North West Telegraph journalist Sam Jones takes a look back at the biggest and breaking stories from Hedland in 2019. January Recognition after long fight for rights A 20-year fight by the Kariyarra people of Port Hedland came to an end after the Federal Court recognised them as the traditional owners of their country in January. The determination covered 17,354sqkm of Kariyarra traditional country, through the Town of Port Hedland, pastoral leases and mining companies. Standout citizens praised on day of national pride Australia day saw impressive locals awarded for their community work at a breakfast in Port Hedland. Citizen of the Year was awarded to Tracey Garbin, Youth Citizen of the Year was awarded to 18-year-old Rowan Dann and Senior Citizen of the Year was awarded to Alfred Barker. Salt Mine tourism offers eco insight Mining companies Rio Tinto, Dampier Salt and Tabba Tabba teamed up to introduce the Tabba Tabba Eco Tour project, giving locals and visitors insight into the salt-making process at the mines and some of the Pilbara’s environment. February Clontarf role models light path to success The first Hedland Clontarf Academy was established, setting its’ sights on improving education, life skills and employment prospects of young indigenous men throughout the town. Run nationally for years, with a West Kimberley Clontarf Academy established in 2006 for Broome SHS, the initiative had been a long time coming and was welcomed by many in the Hedland community. Loved Moggy back home after two years A pet cat called killer wandered back to the same remote North West cattle station he had disappeared from more than two years previous to the amazement of his owner and workers. The black-and-white furball had not been seen since he vanished in 2017 from Wallareenya homestead, 75km south of Port Hedland, then somehow managed to find his way to the workers’ quarters two years later, announcing his arrival with a chorus of meows. Hedland kids driven to success An alarming truancy rate in Port Hedland sparked a new community bus service, which has since driven positive results throughout the community. In partnership with the Hedland Police, the not-for-profit Youth Involvement Council, who owns the bus used in the program, started the school truancy bus which since it’s inception has resulted in thousands of extra attendance days for children in the town. March Police dog heartache A freak accident saw police dog Maygar forced in to early retirement, a sad story for the whole community with the injuries sustained meaning he was put down later in the year. Pilbara airlines announce take-off A new airline looked set to join the Port Hedland mix, with Pilbara Airlines announcing they were taking bookings for their first flights to South-East Asia. The airline was touted to be a major step for the town and its’ citizens, who had to fork out for expensive flights to Perth in order to then fly onto South-East Asia. As exciting as it seemed, the airline never met their December 2 target for first flights, with the company since announcing a possible move to be based in Karratha. Veronica unleashes her wrath on town Cyclone Veronica wreaked havoc in the Pilbara in March, dumping 218mm of rain in 48 hours as residents were forced into lockdown for almost two days. The effects of the cyclone were still being felt across the Pilbara days after the weather system shut down, shutting down parts of the National Highway feeding the region. Port Hedland’s Cemetery Beach, Cooke Point, Spoilbank, the boat ramp and Marapikurrinya Park were all amongst the heaviest affected areas. Four houses in Hedland lost their roofs, and dead cattle washed up in Point Samson after being swept out to sea by floodwaters. United plan offers kids better chance A taskforce involving youth leaders, school principals, police and other agencies was created in March to assist in creating better outcomes for youngsters in town. Pilbara for Purpose aimed to support innovation and increase collaboration in delivering community services, including increased vetting of teachers, more cultural awareness training and subsidised flights for families during school holidays. April Marina plan design rejected by residents Hedland residents questioned, and rejected Government plans for a multimillion-dollar redevelopment of the Spoilbank, which included a marina with boat pens, two breakwaters and internal revetment walls. Announced by Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan and the Pilbara Development Comission, the plans came under fire for a number of reasons, including ruining the view of the Port Hedland Yacht Club. Since the rejection, more plans have been drawn up, which were approved in December’s ordinary council meeting. Construction is now due to start before the end of the financial year. Chief executive announces he will leave In the midst of the council turmoil Hedland suffered another major blow when ToPH chief executive David Pentz announced he would leave his post when his contract ended in December of last year. Mr Pentz’s resignation signalled the end to his three year reign in the position, which was seen to bring much needed stability to a traditionally unstable, revolving-door plagued position. He had a reputation as an outstanding achiever who always maintained professional etiquette of the highest level, according to those who worked closely with him, including former mayor Camilo Blanco. Anzac Day Generations of families young and old bowed their heads in a silent tribute to remember Anzac Day and its fallen soldiers. Once the respective anthems were played, an impromptu Maori ceremonial war dance, the haka, was performed. Major Guy Warnock of the Pilbara Regiment said the day was a solemn one, devoted to remembering the realities of war and sacrifices made. “Very few of those who criticise Anzac attend dawn service, and if they did, they would understand what it means,” he said. Mayor slams WAEC for dropping probe Mayor-at-the-time Camilo Blanco slammed the WA Electoral Commission for not “upholding the standards of democracy” after dropping it’s investigation into claims of vote tampering. Mr Blanco and ToPH chief executive David Pentz raised concerns after the local government elections in October 2017 because irregularities found with postal addresses of electors in the remote community of Warralong, 120km south of Port Hedland. It was claimed more than 100 Warralong residents had their postal addresses changed to the same two PO boxes before the election took place, however was dropped due to the WAEC having “insufficient evidence to identify an offender”. A number of residents said they had not voted in the election, despite the WAEC receiving signed ballot papers with their names on it. Town fees rise for developers, traders Property developers and community stallholders in Hedland were hit with increased fees after the council voted unanimously in favour of the fee hikes. An increase of 23.19 per cent, Mayor Camilo Blanco said the changes in fees were out of the control of local government, and were instead set by the State Government. New fees introduced included a $200 fine plus cleaning costs if sporting clubs failed to tidy their venue within 12 hours of an event, and a $25 fee for the pick-up of missed bin collection. Pay rise for councillors Town of Port Hedland councillors voted to give themselves a pay rise, two months before being suspended for inactivity, and despite being warned by a senior Town officer such a move could have “potential negative impacts” on the 2019-20 budget. The decision saw the elected members rise from 90 per cent of their entitled allowance to the maximum figure allowed under the Salaries and Allowances Tribunal. The combined total added $41,000 in fees and allowances, meaning each councillor took home an extra $3,000, while Mayor Blanco saw his salary rise by almost $15,000. Price keeps seat Liberal MP Melissa Price was convincingly re-elected to the seat of Durack, however lost her portfolio as the Minister for Environment, instead taking up a position as the Minister for Defence Industry. Ms Price had held the seat since 2013 and enjoyed a fairly strong swing in the electorate. June Council rejects plan for redevelopment A State Government blueprint mapping out areas for future residential and business development in Port Hedland’s West End was rejected by the council. Five of nine elected councillors voted not to support the draft because of concern for the impact on residents of the West End and insufficient time for community feedback. The council also voted unanimously to request the WA planning commission allocate resources for community engagement to improve the draft plan. The initial plan would allow low-density residential development between Taplin and McGregor Streets but would prohibit high density development. Heritage listing for old site The only existing remains of the Port Hedland Lock Hospital and Burial Ground were added to the State Register of Heritage Places in June. Established in 1919 to provide health services to Aboriginal people and manage the spread of sexually transmitted diseases introduced by European settlers among Aboriginal people, the hospital management was handed over to the Department of Public Health in 1949. Russian Giant descends on town The Pilbara is no stranger to big things — gigantic trucks, enormous trains and larger than life boats — but rarely do these things descend from the sky. A 24-wheel Antonov-124-100, the largest civil cargo aircraft in the world, touched down at Port Hedland International Airport in June, drawing a keen crowd who did not want to miss the chance to take a snap. July Council at war The level of chaos within the strife-torn Town of Port Hedland surfaced in July with Local Government Minister David Templeman having to be brought in to handle complaints issued by councillors and the mayor, including bullying, harassment and fabrication of truth accusations. Mr Templeman was required to quell the situation, and one week later, he suspended the entire nine member council, choosing to instead institute City of Mandurah councillor Fred Riebeling as commissioner. Suspended Mayor Camilo Blanco said it was a disappointing result for a council who had achieved so much in a relatively short space of time, but the action revolved around the significant nature of complains he submitted. Mr Templeman said the council failed to provide any compelling reasons or justification to allay concerns about its future capacity to govern following a show cause notice issued before the suspension. “Ratepayers and residents of the Town of Port Hedland are entitled to expect their elected members will provide leadership for the community and effectively manage and control operations in the town,” he said at the time. A five year tale of one city and one town Five years ago, former Pilbara MLA Brendon Grylls declared Karratha the first city of the north. It was a milestone moment for the $1.7 billion Pilbara Cities plan to transform the region into a place worth calling home. In the five years since, Karratha has undergone a facelift so dramatic those who haven’t visited this decade would not recognise it. Two hours up the road, a different story has unfolded. What has been forgotten in Mr Grylls’ speech were his final words, in which he told the crowd he was hopeful of declaring Port Hedland a city too by year’s end. Punters strip for undie-whelming fun Punters stripped to their bare esentials and kicked up a storm in the classic undies run at the Marble Bar Races in July. The action packed weekend had plenty of thrills and spills, with Adam Viska, a Marble Bar FIFO worker, beating dozens of barefoot racers to take out the prestigious race. New cop focuses on youth Port Hedland received a new top cop, Sergeant Steve Cleal, who chose the Pilbara town because of his experience in the region, with five years working in Karratha and another five in Derby. Trading in his homicide squad for a blue uniform, Sgt Cleal set his sights on tackling youth offences in the town, a task he has since proved the right man for, with a sharp drop in youth offending evident throughout Hedland. August Plan details spend on Hedland airport site The $40m master plan for Port Hedland International Airport was announced in August by Town of Port Hedland commissioner Fred Riebeling, including a terminal redevelopment and bulk-hauling complex. The capital works program detailed the upgrades and estimated timeline, with the terminal redevelopment forecast for 2019-2021 while the highway precinct was forecast for development in 2019. Team of Dans rush to Harley’s aid Locals from Port Hedland came to the rescue of an 81-year old Harley-Davidson being ridden across Australia to raise money for cancer research in August. The ex-Australian police bike, which survived World War II, had to make an emergency put stop in Port Hedland when owner and rider Hugh Taylor noticed some serious problems. With things looking grim, Mr Taylor just managed to get the bike into Port Hedland — the last stop before the finish line in Exmouth. Hearing of his troubles on local radio, three diesel mechanics from Earthmoving Maintenance Solutions — Daniel Finch, Daniel Swindlehurst and Danny Outram — spent two days pulling the motorcycle apart and putting it back together again. Mining town celebrates milestone The Pilbara mining town of Newman dug deep to celebrate its 50th anniversary with five days of events and a trip down memory lane. Hundreds of past and present residents flocked to the golden jubilee for events including a float parade and the opening of a time capsule. Port Hedland minor celebrity David Eckhart, son of late Dr Peter Eckhart, who established the first hospital in the town with his wife Marjorie was also special guests at the event. Mrs Eckhart delivered the first baby in Newman in April, 1969. The transformation from iron ore mine site to fully fledged town happened rapidly from 1969, beginning with the opening of Newman Primary School, which was quickly followed by a community hall, library and swimming pool (which didn’t involve brain eating amoeba). Aviair flights arrive in Broome The first direct flight between the Pilbara and the Kimberley in three years landed in Broome in August, marking the beginning of a new inter-regional flight service for the North West. Kununurra-based airline Aviair announced a month previous it would run regular commercial passenger flights several times a week on a nine-seater plan between Karratha, Paraburdoo, Port Hedland, Newman and Broome. The Pilbara and Kimberley had not been connected directly by an air route since the path was dropped by Airnorth in 2016. September Police dog put down after fall In September, heart wrenching news of the Pilbara’s first multi-purpose police dog, Maygar, spread through the community. Maygar had been put down after failing to recover from a freak fall earlier in the year which caused irreparable damage to his spine. The three-year-old Belgian shepherd was flown from Port Hedland to Perth in February and underwent surgery to alleviate pressure on his back bone. He was later returned home to his dedicated handler, Senior Constable Tom Gryta, in Port Hedland for rehabilitation but sadly never recovered from his injury. Festival a treat for music fans Hundreds of music-lovers gathered in Newman in early September for the fourth annual Outback Fusion Festival. The weekend had a variety of entertainment and food from different cultures common around the Newman community, including Pilbara musician Lachy John and headline act Downsyde. Festival goers were also treated to a fiery spectacular by Zap Circus. Cemetery closed to protect graves A cemetery in Port Hedland was closed to new burials less than a year after it was reopened, because it would cost ratepayers about $1.3 million in maintenance and repairs. Town of Port Hedland commissioner Fred Riebeling revoked a previous council decision for Port Hedland’s Pioneer Cemetery to continue operating. The Move followed a council assessment of the land, which found existing grave sites would be put at high risk of being disturbed and more than $1 million would be required to prepare the location for future burials. October Millions to be spent on school upgrades A number of Pilbara schools welcomed increased State Government funding for much-needed maintenance work and upgrades, with four receiving more than $1 million each. Baler Primary School and South Newman Primary School were both given $1.8 million to spend while Cassia Primary and South Hedland were bolstered with $1.1 million. No jail for unpaid fines reform Fine defaulters who cannot afford to settle their debts would no longer be sent to jail under laws introduced to State Parliament in October. The law reforms are a welcome and significant transformation of WA’s fines enforcement regime and address an over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system. Attorney-General John Quigley said the reform would implement a recommendation from the coronial inquiry into the death of Ms Dhu, who was taken into custody on a warrant of commitment for unpaid fines in 2014, and later died as a result of injuries resulting from a domestic violence dispute in previous months that had remained untreated. Craigie back in power Long standing Shire of East Pilbara president Lynne Craigie was re-elected in October, continuing her reign which started all the way back in 2005. The only previous council member re-elected in the latest local government elections, Mrs Craigie said she was humbled to be back at her post. “I feel very positive going forward with the Shire of East Pilbara and our new challenges,” she said. Aiming to grow economic development in Newman beyond being purely reliant on mining, Mrs Craigie said she will look to expand the service industry capabilities to look after residents in the Western Desert. November Carter jumped for good of town The councillor whose resignation sparked the dismissal of the entire Port Hedland Council said he had no choice but to stand down. The decision made by Peter Carter to step down left the council without a quorum, triggering a move by Local government minister David Templeman to dismiss the rest of the already suspended council. Mr Carter said he felt he had to step down to give Port Hedland the best chance of a fresh start, stating the council had been dysfunctional for 18 months prior and was not doing what was best for the town. “Four councillors could have come back in January, and we could have had the same people come back — now the town can start fresh in 12 months,” he said. “People need to think seriously about what they can do for the community and how they can make the town prosper.” Murder at the mine site The whole Pilbara community was shocked to learn the details of an alleged murder at the Pilbara Minerals’ Pilgangoora mine, about 130km east of Port Hedland in November. Police allege Troy Adam Hausler, 30, wrapped Mr Richter’s body in a canvas ute cover before he was stopped by other workers near the entrance to a crusher conveyor at about 6.30am. Mr Hausler, who was charged with murder by homicide detectives last Tuesday, appeared in South Hedland Magistrate’s Court the following day and showed no emotion as he was remanded in custody until his next court appearance. Town stands against violence Community members across Hedland let their feet do the talking, making sure it was heard the town is against family violence. Co-ordinated by the Hedland Family Violence Action Group, the march against family violence saw hundreds of Hedland locals, police and emergency services make up the group, who marched throughout the main streets of Hedland. December Grylls misses out on seat Former WA Nationals leader and Pilbara MLA Brendon Grylls was denied the chance to run for a spot on the Port Hedland Chamber of Commerce committee in December. The former politician threw his hat in the ring for a position, but was told he could not run just days before the election was scheduled to happen because he was not a Hedland resident. Grass-roots officer takes the top gong South Hedland Sergeant Shelley Marklew was announced as Police Officer of the Year at the WA Police Excellence Awards for her efforts leading a joint agency initiative focused on social issues in the Pilbara town. Working with families and community groups, programs such as the school attendance bus and the creation of the South Hedland Community Action Team have promoted grassroots police work, which enabled a growing trust between police and the public in Hedland. So glad the doctors made the right call A young Pilbara couple were finally able to return to Port Hedland in December after a gruelling wait by their newly born premature baby’s side in Perth for almost four months. James and Jess Cusato welcomed their daughter Aubrey into the world on June 29, weighing just 0.7kg after being born at just 25 weeks gestation. Truckies raise funds for orphans Truck drivers and the Port Hedland community united to raise money for the trust fund for two children who lost their parents in a fatal car crash two years ago. A convoy, organised by Mike Green, of Pilbara Towing, began at the Bell Street truck assembly area opposite the Port Hedland Airport, with 85 vehicles taking part. The effort raised almost $12,000 for the trust fund, vastly surpassing the initial goal set by organisers, who said they expected no more than 30 trucks to turn up.