Every night and every day
The awfulisers work away
Awfulising public places,
Favourite things and little graces
Awfulising lovely treasures
Common joys and simple pleasures
Awfulising far and near
The parts of life we held so dear
Democratic, clean and lawful
Awful, awful, awful, awful

— Thank you Leunig for keeping us here in the Huon Valley in touch with reality.

There are many places throughout the Valley that are significant to our heritage and cultural identity. These need to be recognised and protected to ensure future generations have the opportunities of insight and empathy with the past to guide and inform the present.
— From the Huon Valley Council’s HUON VALLEY 2020 Community Plan.

Good relationships are built in trust. Trust is a product of consistent, reliable and competent behaviours. Trust is needed between residents and Council for a community to function well.
— From the Huon Valley Council’s HUON VALLEY 2020 Community Plan.

AT DAWN on Thursday last (February 26), an outrage was perpetrated on the Franklin waterfront on the order of the Huon Valley Council.

The Huon River, in its journey from source to Southern Ocean, has carved as pretty a valley as any in our beguilingly beautiful state. The valley certainly is not what it was before the white settlers began changing its face in the 19th century, yet it retains an atmosphere (albeit deceptive) of spectacular charm.

South of Huonville, the valley capital, the waters run wide and deep, flowing smoothly east and west of the newly protected Egg Island wetlands. Beyond Mountain River Valley, Sleeping Beauty reclines languorously. East and west of the river, hills, much of them tree-clad, rise behind shore settlements. Stretching south from Cygnet to Huon Island, the coast wriggles in and out of idyllic holiday-playground bays. And to the southwest, brooding ranges guard the (now-protected) great southwestern wilderness.

The Huon Valley is well loved by those families whose ancestors eked out reliable, if not hugely lucrative, livings. The valley today is also home to many refugees from the mainland, seekers of the last refuge south from the strictures and red-taped suffocation of modern society. As one of those refugees, I am still deeply enamoured of the beauty and friendliness I have found in the Cygnet and wider valley community.

Sad to say, there seem to be worrying forces at work in the valley, forces that not only are unresponsive to community needs but don’t even seem to want to know what those needs are.

They are the kind of forces that are taking advantage of a disturbing apathy of spirit endemic in stressed 21st century communities worldwide, even though occasional happenings suggest a latent sense of place and heritage lingers in most of us. Joni Mitchell’s sad song a couple of decades back sums it up: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.

The couthlessness that one senses about the Huon Valley Council was never so palpable as when, last Thursday, I got the tragic news that, soon after dawn that day, the Franklin Oval’s historic football clubrooms had been razed (under the protective watch of police). That the bulldozer moved in at about first light suggests at least troubled consciences on the part of the prime movers of this betrayal of the trust of the folk of Franklin and the municipality as a whole.

Only 16 days previously, the Huon Valley Council, with just one dissenting vote, had passed a motion to demolish the clubrooms. (I am not aware of any serious community consultation about the fate of the clubrooms prior to the council’s February meeting apart from talk with a couple of sporting bodies.) The motion included the rider that the demolition would be done “subject to obtaining the statutory approvals for this action”. (Wow! Who ever heard of obtaining one statutory approval in 16 days, let alone the plurality of approvals the council’s successful motion acknowledged were required. No doubt the council will be able to explain this extraordinarily bureaucratic triumph.)

News that the demolition was imminent had been revealed a few days earlier by a council press release that accused this solid old building — built in the 1950s and scene of many triumphs and lamentations — of being a danger to the public. In the press release, the mayor was quoted as saying, among others things, that its trusses were rotten (even though they were steel) and that the public should not be endangered by bits of roofing flying about. (At the February council meeting, a “background report” said that, “on 22 January 2009, a large section of the roof blew off, with sheets of iron landing on the oval and the boat ramp where there was a large number of people gathered”, and this was repeated in the council press release. This was a claim some locals would still dispute; and there are those who will categorically deny that any roofing at all blew off the building on that windy day. They say that when roofing on one corner started to flap it was tied down until council workers arrived to secure it.)

When a bulldozer moved in early last week, and the front verandah and some cladding were removed, warning bells started ringing in the ears of defenders of the clubrooms’ value as a feature and important part of the heritage of the town. A petition to save the building was raised. (A meeting of local people and council representatives on Wednesday last week suggests the council was aware of the petition.) Clearly, a groundswell of support for the clubrooms’ retention was swelling. Even Deputy Premier Lara Giddings had earlier called for a stay of execution.

Just for a moment it seemed that Australia’s decaying democratic process was being revived; and that the Franklin community would at least get a fair hearing and that “due process” would be followed.

When the bulldozer, parked menacingly near the partly dismantled building, was driven away, the clubrooms’ defenders thought that at least a stay of execution had been achieved and that their arguments would be given a hearing.

No chance.

On Thursday, just as the sky was lightening, back came the bulldozer and workers — and police, presumably to keep potentially meddling citizenry at bay.

This plain yet gracious 1950s building, constructed with a strength characteristic of an era when artisans could not countenance the possibility of obsolescence, did its best to resist. Witnesses tell me the dozer had a terrible tussle with it before the clubrooms’ heart surrendered. By that afternoon, the site was bare. (One never ceases to marvel at just how efficient a bureaucracy can be when it really wants to get something done.)

The destruction of this Franklin icon is seen by many as a mindless, irresponsible act of vandalism. And some sense it could have involved breaches of regulations at various levels.

More disturbing than the demolition, has been council’s contempt and disregard for community sentiment and the people’s desire to be consulted. The sequence of events last week looked suspiciously tinged with deceit and, possibly “porky-pies”. There certainly is talk in Franklin of a hidden agenda (which only insiders are privy to) and a chance to slurp up some of the millions of credit-crunch dollars that Rudd is splashing around the countryside. 

The Franklin incident is yet another piece of evidence that fuels a growing sense in the valley that the performance of the council is urgently in need of scrutiny. (The eight-year review required of it under the Local Government Act is already overdue.)

Last Thursday’s act of heritage vandalism only reinforces the feeling that the people of the valley have a council that is out of touch with the communities it is supposed to be serving.

To maintain good governance in a civilised community, those that govern must be seen to be governing fairly; and consultation with the community must be seen to be happening.

The Huon Valley Council, like most elected bodies, produces plenty of spin and literature praising the concepts of “communication” and “community consultation”, yet we are still awaiting evidence of its sincerity that it believes in these values.

The following topics might be of particular interest to any higher authority that might be delegated to assess the performance of the Huon Valley Council:

— The council’s consistent adherence to its own planning rules
— The council’s investment policies, especially its decisions to make what appear to have been questionable long-term investments in exotic products (it looks very much as if about $4 million of the council’s investment portfolio has been lost)
— The council’s demonstrated inability to communicate with the people it is elected to serve.

The Huon Valley Council talks communication, but communicate it does not.

— Bob Hawkins

PS: Just across the road from the waterfront demolition site stands The Lady Franklin Hotel. Some, including myself, would say, in its utter plainness, it is devoid of any architectural merit. On the roadside in front of it stands a council plaque. On it is a photograph of The Lady Franklin Hotel as it was in all its glory in the 1920s: a two-storey celebration of classic Victorian architecture. The caption observes that it was “unfortunately demolished” in the 1960s. Will we ever learn?


Bob Hawkins
AT DAWN on Thursday last (February 26), an outrage was perpetrated on the Franklin waterfront on the order of the Huon Valley Council.