Councillor profiles - Mayor Sally O’Neil Barcoo Shire Council

Article image - Councillor profiles - Mayor Sally O’Neil Barcoo Shire Council

Barcoo Shire covers an area of 62,000sq km, has a road network of about 6000km and a population of 260 residents. It is the heart of the channel country and has many cattle grazing properties in excess of 1 million acres in size.  The shire consists of three towns – Jundah the administration centre, Windorah and Stonehenge.

The towns of Stonehenge and Jundah were established on the Thomson River and Windorah has Cooper’s Creek nearby.  The Thomson and Barcoo Rivers meander their way through the Shire from the east and both feed into Cooper’s Creek, the only place in the world where two rivers meet to form a creek! These waterways attract many tourists who camp in peace and tranquillity throughout the winter months along the riverbanks. 

Engineer by trade
I began my career in Local Government in 2017 when I successfully gained the role as Director of Works for the Barcoo Shire.  As an Engineer in Local Government, especially a small one, I was offered a wide range of challenges.  One certainly doesn’t get pigeonholed. I was very familiar with road construction but was soon to learn the many other services Local Government provides such as airport and water treatment plant operations, and of course managing and applying for many externally funded projects.  

People need choice
When the 2020 election came around our previous Mayor was retiring after many years of service and there was only one other person standing for the position. I decided people needed to be given a choice and threw my hat into the ring.  After a successful election, I resigned my position as Director of Works and dedicated my time solely to my role as Mayor.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience to date and appreciate my knowledge of Local Government operations has certainly been an asset.

Rates don’t cover costs
Barcoo Shire faces many challenges as do other councils in rural and remote parts of Australia.  Sustainability is an issue we unfortunately can’t avoid as our rate-based income is around six percent. Council is committed to being prudent with public money. We make very considered and informed decisions whilst still trying to maintain the same level of service to the community as would be expected in metropolitan areas.   

Inconsistent funding
Another challenge is the consistency of funding. Council employs the majority of residents of the three towns, whether it be in administration or in an outdoor capacity such as parks and gardens or road construction. Road construction in particular seems to be feast or famine. One year we have enough work for three crews and the next we are looking at downsizing to one crew.  Fortunately, in my time as mayor we haven’t had to, as wet weather events have occurred changing the outlook from bleak to spared.  These types of scenarios compound our issue of a declining population, if we were forced to reduce our crews these people would leave the Shire and never return. 

Keeping the jobs local
Council’s goal is to prevent such an occurrence.  Initially, we are asking for extensions to expenditure timeframes as we currently don’t have the capacity to perform the work within the allotted time. We have no option but to put packages out for tender, giving someone from outside the region the job and seeing the money leave the Shire. An extension of time would provide temporary continuity of work and the income generated would remain in the Shire.  The ultimate solution would be a consistent flow of funding over a period of years, another goal on our agenda.

I look forward to the next few years as a councillor helping to make the Barcoo Shire an attractive place to work and live.