Opinion

Calls to community to care for Mooroopna’s historic Hall

By Shepparton News

Wanted desperately. Committed, articulate, energetic, Mooroopna-ites who will advocate and organise the protection, preservation and enhancement of Mooroopna’s historic Athenaeum Hall — in conjunction with the owner, service clubs, council and, imperatively, the community.

Age and gender not important — number not prohibitive. Abundant help assured.

Built by first European settler, when Mooroopna, in the Shire of Waranga, governed from Rushworth, was bigger than Shepparton.

As a commercial proposition, the Athenaeum was the town’s popular venue for regular entertainment such as dances, concerts, magic lantern shows, recitals — you name it.

In 1911, the hall was sold to Mooroopna Freemasons, who occupied it until selling it to the then Mooroopna Base Hospital in 1963, becoming the Elsie Jones School of Nursing until 1978, then occupied for a period by Mooroopna’s Historical Society.

Recently the premises has been vandalised but appears structurally okay.

All it desperately needs now is some enthusiastic vision, some progressive organisation and immediate TLC.

●The Victorian Government is delivering new Local Government Act reforms in a Bill, announced via Local Government Minister Adam Somyurek’s media release on Monday, including, among a suite of five other topic possibilities for community comment, ‘‘Introducing a preference for single member wards to make councils more accountable’’.

More to say on the other five proposals in the future, but here’s a few thoughts on possible ramifications of the possibility of imposing nine wards on Greater Shepparton — nine wards with say 5000 voters in each.

First off, would it make our council ‘‘more accountable?’’ Being a life-long disbeliever in fairies I’d have to opt for a definitive negative — no way.

Try this for size. Rural ward: one councillor, Tatura ward: one councillor, Mooroopna-Ardmona, two wards: two councillors, Shepparton urban, five wards: five councillors. Do you see the possibilities inherent in such a carve-up?

Having had 18 first-hand years’ experience of geographic council ridings (wards) I can assure you that manipulation can easily rear its tempting head and all forms of government survive or sink at times on the numbers game.

Of course there could be other alignments — all discarding the ‘‘communities of interest’’ principle. ‘Nuff said, but whatever ‘‘community division’’ ward configuration you care to name there will in practice be ‘‘ganging up’’ and horse-trading to the detriment of the less geographically located. Noted that wards is only a ‘‘preference’’ — ‘‘unsubdivided’’ clearly still being the best-suited for Greater Shepparton.

The last time the Victorian Electoral Commission’s electoral representation recommendation was made to, and adopted by, the then minister was the enlargement of council numbers from seven to nine, coming into effect 17 months ago.

Notice the difference? You’ve got to be joking, surely.

●August 1973, as a brand-new greenhorn councillor I fronted up to my first municipal council meeting at the former Shire of Rodney — the youngest of all-male nine and the shire’s first public servant among all farmers and a retailer.

Since then, as a representative or an interested public gallery observer, I’ve missed very few ‘‘ordinary’’ (sometimes very ordinary) or ‘‘special’’ council meetings — 47 years of it.

You get to think you’ve seen it all, but then out of the blue comes something new — certainly you don’t expect what happened on Tuesday down at the Greater Shepparton’s Civic Bunker on Welsford St.

Fairly innocuous agenda — five in the gallery, one councillor apology, first five statutory items skipped through, on to Item 6: public question time.

‘‘None received’’ from the head table.

Then it starts.

A gentleman from the gallery (public galleries are no speakie zones) disputes the ‘none received’ edict and verbal warfare erupts. Requests for decorum and return to seat seem to be ignored followed several times by the polite direction to vamoose, depart and vacate the boardroom.

Next the meeting is declared adjourned and the eight councillors set forth from the room, leaving the obviously annoyed objector continuing to ‘‘debate’’ the issue with the remaining chief executive.

The disappointed objector eventually debunks the scene, the councillors return, the meeting resumes and all is well. Mayor O’Keeffe did a good job — seemingly unrattled.

Apparently this sort of thing is not unprecedented elsewhere, but in 47 years it’s a first for me.

Shepparton’s John Gray has vast experience in local government, urban water reform and natural resource management.