The Naracoorte Lucindale Council Amalgamation: Part Three

This concludes our reflection on two decades since the Naracoorte District Council and Lucindale District Council merged together to create the unified council that we know today.

To catch up on what happened when, who is who, and how things played out, please feel free to read through Part One and Part Two

This series has been a massive undertaking, but my archival research pales in comparison to those who have prepared documents or relied on memory for these interviews. On an ethical note I understand that this is still a sensitive issue, with ripples that reach to the present. I can’t thank these interviewees enough for their time, patience, and knowledge in helping me complete this series. 

TREVOR RAYNER, FORMER LUCINDALE DISTRICT COUNCILLOR, CURRENT NARACOORTE LUCINDALE COUNCILLOR

“It hasn’t been suitable for Lucindale,” is Trevor Rayner’s blunt assessment of the amalgamation.

“Back in the time of the Lucindale District Council, we used to seal around three kilometres of road a year on a $2 million worker Budget. Now on average we seal three kilometres a year. We have 14 million in the (Council) budget, and yet we hardly do three kilometres of road sealing a year.”

This tipping of the scales may be due to administrative decisions, Trevor theorised. After all, whilst Lucindale loyally vote in candidates from their town, their council staff has been stripped back drastically.

There’s a small amount of municipal workers in the town, with a works depot that contains less than ten workers. Preventing the possible closure of the works depot is an issue that Trevor is focused on, and he has put up his hand to continue on as a councillor at this year’s local government elections.

While Trevor was identified as a Lucindale councillor who strongly opposed the merger with Naracoorte, he states that the Naracoorte council’s debt at the time didn’t influence his decision much.

What did bother Trevor at the time is the editor of the Naracoorte Herald, Richard Peake, who Trevor believes had a pro-amalgamation bias.

“Leaving even one word out, it completely changed what was said.”

But true, Naracoorte didn’t care as much about amalgamation as Lucindale. The Naracoorte Corporation and the Nararacoorte District Council “did better” with their amalgamation, according to Trevor.

“Lucindale voted against amalgamation, three to five. And the board came hard down on us – they didn’t merge Robe, or Kingston.  And the promises that they made in the amalgamation – a new council doesn’t have to abide by them. Initially, it was alright. But as time goes by, our voices aren’t heard as much.”

Trevor is worried about the upcoming election, and at how the rural communities will be represented. The rural-based candidates include Trevor, Kenneth (Toby) Robinson, Cameron Grundy and Ken Banning.

At least Lucindale looks after its own – it has always had a strong electoral turnout, and Trevor’s chances are helped by his service as a Lion for 40 years and work as a trust member of the Lucindale Health Board.

“There was nothing wrong with how it (the old council) was run. Robe and Kingston did alright – we could have done the same. Lucindale now needs to make the most of what we’ve got and fight to continue.”

DAVID HOOD, FORMER MAYOR OF NARACOORTE DISTRICT COUNCIL

David Hood was the chair of the Naracoorte District Council for three years, and the mayor of the amalgamated Naracoorte councils for 11 years. He was also formerly the chairman for the Boundaries Committee in the state.

“When the two Naracoorte councils amalgamated in 1986, that was almost a seamless process,” he explained. 

“Two separate issues that we encountered was one, that there was the representation there’d be, and two, the taxation, the rate collection of the council.”

The reform board worked closely with Naracoorte during the transition, and David had a good working relationship with former Corporation mayor Denise Grieve, who he described as “very astute”. 

So when it came to amalgamate with Lucindale, David describes the town having “more of a mature attitude”. But then of course Naracoorte joining Lucindale “wasn’t much of an issue”.

“We were in very much a changing time, where the rural population was changing very rapidly. I think the Naracoorte districts had gone from 28,000 down to 16,000 over the 10 previous years. Even though they were still paying the same rates there had been a decline in population. We suffered dramatically in the 1990s with the recession throughout the state. Naracoorte was lucky at the time it had its expansion of the vineyard area, which really helped the town and district in terms of employment and economics.”

Naracoorte had been doing just fine as an amalgamated council, after a development deal near the bypass netted them $13.5m in revenue.

As for Lucindale being able to stand alone: 

“That’s for them to decide. It was up to them, we had no point in pushing them into an amalgamation.”

What may have been the trigger, David theorises, was Lucindale’s high rates.

One of the key issues still, though, is representation. The idea of wards is outdated because it’s now geographically and mathematically impossible, amalgamation meant that the eight sitting members of the Corporation and the ten members of the district council were reduced down to seven. Three Lucindale councillors added to the mix made ten, the same number held today.

Like Trevor Rayner, for David there’s an underlying disquietude that rural issues may be swept under the rug by the township if they’re not reminded that people out there require just as much attention as they. People who used to be part of the District Council, in Hynam, Kybybolite, Frances, Lochaber, Bool Lagoon, Joanna, etc.

“The fear of the original proposal is that the people in the town wouldn’t know what’s going on with the district and wouldn’t care about a road that is 30km, 40km, 50km out of town.”

Smaller towns keeping their works depots open is “possibly still an issue”.

GEOFF ROBINSON, FORMER COUNCIL WORKER AND STAND ALONE SPOKESPERSON, CURRENT LINC CHAIR

“Before the amalgamation, I was on the Community Development Board,” begins Geoff Robinson.

“It disbanded with the Council amalgamation, and now it's LINC (Lucindale Community Economic Development Board), but we still do a lot of things around the town, such as Tidy Towns, Australia Day, that sort of thing."

At the time of amalgamation, Geoff said he and some other townspeople started producing documents on what would happen if Naracoorte and Lucindale amalgamated.

“And 90 per cent of that,” he says, “is true.”

One of the issues was the town rates. They have not gone down in Lucindale, asserts Geoff, and the town pays twice as much for the council’s effluent levy. 

“We have no taxi services. We have no direct access to the hospital except via an ambulance. We get a chiro and physio out here only once a week. There’s nowhere to get spiritual guidance, our churches are closed.”

Then there’s the issue of the Hundred of Fox wanting to leave. 

“There was no substance to that,” he says.

“Three councillors from the Fox area generated that secession (story).” 

Then there’s how the Lucindale community as a whole felt about the amalgamation.

“There were three independent surveys done, showing 62%, 68%, 74% voted no. They were all done by independent consultants. The majority were always against.”

Geoff revealed that he had been to Adelaide to see Annette Eiffe and Mark Brindal, twice. And according to him, Eiffe and Brindal had relayed that the board would always keep in mind the will of the community – but the ultimate decision was up to the Lucindale council. 

What separated Lucindale from other councils was that its financial structure was distinct, Geoff says.

He was once a mechanic at the Lucindale Works Depot, and a purchasing officer. According to him, Lucindale used to borrow money for the machinery, but the rates paid for the roads. Most councils would do the opposite, which meant as the roads depreciated, the more money they would have to borrow. 

“We were told that if we didn’t amalgamate, we wouldn’t exist – send us broke. Robe and Lacepede (Kingston) refused to amalgamate, and there’s still money in the community, they still have their own governance. We’ve lost that. We’ve got to fight for everything we’ve got, even though a third of the Council’s income comes from Lucindale. And our rates are still 25 per cent higher than Kingston’s.”

Geoff still believes that many people would vote ‘no’ to amalgamate today, and is critical of Chris Johnson only sitting one term on the newly amalgamated council.

CHRIS JOHNSON, FORMER CHAIR OF THE LUCINDALE DISTRICT COUNCIL AND FORMER NARACOORTE LUCINDALE COUNCILLOR.

“You do it, or we will, and you will have no choice.”

The above statement refers to what the Local Government Reform Board told former Chair Chris Johnson and other Lucindale District Council representatives in an 1998 Adelaide meeting.

Further to that, continues Chris, contrary to what the Herald reported, Wattle Range was never a serious option, and that as the Councillor for the Ward of Fox, Chris knew they didn’t want to secede.

The more serious options were Robe and Kingston, with talks of amalgamation going all the way back to 1975. Chris had been wary of amalgamating with coastal towns due to issues such as “storm damage, and the upkeep of jetties”. 

The continual costs of coastal erosion and now a marina, Chris points out, means that if Lucindale had joined Kingston or Robe then the town would be helping to foot the bill today.

In the surveys, while most people had voted no to amalgamation, in the second question (if Lucindale was to amalgamate then where), most people said Naracoorte.

“But when you read these, their understanding of what it (amalgamation) meant was not great,” Chris said. 

“But it was an opinion promoted around Lucindale that the school would close, that the policeman would go, that the country club wouldn’t be able to operate, and none of that has happened. If anything there’s more students in the school.”

As for former colleague Trevor Rayner, as well as allegedly “ignoring” the fact that the Lucindale vote was made at ultimatum, she also takes issue with roadworks being better when Lucindale stood alone, stating that they could only seal small amounts due to depreciation.

As for a rumoured threat of the depot closing, Chris doesn’t believe that there’s much truth to it due to Lucindale having a good working team and the inefficiency of having to move the machinery that’s there.

There’s also a discussion about what decisions like this have on people. Chris had a nasty poster about her put in a shop window, was verbally attacked by a shop keeper, and had her car damaged by opponents of the merger. The late Lucindale District CEO’s family was also targeted at their work and at school, something that Chris sees as “unforgivable”.

“He (the CEO) never expressed to me or anyone his view of amalgamation or anyone else until after the vote. He was the most impartial man.”

Chris has declared that she’s still comfortable with the decision to amalgamate, citing a dwindling population with high rates at the time as “damning”, and also the fact that she received the highest number of votes to be elected to the new council.

So why was Lucindale, of all the towns in the region, perhaps in the state, the only one to be given the ultimatum to amalgamate?

“I don’t know.”