Oct 2, 2010

Thinking Magnetically

Author: Bruce Williams
Pictured above is the historic Picnic Bay Jetty in the process of refurbishment

31st August 2010 Vol 21 Issue 23

Thinking Magnetically

Bruce Williams

After the early European settlers around the town newly named Townsville had consolidated their interests and felt they had earned a break, their light skiffs, launches and sailing dinghies landed them on Magnetic Island shores and they felt elation. An island has always been seen as a symbol, but mainly by people who don’t live on an island. However, even in those early years of Townsville, travelling to The Island meant different things to different people.

Some early commercial leaders obviously saw opportunities in real estate. This necessitated, in the second decade of the twentieth century, the first land survey by the Queensland Government Surveyor. Until then, numerous humpies, huts and beach houses had been constructed in various bays. Many anomalies in land tenure on Magnetic Island gestated. Some persist to this day, however a preference for freehold land gradually overtook grazing, fishing and mining leases. Hard-nosed in business, but efficient and largely fair to their dependents, the Hayles family emerged as the dominant provider of ferry services and tourist accommodation. As the major employer of labour on the Island, their interests became, in the eyes of government and business, synonymous with Magnetic Island affairs in general.

The Hayles influence on official decision-making for Magnetic Island followed the pattern which evolved for most islands off the Queensland Coast which were opened up to tourism. That model for Queensland Island Tourism survived into the sixties and seventies until prosperity and larger numbers of tourists attracted more affluent operators. The Hayles control of Magnetic Island affairs

extended into the late eighties. After that time a series of ferry operators (Westmark, Doug Tarca, Dream World, Avcorp,Receivers, Magnetic Marine, Trinity, Coastal Ventures and Sun Ferries) operated on the Island run. None of these operators had such an influence on the Island population as did Hayles, nor did any of them speak as influentially to the government or the national tourist industry. Hayles published their timetable in the Townsville Bulletin every day. Almost none have since. Despite the growth in population, the State Government, advised by “who-knows who?” insists that competition will be a harmful thing. The monopoly operator is seemingly answerable to noone. Worse, the community is not consulted on this matter.

The departure of Hayles from Magnetic Island left a vacuum where there was an obvious need for unity of purpose in promoting tourism and in many aspects of Island life. Few contemporary ferry companies assisted sporting teams, and other worthy causes as extensively as Hayles. One notable exception was Magnetic Marine’s Bill Condon, who, the writer remembers transported one hundred and twenty school children and their teachers on his Pure Pleasure trip to the Reef for free, including a memorable free lunch.

Various organisations since the late eighties were formed by local business owners and residents concerned at the lack of cohesion in expection and perceived needs. These included Better Go for the Island Committee, MIRRA, MICCA and then MICDA. None of these organisations has been seen off the island as the legitimate speaker for Magnetic Island, nor accepted on The Island in that role, or as a successor to the Hayles Family Company.

Two other issues complicate the situation: First, the population of Magnetic Island has doubled since Hayles left, with the consequence that the commonality of expectation of services and facilities is far more complex than it was. And second, since very early times, a substantial number of Townsvilleans have owned or used property on The Island. Obviously, their interests diverged significantly from those of residents. The contact these part-time residents had with the Local Authority was obviously greater than that of full-time residents. Many of these Townsvilleans could be described as coming from the Big Side of town, names associated with established business and politics. However well-meaning their submissions to authorities may have been or are, what they saw for the Island could not coincide with what Magnetic Island full-time residents felt.

The previous Mayor overcame this difference to some extent by travelling at least once a month to Magnetic Island to consult with a Council Consultative Committee comprised mainly of long-time residents from a variety of backgrounds. This became unworkable when the agenda was shanghaied by sectional interests with Armageddon on their minds.

At this stage in the modern history of our Island suburb, the question suggests itself: Who speaks for Magnetic Island?

Whoever that person could be, he/she must be able to speak with authority on a great range of important topics. Some of these are:

1. The very diverse tourist industry of Magnetic Island. One of the most challenging projects is to gain a TCC start on the completion of the Picnic Bay to Arcadia walkways/bikeways. This will guarantee a suitable tourist experience on The Island and wipe out a dangerous Black Spot for walkers and bike-riders. What other well-funded programs could be created to return the tourists to Magnetic Island? What works for Magnetic Island will help promote North Queensland.

2. Native title. The Queensland Government forbids anyone from making statements or even asking questions about the details of the Native Title claim to Magnetic Island. Who dares to speak out about the ILUA, now well over ten years in the making?

3. The trend is for lower-income residents to be forced to leave because of costs and charges. This also applies to many ratepayers. Who is the spokesperson for these people?

4. The tragedy that is business in Picnic Bay. Who can articulate a solution? Who is responsible?

5. The huge task of rebuilding foundations for Island roads so they are not only smooth and camber as they should, but will survive future wet seasons. Who has the courage to even think about it?

6. Who has a big enough profile to confront the century-old poser, “You chose to live there, you should put up with the inconvenience”?

7. Who can deal with the huge hole beside the ferry terminal where visitors comment, “That’s awful! Why haven’t you fixed it?”

8. Who has the courage to stand up to vested interests and demand that road deaths on Magnetic Island be investigated?

Most of these problems have arisen since the stable times presided over by the Hayles family business. Until an honest, unbiassed assessment of The Island can be formed and articulated, its potential as a tourist destination and as a safe modern suburb in which bring up our children will always be a pipe dream. To localise a popular slogan, what we need to do is think locally, and act locally.

Question: When you came to Maggie in the 1970’s, you took your carton of XXXX and your Stubbie Shorts. What SHOULD you take in 2010?

Answer: Your runners, your pushbike and a cheap pair of binoculars. When you’re tired, join grandma in a maxi-taxi or a bus.

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