A few weeks ago I published an article about the small NSW town of Finley and how Banksia Park Puppies, one of Victoria’s largest puppy factories, has had a development application put through in what is allegedly one of the most improper manners ever witnessed.
In that story I touched on the councils attempts to remove the towns beloved War Memorial Hall with the aid of prominent citizen Ross Whittaker, who is the brother of local puppy factory operator Pam Edwards.
Currently Wixxyleaks has a GIPAA Application (FOI Request) that has been accepted as valid by Berrigan Shire Council that seeks clarification and documentation on a number of issues. These I will address at a later date after receiving further response from council.
So to give you an idea of the way this council and its operatives work I thought I’d give readers a run down on the council and Ross Whittaker’s endless agenda to destroy the Finley War Memorial Hall.
The Finley War Memorial Hall sits proudly opposite Finley War Memorial Park and it is the first building you see when you drive into town from Berrigan past Pam Edward’s puppy factory. Pam Edwards is not only Whittaker’s sister but she along with Whittaker are also relatives of the Hams family who own Banksia Park Puppies whose DA has caused community outrage and whose owner Matt Hams is currently the lead lobbyist seeking to have the Labor legislation voted down that is seeing him and his puppy factory fleeing over the border to Finley.
The War Memorial Hall adjoins the School Of Arts which is a heritage listed hall as opposed to a school, and the two halls have a common annexe that runs between them.
Ross Whittaker is President of Finley Hall Committee meaning he is caretaker and operator of all halls in Finley. Whittaker is also Treasurer of the Halls Committee.
Under the Registered Organisation Act 2009 it is a breach of the Act to hold these two positions at the same time. Other sections of the Act that appear to have been disregarded is the access to minutes of meetings, public notification of AGM’s, and the applications for new members. Whittaker allegedly runs a closed shop in this regards and maintains complete control
By no coincidence at all Whittaker also heads the Finley Amateur Dramatic and Musical Society (FADAMS), and has certainly managed to prove the word “amateur” accurate in its operation. FADAMS operates out of the smaller School Of Arts hall and puts on one stage production per year.
Whittaker and the council have been trying to persuade the Finley residents that their plans to expand the School Of Arts and improve its facilities is preferable to keeping the War Memorial Hall.
They have failed. Spectacularly.
When council held a public meeting to proudly display their plans for the site, that included the demolition of the War Memorial Hall, it was to be a proud moment for the council. The council paid an external PR firm to talk up and present the plans, Ross Whittaker and his supporters were there to cheer and clap at the right time and the council were mighty excited that the community were going to come on board with the plans.
These plans included a car park in place of the hall, which would provide parking for 13 vehicles. This lucky number perhaps is indicative of the level of community excitement for Whittaker’s amateur drama productions.
Unfortunately for the council, approximately 85% of those who attended and were supposed to be cheering, ended up leaving in disgust instead.
Council also ignored a petition with approximately 1500 signatures on it seeking to ensure the War Memorial Hall wasn’t going to be left a pile of rubble.
It is important to note that drama is not only important with Ross Whittaker, two prominent Berrigan shire Council employees are involved in the Berrigan Amateur Dramatic Society. Matthew Hansen Director Corporate Affairs and Camillus O’Kane the Town Planner.
An earlier attempt to demolish the hall was due to an alleged white ant infestation. Now those in the pest control game would know what a serious issue white ants are, but they may not be aware of the Finley White Ant.
The Finley White Ant is a cunning little devil. It is a highly intelligent species of white ant that knows that when it infests two adjoining buildings to do only minor damage to one building, and catastrophic damage to the other. Thus rendering one building worthy of expansion and the other only fit for demolition.
The people of Finley for some reason were not convinced by this and the white ants moved out of town suddenly.
Whittaker penned an open letter for the Southern Riverina News to publish which provided details of the levels of utter incompetence in the halls management.
This letter and spin are part of his pitch to have his $380K proposal on the sites revamping put into action.
If Whittaker is to be taken at his word at all regarding this incompetence, then he forgets that all of the incompetence is his own. He is the President of the Hall Committee and he is also the Treasurer. Given his own reporting of his own failures running the hall it would take someone pretty special to desire to see $380K of ratepayer’s money spent on his plan.
Below is a link to a letter to residents that was sent out by the Former Mayor Bernard Curtin.
The mailout refers to the need for both halls to be operated for the War Memorial Hall to have toilet facilities. Operated? There is no machinery involved here. What Curtin means by “operated” is a key turned in a single door and a light switch turned on. Major work indeed.
It also also refers to low usage and low income. Since May this year there have been four farmers markets in the hall as it is the only facility in the entire shire big enough to host this valuable activity for the struggling farming community. It has also been used for private functions, it is used by the community as a venue for a basketball competition with approximately 150 players, and also by schools for it’s basketball facilities. Being the only venue large enough, it also recently hosted a footballers ball with over 400 attending. If there is any issue with revenue that aspect has been mismanaged by the Halls Committee headed by Ross Whittaker.
The council mailout also contains the latest tactic in the bid to remove the hall. Disabled facilities.
The plan here is to demolish the annexe between the halls which contains the women’s toilets, and the men’s toilets at the back of the hall and build a new set of toilets adjoining the School Of Arts that include disabled facilities. This plan does not involve the demolition of the War Memorial Hall so the hope is that the community will embrace this as it caters to those with a disability.
However you don’t need to be the world’s greatest sceptic to see through this plan.
This so-called plan leaves the War Memorial Hall without any toilet facilities at all, and the plan also involves a second independent committee for the War Memorial Hall which would leave them at the mercy of Whittaker should they need toilet facilities.
For those who believe this effort may be about looking after the disabled, currently there is a large room which is being used to house an old piano and other bits and bobs that are never used. It sits between the men’s toilet and kitchen so plumbing is not an issue, why not put disabled toilets there?
Instead council and Whittaker has the disabled going out the front door in their wheelchairs, perhaps in the rain, to go around the building to use the proposed toilets on the other side.
Council has so much regard for the disabled of Finley that none of the council public toilets have any disabled restrooms, and having looked inside them myself none would fit a wheelchair through the cubicle doorways, one you have to squeeze between the toilet bowl and cubicle wall just to close the door.
The public toilets in the park opposite the War Memorial Hall are in such poor condition the council has had to put a warning sign on them saying their use may be hazardous.
Currently disabled needing a toilet have to travel about five blocks and go to the RSL Club where after they have gone through the signing in process they can use those facilities.
Still it is easy to understand why the council haven’t had any money to spend on disabled facilities, after all there have been far more important things to spend money on. Things such as lobbying and drawing up plans to remove a hall built in memory of those who gave their lives so that we could have things like drama societies, and the much-needed boat ramp near the Berrigan Council General Manager Rowan Perkins’ home as the other one further down the street clearly wasn’t enough.
This is not about disabled facilities this is about setting themselves up with another reason to tear the hall down, the lack of toilet facilities.
For the lack of maintenance on the War Memorial Hall, Whittaker’s committee ensured one thing was painted. The signage that stated that the hall is a War Memorial Hall has been painted over to hide that fact.
However if you, like I do, find that disgusting it gets worse. Two Honor Rolls have been removed from the hall.
These Honor Rolls have the names of those from the area that made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. These should not have been removed and their removal shows an utter lack of respect not only for our fallen soldiers but also their families. To think of these Honor Rolls sitting in a garage or a closet or room somewhere collecting dust should enrage anyone who has ever lost a relative in conflict.
There will be more to come on this matter and on other matters involving Berrigan Shire Council, so if any readers have any information feel free to email me.
Lest We Forget.