“Please demerge” was the strong message when the Boundaries Commission Public Inquiry came to Tumbarumba last Tuesday.
Of the 19 people who spoke, only two – Snowy Valleys Councillor Cor Smit and his daughter, Tumbarumba business owner Laura Fraumeni – spoke in favour of Snowy Valleys Council as it is. The rest unequivocally wanted a demerger and the re-establishment of the Tumbarumba Shire Council.
Ingrid Becke, a celebrant, cattle farmer and retired school teacher from Tumbarumba, described the merger as a “forced, unholy marriage of two juxtaposed councils.”
“Forced marriages are illegal,” she said.
“We have nothing in common with Tumut. Tumut married us for our money and our resources. We would prefer a divorce or demerger and we are more determined than ever to have our democratic rights restored.”
Laura Fraumeni was the first of only two people to speak in defence of the merger.
“I love this community, but I disagree with comments suggesting there is no need for Tumut,” she said.
She used the examples that her children play soccer in Tumut, she goes to church in Adelong and she has been to Tumut for medical appointments, describing the two towns as a “greater neighbourhood.”
“I wasn’t for it (the merger) when it happened, but I now see it as a great opportunity, especially with the marketing and branding of the region,” she said.
“I see our brand reaching across Australia; with attractions like Yarrangobilly Caves, we have a lot to offer. I employ 10 people and I am reliant on tourism. We are starting to see some strong growth and it would be detrimental to walk away from that. There is so much potential if we work together.”
Ms Fraumeni said she had felt intimidated and had been shouted down at Tumbarumba Chamber of Commerce meetings for voicing opposition to the demerger.
Tumbarumba resident Simon Guest said he was strongly committed to the demerger, describing Snowy Valleys Council as a financially incompetent dictatorship dominated by Tumut and saying former Tumbarumba Shire Council employees were hounded out of jobs.
He pointed to the Tumbarumba Library being closed on Saturday morning as an example of the town being disadvantaged by the merger.
Heather Johansen said the “forced merger” had not worked.
“Local government is best done by locals,” she said.
“We will never reach our full potential until we are demerged. We will never have representation, just disparity. Bushfire recovery money went to projects in Tumut, not places that were actually hit by the fires.”
Farmer and mother Stephanie Hodge, whose family’s property was hit by the January bushfire, said Snowy Valleys Council had failed the community, lamenting the loss of childcare and other services and saying that Tumbarumba Swimming Pool should have the same opening times as other pools in the shire.
She said a lot of expertise and knowledge was lost when Tumbarumba Shire Council was dissolved.
“We need a local council which supports and listens to the community,” she said.
Greg Lyons, who lives on a rural property at Maragle, said the community was “stunned by the decision that Tumbarumba was not a viable community.”
“Snowy Valleys Council was never an amalgamation but a takeover, and the worst fears of Tumbarumba residents became reality. Please restore Tumbarumba Shire Council and let us take control of our future.
Councillor Cor Smith started by saying he was a member of the “dreadful” Snowy Valley Council.
He pointed out that not one former Tumbarumba Shire Councillor put their hand up for Snowy Valleys Council when it was formed, but that Bruce Wright and Julia Ham were representing the town well.
“It is a very unified council,” he said.
“It has never been about Tumbarumba versus Tumut – that is a furphy. All are very well served by this council.”
He said people he had spoken to in Khancoban were “ecstatic” with the support from the council, and that some people were afraid to speak up about their support of council.
“Now you have two members of parliament instead of one,” he said.
Former Tumbarumba Shire Council General Manager Kay Whitehead strongly disagreed, saying there was a “really sad undercurrent” in Tumbarumba.
“All the locals knew this would be a disaster,” she said.
She said she was confident that stable cost structures could be regained in three years if Tumbarumba Shire Council was reinstated.
“Only you (commissioners) can restore our future,” she said.
“Please do so.”
Karen Golgini said that all the signs said that Snowy Valleys Council couldn’t handle the geographic footprint of the area, and said confidence in the town was low as all the employees were based at Tumut.
Volunteer firefighter Martin Brown said Tumbarumba was a thriving community in spite of the merger, because people worked for the community.
Tumut resident Louise Halsey said she had been ambivalent about the merger when it happened, but had come to realise that Tumbarumba was a wheel, and the spokes (surrounding towns) relied on it, and this was underlined with the moving of the Australia Day ceremony to Tumut.
She said if the shire was demerged, then it would regenerated nurturing in Tumbarumba.
Former Tumbarumba Shire and Snowy Valleys Council employee Gus Cox said the merger had resulted in a reduction of services and higher fees and charges, and that it needed to be recognised that the “experiment” had failed.
“If a bomb detonated in the Tumbarumba council office, no one would be hurt,” he said.
The biggest cheer of the day was heard when Mr Cox said he would offer his services to a reinstated Tumbarumba Shire Council.