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Grafton News

Ashley’s retirement a decision of the heart

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Going, going… Clarence Valley Council general manager Ashley Lindsay has begun his exit strategy from council. He went on long service leave on Friday and will officially resign in October next year.

Ashley’s retirement a decision of the heart

By Tim Howard

Four years of leading from the front for Clarence Valley Council general manager has taken its toll on the 22-year veteran of local government Ashley Lindsay.
Mr Lindsay, who came to the Clarence Valley from Sydney’s Northern Beaches to take up the finance manager’s role at Maclean Shire Council in 1999, retired last Friday after four of the toughest years in the region’s history.

Pitched into the role after the sudden departure of his predecessor Scott Greensill in March 2017, he found himself leading his council through crisis after crisis.
Some were self inflicted, like dealing with the asbestos uncovered on the site of the council’s controversial South Grafton depot build.
Others, like imposing a three-year rate hike through a special rates variation and meeting the State Government’s Fit for the Future requirements, were imposed from outside.
And the triple whammy of drought, fire and floods which devastated the Valley in quick succession between 2018 and 2020, was definitely a force of nature.
And as he considered his exit strategy to retirement, Mr Lindsay has found himself leading the council through a once-in-a-century pandemic, which has turned this term of council into a five-and-a-quarter-year marathon.

“I originally intended to work with the new council for the first few months after the election in September and then go about now,” he said.
That time frame went out the window when the election, originally postponed for 12 months from September last year, was put off until December 4.
Mr Lindsay contemplated altering his plans until a “health scare” in mid May reframed his view of the job.
“The health scare that I had, that certainly gave me some direction on what I should do and that was get out of a stressful environment,” he said.
Typically Mr Lindsay downplayed the “scare”.

It was actually a potentially lethal brush with ventricular tachycardia, which in his case was the bottom chambers of his heart beating out of synch with the top chambers.
The result was lack of oxygen reaching the brain and his decision to go to hospital rather than go home for a lie down, saved his life.
“I was lucky, my heart rate was 217 when I got on the table,” he said.

“They hit me with the paddles. I was wide awake. I jumped. I felt like I hit the roof
“It whacked my heart back into rhythm. Then I went off to Lismore and Gold Coast and had the pacemaker put in. If I’d gone home, I would have laid down. It would have been it.”

Council amalgamation is another issue that has played out during his time in Clarence Valley councils and he has changed his views on it over time.
But he also believed the State Government could have handled the 2004 version in a more financially responsible fashion.
“I marched up the main street of Maclean with all the other staff, opposing the amalgamation when it was being considered,” he said.
Mr Lindsay found himself right at the coal face when the call to amalgamate came.

“I took the call from the Minister for Local Government (Tony Kelly),” he said. “Ross Bryant was the general manager of the day and he was away at the time.
“So I took the call, that said ‘your council’s been sacked’.”

But unlike the 2016 round of council amalgamations, where councils received between $10 million and $15 million from the government to smooth the process, the new Clarence Valley Council was left to fend for itself.

Accompanying the amalgamations were regulations forbidding forced staff redundancies for three years, but there was an even bigger and more costly challenge that soaked up any savings amalgamation might have meant for the new council.

“It was significant for us to get all the offices networked up for IT purposes,” he said.
“We had to go to tender for a new corporate finance system.

“Initially the councils operated from the amalgamation date through to July 1 2005 we were using the former councils’ accounting systems.
“So Grafton, Copmanhurst, Maclean and Pristine Waters. We were all paying the staff with the former council’s accounting systems, then consolidating those to create the first set of accounts for Clarence Valley Council.”

He said the inability of the council to exploit the efficiencies of amalgamation allied to the failure of state government to subsidise the costs, contributed to the need for the Special Rates Variation which jacked up rates by 8% a year from 2018-19 to 2020-21.
The amalgamation also turned a lot of the public against the council and more than 17 years later many in the community would like to see the decision reversed.
But Mr Lindsay is not one of them.

He described the merger of the four general purpose and two county councils as “the best outcome for local government in the Clarence Valley”.
“The organisation now has the capacity to meet the various challenges that face local government,” he said.
“We’ve got greater capacity. The replacement of the timber bridges is a great example.

“The organisation has a greater capacity to manage. We’ve got $31 million in grant money to replace 31 timber bridges.
“Some of those we’re doing ourselves, through us managing the project. Others we’re working with Transport for NSW and Kyogle Shire Council through a joint tender process.”

Working at this scale both allowed the council to fix a problem that’s been building in the region for decades and create some real cost savings.
“Long term that’s a significant operating cost reduction for us, because those bridges should last 100 years,” he said.
He also said the council’s decision to stop borrowing and reduce its debt will pay dividends.

“I think the general fund should be debt free by 2027-28 – and that’s not far away – that will be an annual saving of between $3 million and $4 million a year that can be allocated to other infrastructure.”
While Mr Lindsay was confident he was handing over the council in a better state than when he took control, there was still a major financial issue to work on.
“On the downside of things, we still don’t meet out infrastructure benchmarks,” he said.

“Asset management and identifying and putting together everything we look after has been a real challenge.
“We’ve discovered in the last 12 months a number of assets that flood plain and water assets that we didn’t have on our books.
“What that’s done, it’s increased our depreciation which has impacted on our operating performance ratio.

“I believe council’s in a sound financial position, but it’s still got some way to go to address the infrastructure renewal that’s required and do it at the right time.”
Mr Lindsay also has some thoughts on his replacement.

There was some controversy about the council appointing governance director Laura Black as acting general manager when Mr Lindsay stepped down.
Council voted 5-4 in favour of Ms Black, but the five supporting votes came from councillors not contesting Saturday’s poll.
Mr Lindsay was concerned the new council might overturn that decision.

“That would be disappointing,” he said. “I don’t think the council had a good experience when Stuart McPherson left, they appointed an acting general manager from outside the organisation.

“I feel the councillors of the day found it was not a good experience for them.
He said in discussions with the mayor and senior staff decided to seek stability in the team.

“We’ve only just appointed a new director of environment and planning and the director of works and civil, Jamie Fleeting only been here 18 months,” Mr Lindsay said.
“We’ve embarked on significant change in the organisation. Were still trying to put together the new organisational structure.
“Laura is very much aware of the direction we’re taking and what we need to achieve.
“She has a very good understanding of the new integrated planning and reporting requirements for the council.”
While the council has been a part of for more than two decades begins to reshape itself, Mr Lindsay was looking forward to getting away from it all and returning to his home town of Warialda to spend time with his parents.

“I haven’t been able to get home for more than six months, so that’s one of the first things on my agenda,” he said.
But the council staff hasn’t seen the last of him as he plans to continue his fortnightly Brekky with the Boss sessions he started when he came to the job.
“I cook a barbecue breakfast and staff have a chance to talk with me about issues at work,” he said.

It’s also a chance for us to recognise staff achievements and hand out awards to recognise milestones in careers and other achievements.”

 

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Champ back to defend South Cup

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Cepheus hits the line a neck in front of New Zealand galloper Cotohele to win the 2023 Grafton Toyota South Grafton Cup (1600m). He has nominated for Sunday’s race, which is a qualifying event for the $3 million Big Dance in November.

Champ back to defend South Cup

 

By Tim Howard

After a stunning opening day at the 2024 Grafton July Racing Carnival all eyes have turned to the running of the 2024 South Grafton Cup.

Clarence Valley Jockey Club executive officer Michael Beattie said the excitement for this race has taken off in the racing community since it became an entry vehicle for the $3 million Big Dance.

He said on Monday that nominations had not yet closed for the event, but there were already 20 entrants for Sunday’s big race.

Among them is the Murwillumbah trained galloper Cepheus, last year’s winner and runner up in the Big Dance.

“Cepheus is back to defend his title, but I would say the main reason is to have another shot at the Big Dance,” Beattie said.

Beattie said the seven-year-old gelding looked to be in even better form than when he qualified for the race at Grafton and showed enough form to become one of the race favourites.

“I would argue this year he is in even better form than last year,” Beattie said.

“This time last year, coming into the South Cup, Cepheus had gone around in the Glasshouse, and run second in the Glasshouse, which was a Listed race.

“And he’d run fourth in the Eye Liner, which is also a Listed race.”

Beattie said Cepheus has not enjoyed the same results as last year, but has been racing in better quality events.

“This year’s he’s racing in two Group Ones, where he’s admittedly finished down the track, the George Ryder and the Stradbroke, but this time last year he’d only ever had one run at Group One level,” he said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind the horse is going equally well, if not better than last year.”

Beattie said Cepheus was likely to meet a stronger field in this year’s race, although it was hard to tell until nominations closed.

He said the opening day of racing for the carnival on Sunday, the Kensei Club Community Race Day, could not have gone better.

“We were absolutely thrilled to have enough entries to run a nine-race program,” he said.

“And we had a crowd comparable to last year’s, which was great to see.”

He said the CRJC had changed the format of the day, making six of the nine races a prelude to races later in the carnival.

“Essentially those horses that were contesting those races were here simply for the reason that they wanted to contest the better races later in the carnival,” Beattie said.

He said the winner of the Grafton Cup prelude, Full Press, was almost certain to run in the Grafton Cup on July 18.

“He’s a Coffs Harbour-trained horse so I’m certain he’ll take his place in the Cup field,” he said.

He said the strength of Sunday’s fields was a vindication for the club’s move to include more prelude races in the program.

“It gets trainers to think earlier about coming to Grafton,” he said.

“The best way they can guarantee they get a runner in the Ramornie, or Grafton Cup, is to come and win a prelude race.”

He said it was good for the punters to see these horses earlier in the carnival.

“They get a chance to see which horses are in form and follow them through the carnival,” he said.

Beattie was also pleased with vibe the carnival generated on its opening day.

“The first day is family day, there’s free entry and there was a big crowd down at the Westlawn tent enjoying the free entertainment,” he said.

“And the betting ring was, as it always is, very busy which is a great thing to see.

“There was just a really good feel for the day and that bodes really well for the rest of the carnival.”

 

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80 years on French village keeps memory of two Grafton airmen alive

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Grafton woman Helen Huxley, left and Alstonville's Colette Dalton have helped keep alive the memory of two uncles Hedley Jenkins and Bill Paul, from Grafton, who were killed when their plane crashed during a bombing raid in World War 2.

80 years on French village keeps memory of two Grafton airmen alive

 

By Tim Howard

Flight Sergeants Arthur Hedley Jenkins and William Paul might be names only a few in their home town of Grafton would know, but in a tiny French village they are among a group of 15 aircrew remembered every year.

Next week the population of Lignieres-de-Touraine, a village in France near Tours, will gather in their communal cemetery for the 80th anniversary of a terrible night when two fully bomb laden Avro Lancaster bombers collided over the village, bursting into flames and exploding on contact with the ground.

All 15 airmen died in the crash which contemporary Lignierois rushing from their beds described as a “…sight like the apocalypse, spread over several square kilometres. When dawn broke the last bombs were still exploding.”

This year the niece of Flt Sgt Paul, Alstonville woman Colette Dalton, will join the villagers on July 16.

And the niece of Flt Sgt Jenkins, Grafton woman Helen Huxley, has organised for Clarence Valley Mayor Peter Johnstone to send a letter to the mayor of Lignieres, thanking the people for their kindness.

The two men, Bill Paul from South Grafton and Hedley Jenkins from Southgate, met at Grafton High School and became great mates.

In an article she wrote about her uncle and his mate for the Clarence River Historical Society, Mrs Huxley recalled how the two young men had been excited to fly in the same plane.

The article in the local newspaper recording when the two men were declared missing in action.

The article in the local newspaper recording when the two men were declared missing in action.

In 1943, aged just 19, the pair enlisted, determined to do their bit for the war effort.

“Flying on their 13th mission with the 467 Squadron, the two were overjoyed to be members of the same air crew.

“They were close friends, attending Grafton High together and now making a contribution to the war effort on behalf of the Jenkins family in Southgate and the Paul family from South Grafton.

“Photographs in RAAF uniform suggest young, energetic men, looking forward to a wonderful life post-war.

“Airgraphs, kept by the families, mention concern for their friends in other avenues of the war and record small glimpses of their lives.

“Writing to his brother Ron in March 1944, Hedley commented on the snow in England – obviously no longer a novelty to him.

“Apart from the cold, it created a great deal of work clearing the runways ‘…and one gets a little cold after a while. My sympathy is all for the Russians.’

“There were also bright spots: in June 1944, Bill wrote to his father, about looking forward to nine day’s leave with ‘Jenks’ at Rose Ockenden’s family home.

“Referring to a previous leave spent with the family, he enthused ‘…and gee did we have a swell time or not’.”

A Lancaster B.I (R5868) S for Sugar which flew with the same unit in which Flt Sgts Bill Paul and Hedley Jenkins served, 467 Squadron RAAF. S for Sugar completed 137 sorties while with No. 83 Squadron and No. 467 Squadron. In May 1944 it reached the 100 sortie milestone, with a raid on Flensburg Harbour, Germany. On April 23 1945 it flew its last operational sortie. This aircraft is on display at the Royal Air Force Museum, London.

A Lancaster B.I (R5868) S for Sugar which flew with the same unit in which Flt Sgts Bill Paul and Hedley Jenkins served, 467 Squadron RAAF. S for Sugar completed 137 sorties while with No. 83 Squadron and No. 467 Squadron. In May 1944 it reached the 100 sortie milestone, with a raid on Flensburg Harbour, Germany. On April 23 1945 it flew its last operational sortie. This aircraft is on display at the Royal Air Force Museum, London.

The two men were crew members aboard Lancaster ME 851 in 467 Squadron RAAF.

Just the month before they had flown on raids covering the D-Day landings at Normandy and on July 15 they were one of 220 bombers targeting the marshalling yards near the French city of Nevers.

With 10 1000lb and three 500lb bombs aboard they took off from RAF Waddington at 10.19pm on July 15.

Fltr Sgt Paul was a wireless operator and air gunner and Flt Sgt Jenkins was the plane’s tail gunner.

At about 3am July 16, ME 851 collided with Lancaster ME807 of RAF No. 207 Squadron above Lignières-de-Touraine. Both aircraft burst into flame and crashed to the ground, where their bomb loads exploded.

The villagers insisted on the burial of the men, which the occupying Germans allowed, with some conditions.

“They were allowed to collect the bodies and bury them, but they insisted there was to be no mourning or signs of grief,” Mrs Huxley said.

Flight Sergeant Bill Paul

Flight Sergeant Bill Paul

The grief may have been hidden on the night but for decades the sadness from that time lived on.l

“Colette told me that in the last one or two commemoration ceremonies she’s been to, there was a man by himself who was just sobbing his heart out,” she said.

“Someone explained to her he had been a young boy on the night that collision occurred.

“He had been one of the people allowed to go and gather what were basically body parts.

“I think they were told not to talked about how bodies were, it’s all a bit gruesome to think about but so he was involved in that.”

“It was very much alive in the older villagers minds that that particular story and is such a big part of their heritage.”

Mrs Huxley said she had grown up wondering about the “great sadness surrounding the very formal photograph of a young man in uniform  displayed on the lounge room wall.”

She was also intrigued by the foreign names inscribed on a metal plaque under the photo and they stuck in her memory.

“Fast forward and my husband Ian and I have visited Lignieres several times, locating Hedley and Bill’s graves and, by a stroke of wonderful luck, meeting a local lady, Mme Joseyane Casez, who collects information and photos about the two air crews from visiting relatives,” she said.

Flight Sergeant Arthur Hedley Jenkins.


Flight Sergeant Arthur Hedley Jenkins.

“Another great lady, Mme Lilliane Marolleau, who mercifully speaks English, adores befriending Australians and takes a special interest in connecting the descendants of the air crews.

“She was delighted to inform us that Colette Dalton, a niece of Bill, lives ‘down the road’ in Alstonville.

“Colette and her family have made many pilgrimages to Lignieres and are keenly interested in preserving the story.”

“Through Lillian, we met her circle of friends, particularly ones that could speak some English,” she saiid.

“And you know, we would have been in people’s homes to have dinners and being given gifts and just been really treated like we were royalty.”

While thrilled at the reception, the motivation behind it puzzled her until she questioned a French guide on the Normandy battlefield sites about it.

“I said we’re really happy that they’re grateful that a member of our family died to help them but can’t expect people to be grateful for centuries kind of thing,” Mrs Huxley said.

“He said you don’t understand because in Australia, you’ve never lived under occupation.

“So you cannot understand our continuing gratitude because members of your family have died to help us.

“So that was quite an interesting conversation to have.”

 

For more local Grafton news, click here.

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Clarence Valley News

At last. Shirley Adams gets her Way

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Shirley Adams Way Sign

At last. Shirley Adams gets her Way

 

By Tim Howard

A jarring anomaly that has irked Clarence Valley residents from the moment it was first unveiled is about to be rectified.

Next month the name of the road that crosses the Balun Bindarray Bridge in Grafton will be changed from Shirley Way to Shirley Adams Way, finally giving correct recognition of the first female mayor of Grafton and a community champion.

Since November 2022 the section or road has been signposted as Shirley Way, setting off protests from every level of the community.

It has taken concerted efforts from Mrs Adam’s husband John, daughter Virginia, Clarence MP Richie Williamson and the Clarence Valley Council to get naming authority the Geographical Names Board to accept the community’s wishes.

The Adams family requested the approaches be renamed “Shirley Adams Way” to properly recognise Shirley Adams and ensure her memory lives on.

But the board refused the original request to use Mrs Adams full name because it had only recently introduced a ruling banning two word names because of the risk of confusion when directing emergency services units to specific addresses.

Since coming to office in March 2023, the Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Jenny Aitchison kickstarted a special process to allow for Shirley Way to be renamed Shirley Adams Way, in line with the family’s request.

After a public consultation took place earlier this year, Minister Aitchison last week approved the change in name and Shirley Adams Way will be the new name of the road from late July.

The minister said Ms Adams was the first female mayor of the then Grafton City Council, a former Jacaranda Queen, Jacaranda Festival President in 1976 and 1977, a Jacaranda Festival life member and was deeply involved in NSW Girl Guides, the United Hospital Auxiliary, Meals on Wheels, Clarence River Historical Society, Country Women’s Association, and many other organisations.

She was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 1989.

“Last week I was pleased to approve the renaming of Shirley Way in Grafton to Shirley Adams Way,” Minister Aitchison said.

“This is a fitting tribute to Shirley Adams OAM who served as Grafton’s first female mayor and was also the first woman to lead the Country Mayor’s Association of NSW.

“In recognition of her services to local government and the Girl Guide Movement, Ms Adams also received a medal in the Order of Australia (OAM).”

Former Grafton Mayor Shirley Adams, with her husband John Adams

Former Grafton Mayor Shirley Adams, who died in June 2020, with her husband John Adams. Mr Adams has lobbied the government tirelessly for the name change on the bridge approaches.

The Minister said renaming the road was something she had supported since it first came to her attention.

“To honour Shirley’s legacy, it’s only right we rename this road, she said. “It’s come after years of campaigning and advocacy and is a great win for Shirley’s family and the broader Clarence Valley community.

“Everyone has always wanted the road to be renamed Shirley Adams Way and I am pleased that the NSW Labor Government has been able to make this happen.”

Ms Aitchison said the number of submissions calling for the change had been “overwhelming”.

“Given this and the special place Shirley Adams holds in the hearts of Clarence Valley community, I felt renaming the road to Shirley Adams Way was a simple, common sense way to honour the memory and legacy of a trailblazing woman,” she said.

“I am in awe of Shirley’s service to the Grafton and Clarence Valley communities.

“In coming weeks Transport for NSW will install new signage to mark the changing of the road name and the team will work with relevant organisations to notify them of the change.”

The minister has also reached out to the Adams family to notify them of the impending changes.

“I’ve spoken to Shirley’s daughter Virginia and she is just thrilled, she said.

“I’m looking forward to visiting Grafton to meet with Shirley’s family and friends to celebrate the renaming of the road when the new signs go up.

There has been bi-partisan support for the change, with the Minister acknowledging the work of Mr Williamson.

“I want to thank Richie Williamson MP and the Clarence Valley Council for their ongoing advocacy,” she said.

Mr Williamson said the change “just makes sense”.

“The name Shirley Adams is synonymous not only in Grafton but across the Clarence Valley and it is a fitting tribute to a remarkable lady and a dear friend who was a staunch advocate not only for her local community, but in encouraging women’s participation in public life and decision making,” he said.

“Shirley had a burning desire to make Grafton a better place and had a genuine love for the people of the city.”

Mr Williamson said the family would be relieved that the right decision had finally been made.

“I know her husband John Adams OAM and family are incredibly proud as is the community of Shirley’s legacy,” he said.

“The renaming of the road is a fitting tribute in honour and recognition of her service to local government, the girl guide movement and the wider community, and I look forward to the road officially being renamed with her family in the very near future.”

 

For more local Grafton news, click here.

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