Recognising local government’s high achievers

At the Local Government Managers Australia Congress in Perth in May, Local Government Focus invited delegates to nominate individuals or teams from their councils who have made a significant contribution to their council and local community.

Susan Gheller, Manager of Development & Governance, Townsville City Council

This year’s LGMA Rural Management Challenge will have some overseas competition, thanks to an outreach project from Townsville City Council called ‘Project Hetura’.

The peak development program for local government in Australia will be contested by a team from Port Moresby’s National Capital District Commission (NCDC) which, since 2002, has been guided by its sister city colleagues in Townsville.

At the forefront of this team is Townsville City Council’s Manager of Development Governance, Susan Gheller, who has overseen Project Hetura since 2009.

Project Hetura (hetura means ‘friendship’) was established as a capacity building program between Townsville and its sister city, Port Moresby. The project aims to strengthen management, planning and governance within Port Moresby’s National Capital District Commission and to improve the organisation’s ability to deliver efficient, responsive and accountable services to its community.

Project Hetura relies on in-kind support from Townsville City Council, administration by the Commonwealth Local Government Good Practice Forum, and funding from AusAID.

The project certainly has significant challenges. Port Moresby, like many cities, is dealing with large-scale urban migration and the contingent need to govern effectively and ensure adequate service delivery.

In addition, a lack of available housing has resulted in many migrants inhabiting unplanned settlements, which lack basic infrastructure and essential services, and there are associated high levels of unemployment, elevated crime rates and poor sanitation.

Townsville’s Chief Executive Officer Ray Burton nominated Susan Gheller as a Local Government Focus High Achiever for her stewardship and revitalisation of Project Hetura.

“Programs of this nature, where an underdeveloped country is involved, require a lot of hard and persistent work,” Mr Burton said.

“Susan has championed and driven Project Hetura for several years, overseeing the entire training program, undertaking the direct liaison with the Commission in PNG, organising staff from Townsville to make regular trips to Port Moresby, and formulating submissions to AusAID for annual funding to keep the project going.

“She has also personally built the relationship of trust and confidence between the management of both organisations, identified Port Moresby’s specific professional and organisational needs, and developed and tailored the training program to address these needs.

“In addition, she has developed the administrative protocols needed for the project framework, selected and trained the Townsville staff to deliver the training, arranged the travel and accommodation, and then undertaken the acquittal reporting requirements.

“A lot of this work has been done in her spare time and it has clearly expanded and strengthened the Hetura Program.”

Mr Burton said that Susan’s work on the program has provided council employees with a valuable forum for sharing their skills.

“Project Hetura has focussed on helping the NCDC with urban planning, regulatory functions, information technology and customer service. This has also involved the NCDC’s organisational structure, policy and legislation.

“Townsville City Council has assisted the Commission in developing an urban plan, restructuring its regulations, and improving its IT network and databases. Unlike traditional consultancies, this is a real partnership, with both entities jointly evaluating the situation, cooperatively planning each project, and working through any challenges.

“Our staff benefit both professionally and personally, by presenting training programs and critically evaluating what they do each day,” said Mr Burton. This year, staff from Townsville City Council are due to travel to Port Moresby several times, to work on a wide range of local government business. In turn, staff from the NCDC will visit Townsville to attend training, meet staff and councillors, and receive an overview of council operations. In addition, they are travelling to Bowen in October to field a team in the LGMA’s Rural Management Challenge, which focuses on experiential learning and team building activities.

“This is a real measure of their success,” Mr Burton said. “The team from Port Moresby are keen to be measured against others, to expand their knowledge and undertake problem solving. Through Project Hetura and with the dedication of Susan Gheller, we have been proud to help build the NCDC’s skills and confidence.”

RM Williams Australian Bush Learning Centre, North Burnett Regional Council, Queensland

The RM Williams Australian Bush Learning Centre (RMWABLC) is nestled into the side of a hill overlooking the picturesque North Burnett township of Eidsvold, which is located in the northern catchment area of the Burnett River.

The small town of Eidsvold, like so many inland towns, has grown and contracted in line with the commerce of the day. The town first developed around pastoral leases, then exploded with gold mining, and has now consolidated with pastoral and farming activity, with the region currently experiencing resurgence in the beef industry.

In the 1930s and 40s, Eidsvold rivalled the top selling centres such as Roma, with yardings of 6000 head being a regular occurrence. The yardings have eased back over the years but beef is still a very strong focus of the region, with many renowned cattle industry identities based in the district.
On the southern edge of the Eidsvold area the citrus industry has emerged as the major rural enterprise, following the Burnett river east through Mundubbera, Gayndah on to Biggenden, Wallaville and finally to Bundaberg.

In the 1960s, RM Williams settled in the district, establishing his now well known property Rocky Bar. He was a very prominent figure in Eidsvold Society for many years, which led to the naming of the Australian Bush Learning Centre in his honour.

The RM Williams Australian Bush Learning Centre (referred to locally as the ‘RM Centre’) has had many incarnations since its initial conceptualisation a number of years ago. The current focus of the Centre arose out of the unfortunate coincidence of RM Williams’ death at a time when the project was nearing a decisive phase.

As a result, a core feature of the Centre’s display is a section dedicated to telling the story of RM Williams’ life, with particular reference to his time spent in the Eidsvold community, his achievements and his philosophies.

In the spirit of RM Williams, the Centre provides a place where locals and visitors can connect to the region’s history, heritage and the land. The Centre aims to provide an environment where all age groups feel at home, embracing the skills that made our bushman, pioneers and first Australians famous, and enjoying the opportunity to engage with contemporary arts, crafts and technology.

An important part of creating this environment is the Gallery, which exhibits new and exciting art forms every two months. These exhibitions include renowned works provided by Artslink Queensland, as well as works by local artists and historical pieces.

One of RM Williams’ core philosophies was dedicated to ‘finding the genius in everyone’, and this motto is seen as a pretty good starting point for the RM Centre. The space is well-equipped for a diverse range of training, including first aid and computing, a mobile iPad learning centre, and classes in artisan skills, such as leather work and silver jewellery making. The Centre is also keen to support Regional Training Organisations that want to deliver services to the region, as well as running bush skill-based training when possible.

The Centre also operates as the ‘Yellow I’ Tourist Visitor Information Centre for Eidsvold and the North Burnett Region and is open seven days a week throughout the year (excluding a few significant public holidays). The professional and friendly staff have assisted hundreds of travellers and locals alike.

At the North Burnett Regional Council, it is believed the RM Williams Australian Bush Learning Centre has the potential to become a significant focal point for the community and visitors, spreading the spirit of the bush and a sense of country hospitality throughout the region and beyond.