts of criminal damage by fire and destruction of property.
Editor’s note: Horne has not been convicted of the crime and is due to appear in court later this month with a current plea of not guilty.
Top of the food chain
A giant saltwater crocodile stunned onlookers as it glided through water with a cow clasped between its jaws near a popular swimming and fishing sport in the East Kimberley.
Marc Watson and his wife Mandy were fishing behind Ivanhoe Crossing on the lower Ord River in Kununurra when they managed to capture images of the creature.
An additional direct flight between Kununurra and Perth was set to be added to Virgin Australia’s timetable in February after increased demand.
State Tourism Minister Paul Papalia welcomed the news after the Government’s earlier announcement of a $1.2 million deal with the airline to promote the region to Eastern States residents.
Thousands of dollars were put back in the pockets of Kimberley employees after Fair Work found one in five businesses in the region weren’t paying them the right amount.
The money was recovered from 11 companies after audits in Kununurra, Broome and Derby, deemed necessary by a high volume of requests for assistance from workers.
WA coroner Ros Fogliani handed down her inquest findings into the deaths of 13 youngsters who died between 2012 and 2016 in the Kimberley, which had a higher suicide rate than anywhere else in Australia.
Ms Fogliani ruled alcohol, domestic violence, poverty, broken housing, poor school attendance and intergenerational trauma were all factors behind the deaths.
Bail house worry
Businesses and community groups spoke out against the proposed move of the Kununurra youth bail house into the Weaber Plain light industrial area.
Not-for-profit organisation Hope Community Services was in the settlement process of buying a property on Poincettia Way to house youth on bail who had nowhere else to go. Then East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce president Jill Williams led more than 30 businesses in a protest to the Shire to stop the move.
Star power revives muster
Australian music legend Pete Murray and award-winning rising star Amy Shark were announced as headline acts for the Kimberley Moon Experience.
The Argyle Diamonds Ord Valley Muster lived to see its 19th year with the artists and festival’s new event company announced after two months of doubt from the public the event would go ahead.
The potential closure of a section of road north of Kununurra faced opposition by local fishermen, who doubted the Shire’s claims they would still be able to access their favourite fishing spots.
Chinese-owned Kimberley Agriculture Investments requested the Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley hand over an 18.5km section of Carlton Hill Road, which traverses through the Carlton Hill Pastoral Lease to the station of the same name freehold property, to them.
Halls Creek District High School leavers were set to have secure jobs waiting for them thanks to a new Shire initiative.
Paid traineeships of up to $25,000 a year became available at the Shire of Halls Creek to graduates in any field they chose from last year.
Kununurra local Charlie Buckley was named Kununurra’s volunteer of the year for a decade of service as Crossing Falls volunteer fire brigade captain.
Mr Buckley was one of many residents, including fellow finalists Jackie Rodriguez and Mandy Watson with Wyndham winners Dick Daniels and Christine McLachlan, who were recognised for their selflessness at the Shire’s “Thank a Volunteer” events.
Ord Scheme a ‘failure’
The Ord-East Kimberley Development Plan has been labelled a “10-year failure” by the WA Public Accounts Committee.
The $517 million plan to double the size of the Ord Irrigation Scheme area was slammed for failing to address findings from a previous audit in 2019.
But the comments angered pastoralists, who said the review did not reflect the hard work being done by farmers in the Ord Valley.
‘Win-win’ land deal
A groundbreaking agreement between traditional landowners and the region’s biggest pastoral company was branded an enormous opportunity for pastoralists in the East Kimberley.
About 385,000ha of Miriwoong-Gajerrong land was set to be used by Northern Pastoral Management to grow 20,000 head of cattle, creating full-time positions for indigenous people with huge financial potential.
A large-scale road project that dragged on for more than a year resumed after wet season interruptions, but was not expected to be completed until six months past the initial finish date.
Work on the Great Northern Highway to improve access to Wyndham restarted in April, due to be completed in June.
The $56.1 million roadworks were originally scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018 but were in fact finished in July 2019.
A Kimberley-wide campaign to upgrade the long and dangerous Tanami Road dirt track garnered a $160 million funding commitment from the Federal Government.
Shire of Halls Creek president Malcolm Edwards united with the Kimberley’s three other shire leaders to lobby the Government’s pre-budget announcement to pump life into the industrial transport route from Alice Springs to Halls Creek.
Rates raided for free tip
Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley residents were set to see their 2019-20 rates go up, with some land owners expected to fork out an extra $250 a year.
SWEK president David Menzel said the increase would raise an extra $150,000 in revenue which was planned to be allocated to removing the cost of disposing domestic waste at Kununurra and Wyndham landfill sites.
Zero plans to cut insurance costs
A Federal Government investigation and regional hearings into high insurance prices in the North West resulted in nothing but talk, five months after a string of recommendations was made to reduce sky-rocketing premiums.
The first interim report from the Northern Australia Insurance Inquiry was released by the ACCC in December 2018 and carried by 15 recommendations aimed at improving transparency and reducing the cost burden of insurance across Australia’s north.
Nobel nominee cleared
Former Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Balgo community worker Dr Zohl de Ishtar was acquitted of indecent assault in Kununurra Magistrate’s Court after she was accused of sexually touching another woman.
The 66-year old told The Kimberley Echo she was looking forward to getting on with her work after the two-day trial.
Youth crime cash boost
The State Government set aside millions of dollars to address the youth crime spree which continued to plague the Kimberley.
It included a $900,000 to investigate alternatives to detention and $3.3 million for PCYC measures in Kununurra and Broome.
Crime-fighting strategy a success
The region’s most senior officer lauded as an “undeniable success” the injection of extra police into the Kimberley to target juvenile crimes.
Most of the extra police relieved the Kimberley-based officers of patrol duties to enable them to work exclusively in youth engagement.
Melbourne to Kununurra direct flights announced
Alliance Airlines, in conjunction with Virgin Australia, was confirmed to be launching direct flights from Melbourne to Kununurra in May 2020.
The East Kimberley Marketing Group, with the Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley, airline representatives and Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan, made the announcement on the Kimberley Moon Experience stage on May 24.
Freeze on Shire rates
The Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley has sent a clear message to ratepayers doing it tough by going back on its plan to raise property rates from June.
The Shire leadership was in disagreement over the citizen-funded portion of the budget, with Shire deputy president Tony Chafer wining the vote to freeze rates for the second year in a row.
Drugs in car leads to jail
A Kununurra man was sentenced to five years in prison after he was charged with a string of drug trafficking offences in Alice Springs.
Johnson Ryan Kirby, 40, attempted to smuggle large quantities of methamphetamine and cannabis from South Australia through the Northern Territory in November 2018 when he was arrested on the Stuart Highway.
History was made at the Argyle Homestead Museum as indigenous members of the Durack family were finally recognised in the revised family tree by Perpetua Durack Clancy and her brother Michael Durack.
Also announced at the museum’s 20th anniversary celebrations, the Miriwoong and Gajerrong traditional owners would be handed back a parcel of land formerly owned by the Durack family pastoralists, who pioneered the industry in the Kimberley during the colonial era.
School name change
Kununurra District High School announced its name change to East Kimberley College to officially recognise it as a comprehensive kindergarten through to Year 12 school.
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