Infrastructure Upgrades in Paradise

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-By Robert Hoshowsky

Widely known as one of the world’s finest tourist destinations, Australia’s Whitsunday is acclaimed for its striking scenery and lush beaches. Famous for the Whitsunday Islands – a group of 74 Islands off the coast of Queensland and part of the Great Barrier Reef – the area’s many pristine beaches, coral reefs, and designated national parks are popular not only with tourists but locals, and visited by hundreds of thousands every year. Rich in history, the area’s name comes from Captain James Cook who, awed by the natural beauty, named it Whit Sunday, after the seventh Sunday following Easter. Although Cook’s date was incorrect, the name remained.

Needless to say, the area has seen some changes over the years. To keep pace with the times, the dedicated public officials of Whitsunday Regional Council have, along with various levels of government, embarked on a number of projects which will see much of Whitsunday’s infrastructure updated and revitalised to better serve the needs of local residents, businesses, industries, and visitors alike.

The Mayor of Whitsunday since 2008, Mike Brunker and councilors have been behind a series of initiatives which will benefit a number of Whitsunday projects, including the airport, Airlie Beach Main Street, Botanic Gardens, and water treatment and wastewater plants. A local government area located in North Queensland, the Whitsunday Region was – prior to the amalgamation of 2008 – administered as two separate local government areas, the Shire of Bowen, and the Shire of Whitsunday. The area’s rich political history extends back almost 150 years to 1858, when the Bowen Municipality was constituted on August 7, 1863, under the Municipalities Act of 1858. In time, the Wangaratta Division was created, and became a shire while Bowen became a town in 1903. With the growth of tourism in the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, the area was renamed in 1989, and in July of 2007, a report from the Local Government Reform Commission recommended the two areas amalgamate. The two shires formally ceased to exist on March 15, 2008, and with elections held the same day, councilors and a mayor were elected to the Regional Council.

Prior to becoming Mayor in 2008, Mike Brunker began his career in coal mining, working in various capacities as an underground miner, open cut miner, and in production. Later, Mr Brunker became an executive member of The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) – Australia’s main trade union in construction, forestry and forest products, mining and energy production – before being first elected to local government in 1994, where he worked his way from being a councilor to mayor of the Shire of Bowen in 1997, and today, Mayor of Whitsunday.

With a variety of projects either completed or in various stages of progress, Mr Brunker and members of council are focused on making life better for locals, attracting new industries, and welcoming more tourists to the area.

“Our involvement is to make sure the community infrastructure is up to speed, so people moving to the area have an increased capability to take the future growth that we are expecting,” says Mayor Brunker. Part of the challenge of undertaking these projects, he says, has to do with dealing with a lack of initiative on the part of previous administrations. “Particularly on the Whitsunday side of things, there was no investment in infrastructure, whereas I think in Bowen we’ve been waiting for this thing to happen for awhile.”

With a population of about 32,000, Whitsunday and surrounding areas are widely acknowledged for their natural beauty and a great deal more. Airlie Beach is the fourth most recognised destination in Australia, and tourists and locals flock to the area to snorkel, sail, and swim at the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. North towards Bowen, the area is home to very diverse seafood and agricultural industries, producing crops like sugar cane, mangoes, corn, and capsicum; in the winter months, these industries supply about 80 per cent of Australia’s tomatoes. In terms of resources, surrounding areas are also known for coal production and power stations, which were considerations for the rejuvenation of the Whitsunday Coast Airport Terminal.

Officially opened by The Honourable Andrew Fraser MP, Deputy Premier, Treasurer and Minister for State Development on December 20, 2011, the Whitsunday Coast Airport Terminal is located 14 kilometres south of Proserpine, and is the closest mainland airport to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands. The much-needed $7 million renovation includes a larger departure lounge, increased floor area, check-in and baggage claim areas, a new baggage claim carousel inside the terminal building, an updated café and bar, new and refurbished security screening and arrival areas, relocated and refurbished airport offices, and customs quarantine facilities for potential international carriers in the future. Whitsunday Council spent an additional $2 million on the airport’s car parking and surrounds.

“We recognise the strategic importance of this airport – to both the tourism market and industry – and these improvements make the experience in transit more comfortable and efficient,” said Fraser. “As the gateway to some of the nation’s most iconic tourist spots, the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Coast, the upgrade will allow for a more efficient and effective facility. It’s a first-class facility that will benefit tourists, local businesses and residents alike.”

With The Whitsunday Coast Airport Terminal expansion and refurbishment complete, Mayor Brunker looks forward to the area’s abilities to better serve the needs of visitors and others employed in the area. “Currently, the airport serves the tourism industry and the coal industry,” he comments. “We have done some strategic plans looking at not only an increased tourism market, but increased FIFO (Fly-In-Fly-Out) capabilities as well. So for the Galilee Coal Basin, and all the major players down there, the idea is you work in the Galilee Basin, but you actually live in Whitsunday.”

Another key initiative of the Whitsunday Regional Council has been the revitalisation of Airlie’s Main Street. The improvements, says Mayor Brunker, have been required for quite some time. “The street has been very tired looking, with old pavers, and needs a major spruce-up to maintain our status as a premium tourist destination.” In recent years, the main street has faced a number of challenges. Competitors in other areas pulled ahead of Airlie Beach as a tourist destination, and in 2009, domestic tourist traffic fell by 26 per cent and many retail businesses shuttered their doors. To resurrect the area, approximately $17 million has been allocated for Stage One, with $5 million coming from local government, $7 million from state government, and another $5 million from the federal government.

“It’s a whole new revitalisation process, and the jewel in the crown is going to be a curve in the road, what’s called Airlie Central,” says Mayor Brunker. “It will be a major park feature, so as you come down the street you’ll have a bigger, wider footpath and better texture.” To further enhance the main street, a creek will run down it and flow into the larger Airlie Creek, which will be not only aesthetically pleasing, but help to drain stormwater. Shade trees will further enhance the area, which is also designed with access for disabled persons in mind.

Another key project underway is Stage One of the Whitsunday Botanic Gardens. “We are adding to the experience of these botanical gardens,” says Mayor Brunker of the project, which is being budgeted over several years, and will take place over the next three to four years, entirely funded by council. Cultivated for ornamental, horticultural, scientific and educational purposes, the gardens will serve a variety of purposes, from recreation and relaxation to a source of inspiration and study for botanists and horticulturalists. Initiated over a decade ago, funding for the project began in 2007, with monies raised through the Whitsunday Shire Council biodiversity levy. Once completed, the gardens will incorporate seven hectares, and showcase local flora and fauna, promising to become a beloved attraction for locals and tourists alike as it develops over the next 10 to 15 years.

Anticipating considerable growth in the future, Whitsunday Regional Council plans to spend over $100 million – $80 million from local government and subsidies from the state – on three sewage treatment plants, and two water treatment plants, including the erection of new plants and upgrades. “We believe there will be an increase in population throughout the region, so you’ve got to have the infrastructure right,” says Mayor Brunker. “With previous council, there was the lack of investment in infrastructure.”

Selecting a preferred tenderer for the Design, Construction, Operation and Maintenance of the Cannonvale and Proserpine Waste Water Treatment Facilities, the two Waste Water Treatment Facilities will be located on the existing sites at Garema Street, Cannonvale and the Bruce Highway in Proserpine, and are being designed to accommodate population growth over the next 15 to 20 years. At present, the existing plants – both decades old – are overloaded, and simply cannot meet today’s environmental standards safely. Construction of the new facilities will commence in April/May of this year, and is expected to take 18 months. Incorporating the latest technology, the new designs will provide for enhanced biological nutrient removal (BNR), chemical nutrient removal, mechanical dewatering, odour control, emergency power, and remote control.

With water quality upgrades a priority, Council has gone to tender for the Water Treatment Plants to service the Bowen and Proserpine Townships. The two new plants will be built on the Proserpine River downstream of the Peter Faust Dam, and the Proserpine plant will be situated on the old pound site on Pound Yard Road. Expected to take 12 to 16 months to build, it is anticipated the plants will be commissioned in early to mid 2013, and be built with 16.5 megalitre and 14.5 megalitre capacities respectively.

Although the area suffered some damage from Cyclones Anthony and Yasi a year ago, Mayor Brunker says Whitsunday remains an extremely popular spot for international and local visitors. “Being so close to the Bowen Basin, we are a very popular spot for miners to come to Whitsunday on their days off,” he says. The nearby multi-billion Gailiee Coal Basin, located about 20 km north of Bowen, will also benefit the area in terms of industrial development. “There are projections of up to 400 million tons of coal coming out of Abbot’s Point, which would make us the biggest single coal-loading facility in Australia.” Mayor Brunker – who plans to run in the next election on March 31 – says that industrial development in the north, and residential development in the south, will ensure that Whitsunday will remain not only a paradise on earth, but a place with renewed prosperity and a vision of future growth for years to come.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 14, 2020, 1:16 PM AEST