An anti-merger protest in Tumbarumba on Thursday saw hundreds of people gather in the Memorial Hall for a public meeting, before braving the bitter weather for a candlelight march through the town, and gathering to burn paper representing the merger process.
Save Our Shire member Neil Hamilton lit up sheets of paper with ‘KPMG Modelling,’ the basis of the merger decision from then-Premier Mike Baird, ‘Stronger Councils’ the catchcry of the amalgamation PR strategy, and other symbols of the forced merger, while Tumbarumba residents and invited politicians shielded their candles from the rain as best they could.
One guest speaker at the event was Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party Member for Upper Hunter, John Preston, who explained the importance of autonomous local councils to small communities.
“When you are in a country town – Carcoar was 385 people, where I was born – and it’s you against the world, your first port of call to government is via your local council,” he said.
“That’s it, that’s how you plug in. Now, these guys, they simply don’t get that. When you’re on Pitt Street you are literally surrounded by government. When you’re in the main street of Carcoar or Cowra, or Wagga for that matter, or on the Sturt Highway, how you plug in to government, and your access to cohesion, to community and to each other, it’s all through your local government.
“You don’t mess with that, and I’m terribly sorry some bright spark down in Sydney thought it would be a good idea.”
Other speakers included Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly, Gundagai Council in Exile’s John Knight, Tumbarumba resident Neil Hamilton, and Save Our Shire President Lucy Henderson, reading letters of support from the Protect Pittwater Association, Guyra Residents, comedian HG Nelson, and broadcaster Alan Jones.
Perhaps the most exciting speaker was former Mayor of Cabonne, Rhonda Watt, who lead the efforts to ‘Put the Nationals Last’ at the Orange by-election, resulting in them losing the seat for the first time in nearly seventy years.
“I just want to inspire you that people power can change Tumbarumba,” she said.
“It can change the future, and I just want you to dig deep. I hear it from people – ‘I don’t know what to do, I’m just little ol’ me.’
“Well, I’m just little ol me too. I’m a farmer’s wife, a small business owner, no political aspirations in my body, but I know that this was wrong from the beginning, and that we had to dig deep, we had to fight, and we had to try and get what was so wrong, righted. So I want to inspire each and every one of you here, that you can make a difference.”