Councillor profiles - Mayor Ruth Whittle District Council of Peterborough
The District Council of Peterborough (DCP) is one of the smallest councils in the state of South Australia. We sit in the northeast of the State and are the last council before the unincorporated lands that reach from us to the border with New South Wales and Broken Hill.
DCP once had a thriving railway industry but government decisions took that away from us and replaced it with nothing! Since than we have had to do some long hard thinking and we now have a meatworks which exports camel and horse meat and a burgeoning tourism industry. A drawcard is our railway heritage, our beautiful buildings, including fine examples of Art Deco. We have the only ‘Sound and Light’ experience in the State that tells the story of the rise and demise of the railway system. We have just won a State Tourism Award for our Tourism efforts – including the makeover of our Main Street, which includes new verandahs, painted facades, dining protuberances, undergrounding of our power lines, a Yellow ‘i’ Visitor Information Centre and a free RV Park. The recently opened Peterborough History Carriage tells the story of the area with a digital, visual experience that allows anyone to sit in a compartment and experience a train journey from Peterborough to Broken Hill.
From the armed forces to council
I joined the Corporation of the Town of Peterborough in 1983. I became Mayor in 1991 and in 1997 we amalgamated with the old District Council to become the new District Council of Peterborough. So, I have been a Councillor for 34 years and Mayor for 26 years.
I was previously a member of the Armed Forces stationed in Singapore where Australia was a member of the ANZUK Force – Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom. I met my husband there and we married and returned to his home base in United Kingdom. On his demob from the Airforce, I was homesick, so, with our young daughter, we returned to Australia.
I wanted to become a member of Apex, Lions or Rotary but in those days women were not allowed/welcome to join the service clubs that were available to me. I did not want to join the local bowls club – I wanted to do something for my community. So, apart from my employment, I decided to nominate and join my local council – a decision I have never regretted.
I am now retired from the workforce and I enjoy my garden, travelling when the opportunity arises, singing with the Sing Australia Choir in Peterborough, needlework and, my greatest joy of all: my three grandchildren.
I am on various Council Committees – permanent ones and those that are ad hoc or for special purposes. I sit on the Central Local Government Association – Legatus, which is a conglomerate of 15 Councils in this part of the State. I am also a member of the Mid North Health Advisory Council and a Board Member of the Northern and Yorke Natural Resources Management Board and I am a Justice of the Peace.
Challenges and achievements
The key challenges Council is facing at the moment are sustainability, relevance and the on-going battle to do everything that the ratepayers and residents would like us to do. Finance is always the stumbling block and the need to get the best value for every dollar that is available for us to use on behalf of our community.
Some other exciting initiatives we are working on include: continuing to support tourism, working on our new Strategic and Business Plans for both tourism and Council, and completing the tasks set in our annual budget, which includes our road network both inside and outside the town.
Another success is the collection of $17.6 million through grants and borrowings from Federal, State and Local Government (including ourselves) to implement a Community Waste Water Management Scheme (CWMS) in Peterborough. It is being installed at this very moment and has not been without controversy, but my councillors have made a very considered and careful decision that will prove to be the right decision in years to come.
A personal highlight in my local government career was being awarded an OAM in 2006 for Services to Local Government. The best part of being a councillor is being able to walk the streets of my community and be able to talk to anyone – local and visitors alike and to know that the things they enjoy or use on a regular basis are sometimes as a result of good Council decisions. The worst part? Unfair criticism of my Council and also the Council badge putting holes in my lovely jackets and dresses!
In to the future, I’d like to see tourism and our Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre flourish, the completion of the CWMS, more employment and a continuing upward trend for the town and district.