High Achievers - Works Manager, Shire of Victoria Plains Robert Edwards
‘Every day is memorable’
Works Manager, Shire of Victoria Plains, Western Australia (WA), Robert (Bob) Edwards, was drawn to Local Government, looking for somewhere he could make a difference after working for thirty-five years in the mining industry.
Nominated as Council’s ‘High Achiever’ by deputy president, Councillor Pauline Bantock, for improving management of the Shire’s road infrastructure, Mr Edwards has plenty of experience to draw on.
As a relief works supervisor with Perth based employment agency, LO GO Appointments, since 1999 Mr Edwards has relieved at ten shires from Lake Grace in the south to Kununurra in the north.
“On finishing at Kununurra in October 2017, I was sent to Victoria Plains. I could see that there was much to be done here so I accepted a contract for three years in January.”
Mr Edwards came from a Transport, Mining and Civil Construction background.
“I gained immense experience working with a large WA Civil Construction/Mining company across three states, also from running my family mining and earthmoving business.
“I advanced my career by taking on Resident Quarry and Mine Manger positions on several sites across Northern Australia.
A history of roads
Roads have a special significance in the Shire as it was founded as a Road Board in 1871.
One of eighteen set up in WA, it attended to the roads being carved out of the bush to cater for the burgeoning agricultural industry.
The Historic Benedictine Community at New Norcia, on the Great Northern Highway, 160km north of Perth, also played a big part in the early settlement of the area.
The Shire covers an area of 2,569 square km, with 230 km of sealed roads and 590 km of formed and gravelled roads.
The small towns of Bolgart, Calingiri and Yerecoin have schools and great sporting facilities.
Cooperative Bulk Handling has grain receival facilities connected to the Kwinana Port by rail at each of these towns plus the smaller settlements of Piawaning and Mogumber.
A large amount of the State’s export hay is produced locally, and there is a healthy cattle and sheep industry as well as a live export chicken farm.
Working well with people
Cr Bantock cited Mr Edward’s staff management skills and exceptional communication with both Council and the public as worthy of praise.
The Shire employs up to twelve outside staff and a similar number in administration and is based at Calingiri.
Mr Edwards worries that the aging road infrastructure is unable to keep pace with the growing transport industry.
“The challenges faced by Local Government are what makes it different from mining which is ‘Lack of FUNDS’,” he said.
“Most of our regional roads were constructed in the 1960s, Main Roads WA were instructed to put out as much 3.7m wide seal on thin narrow pavements as they could with the small budgets that were available.
“They catered for 8 to 12 tonne units with a top loaded speed of 70kph.
“We now have to cater for road trains grossing 75 tonnes at loaded speeds of 100kph.”
He also recognises challenges in the public scene where infrastructure that was put in place when funds were being ‘thrown at us’ are now aging and the maintenance required to keep them in good repair is becoming a huge burden on ratepayers.
Upgrade to safety
The Shire is currently upgrading its section of the Agricultural Lime Route 2 with $3 million Royalties for Regions funding.
“The upgrades will be focused on making the road safer for the high concentration of road train traffic mixing with local and tourist traffic.
“Other projects for this year will be upgrading our large inventory of culverts and small bridges.
“I will be working with a group of forty-two councils to push for federal funding for Commodity Routes such as the Wheatbelt Secondary Freight Route.
“My focus while I am at Victoria Plains will be to improve the safety of our road system, improve the image of each of the towns with simple streetscapes, and construct low maintenance activities for the kids like skate parks.”