You can never have too much of a good thing. Just ask Geoff Pritchard: after 17 years total on the Tumut Shire Council with ten of them as mayor, he’s put his hand up again.
“I still feel like I’ve got unfinished work,” he said.
He believes his nearly two decades of experience will come in handy during what will undoubtedly be a challenging term for the new Snowy Valleys councillors.
“It’s going to be a very difficult time, with the merging,” he said.
“I think we have to work together and aim for the future, and I think we need some old hands in the mix; old and new.”
Geoff first encountered Tumut as a child, when his father served in Papua New Guinea during World War II, and the family moved to Tumut for fear of Sydney being attacked. After many years working as a surgeon at the Prince Henry Hospital and training medical students at UNSW, he retired to the town that had continued to hold a nostalgia-washed pull in the back of his mind.
“The other thing is that where I was working in Sydney at Prince Henry Hospital, which is an infectious disease hospital, we used to get a lot of country patients, and I always felt that they were coming too late in the course of their illnesses,” he said.
“They were always separated from the families. So I thought I wanted to come back down here and put something back via the health service.”
Health remains one of his major passions. Through the organisation he started last year, the Tumut Community Progress Association, he’s been pushing hard for government to do something about the lack of adequate health services in the Riverina Highlands, and plans to continue to do so through council.
“When I first moved here I used to do surgery, and give surgical advice for the whole South-West Slopes region, based at the Tumut Hospital,” he said.
“And I could do that because there were three GPs with anaesthetist capabilities. We have none now. We used to have doctors on call all the time, and we have few now. That has to be addressed.
“If we’re going to have these major investments here, Visy, Snowy Hydro, and the forest industry generally, there is a great need for strong health services here. It’s alright for them to bring in a helicopter for them to fly one person out, but if – as has happened before – there’s a major accident, you need trained people here on the ground, and that’s what I want re-established.
“Also, if we want people to bring their money here, and build a house, and live here, and spend their superannuation here, and put their money into the local economy, we need services to a degree that they can stay here until the day they die. We don’t want them running off to retirement villages somewhere else.”
As for the merger, he notes that tourists – probably the region’s greatest economic potential – don’t pay attention to council boundaries anyway. He wants to draw Tumbarumba and Tumut, and all the other towns, closer together, through the reestablishment of the Southern Harvest Trail.
“Nobody’s going to come to Tumut to see Tumut by itself, and nobody’s going to Tumbarumba to see Tumbarumba by itself, but they will come to see the region,” he said.
“There are a few people who have shown the way to a large extent – Greg Mouat and Ralph Wilson in Batlow, the brewery [Tumut River Brewing Co], and others.
“If people are going from Sydney to Melbourne they can come this way and meander through our hills, and go off on side visits, and that’s a hell of an opportunity. As long as we make sure that it provides jobs for the local people, and that the money stays in the region.”