Ashburton – Reef to Range

Shire President, Councillor Brian Hayes, was born in Ashburton and commenced his working life with the Shire when it was then known as the Shire of West Pilbara. A member of the Thalanyji community, Councillor Hayes speaks four Aboriginal languages. He was elected to Council in 1993, becoming Deputy President in 1994 and since 1995 has been elected President unopposed.

Living in Onslow, Brian is Admin Services and Community Liaison Officer with Onslow Salt. Prior to this he was the Area Manager for the Department of Family and Community Services.

With the slogan ‘Reef to Range’, Ashburton Shire covers a large area with its 7,000 residents living in four main towns, on pastoral properties or in several Aboriginal communities.

Council’s Administration Centre was originally based in Onslow but was moved to Tom Price in the late 1980s. Council Chambers are still located in Onslow. Onslow is the Shire’s oldest town and hence has a larger number of settled, long time residents than the remaining inland towns that have grown up since rich iron ore deposits were discovered in the 1960s.

Each year, four Council meetings are held at Tom Price and Onslow. A meeting is also staged in Paraburdoo and Pannawonica.Covering such a large area, travelling to Council meetings is extremely time consuming.

As a result, Council charters a plane. Depending on the meeting’s location, it will pick up Councillors in Onslow, Pannawonica, at the Munjina Roadhouse and Paraburdoo. When the meeting is in Tom Price, and for Tom Price Councillors travelling away, there is also a road trip of 70 kilometres to and from the Paraburdoo airport.

“As a remote location, communications are a major issue,” Councillor Hayes said. “Using the latest technology with lap tops, the downloading of meeting agenda papers has greatly assisted Councillors and, at the same time, is more environmentally sound by saving trees.”

He believes that Council is making great progress in providing services across this large, remote Council area.

“As well as isolation, competing with the high wages available in the mining industry makes attracting and retaining staff difficult,” he said. “By providing a friendly, supportive work environment, together with added incentives through salary packaging, has greatly reduced turnover.”

Councillor Hayes said that other challenges facing Council include addressing the cost of ageing infrastructure and with the mining industry, the long term future for the Shire’s various towns should the local mine be closed. He said that Council is very proactive in encouraging the area’s other key industry, tourism, particularly enterprises seeking to establish additional accommodation facilities.

“The recent development of salt production in Onslow has provided additional job opportunities, including apprenticeship training, and spin off industry via various contractors,” he said.

People across the Shire are keen to have their say and Councillor Hayes believes that Council’s regular community surveys are a vital element in addressing current and future needs. Residents’ commitment to the area is typical of most Outback locations.

“Huge efforts by volunteers in fund raising and running a variety of clubs and associations, together with our emergency services relying on individuals giving their time, and businesses releasing staff to carry out rescues or fight bushfires, is what makes our community so strong and vibrant,” Brian Hayes said.