Cautious Optimism about Geraldton's future

I'm quite positive with respect to the economic stability of Geraldton long term, and can personally attest to Geraldton being one of the best places in the country to live if you're looking for a great balance of lifestyle, affordability, and beauty. 

I'm not bullish because I am sure there are going to me thousands of high paying jobs in 5 years though. I'm positive because Geraldton has a fundamental handful of things that make it great. There's enough jobs if you have the right skill set or are willing to undertake training or education. There's few better places in terms of beaches and a wonderful outdoor lifestyle. And you don't need to be a multi millionaire to live near the beach, like you would in Sydney, Melbourne or Perth. 

Yet as a media publication, it's very challenging to publish anything that questions a bullish narrative around Geraldton's economic prospects. 

The bulk of our advertisers are both business and property owners, and they, as you expect, have a natural desire to see a positive story about Geraldton's economic future be the constant narrative. 

But the last decade plus of unquestioned positivity has lead to lots of members of the public being left holding investments that are now worth far less than they paid. I personally know people who owe far more on their homes than what they could reasonable be expected to sell them for today. 

Sure, it's not the first time real estate prices have fallen in Gero, but the fact that many of these purchases were made under an irresponsible narrative painted by those in various levels of Government, and indeed, us in the media, is a problem. Why are there more and more empty shops around Geraldton each month? Why has the population dropped so much in the last 3 years? Why are we still building new shopping centres in the midst of this? Why did the federal government incentivise massive amounts of development and new homes built when landlords struggled to even find tenants for existing properties?

Rewind to 2006. Property prices around WA were booming, in large part due to the insatiable demand for WA's iron ore from China. And of course there was the O word.

Oakajee. Word on the street was that the Oakajee Port, north of Geraldton, was going to go ahead, and when it did, you could expect basically a repeat of what happened in Karratha and Port Hedland, where people were paying over $2000 per week to rent a shack, and they had to hand over the marriage rights to the eldest daughter. 

I earnestly jumped into the property market during this heady time, paying ABOVE asking price for a fibro home in Rangeway. It felt great when I discovered my home had increased in value by at least 50 grand within a few months too. I knew it was in part because of economic fundamentals I had no control over, but I couldn't help patting myself on the back for being so smart and buying when I did. 

During this same period in 2006, way before I ever decided to launch Everything Geraldton, I realised it was super hard to get any local news online. So I built a small website where I posted any news content about Geraldton I could find. Literally no-one but I used it, but it led me to become quite engrossed in what was happening with respect to Oakajee.

Essentially, a Chinese backed mob thought they had the rights to build the port. They planned on actually doing it too. They had money lined up, but right when they were about to press the big green button, McTiernan and Labor in their infinite wisdom, decided the agreement that the original mob had was too old, and now we should open the process up to tender. 

That decision added at least a year of dicking around to the Oakajee process, and in the end, the Japanese backed competitors won the tender. 

Except they never built it. During the time of all the fluffing around, the costs of labour (people working, not the political party) went through the roof, and the effects of the US economic disaster was starting to be felt around the world. I remember there was a week there where you literally couldn't get a bank loan, everyone's super was frozen, and all of a sudden it became super unlikely Oakajee was still viable. 

But the hype around Oakajee didn't die just yet. In fact, there was an "Iron Ore Alliance" that had formed in the Mid West that had produced a publication that prophesied Geraldton's population was going to hit between 75,000 and 100,000. I scratched my head at how a bunch of pencil pushers came up with these numbers. 

I read through everything I could about Oakajee. The entire port was going to ship about 45 million tonnes a year, maaaaybe 60 million in a stretch. 

"60 million?" I exclaimed one day. "That's nothing."

Up north, BHP and Rio would ADD a 300 million tonne port before breakfast. And here we are thinking a 60 million tonne port is going to make us all property millionaires?

Not going to happen.

Meanwhile, the City of Geraldton was hiking rates like they were in the rate raising olympics. Property, all of a sudden, didn't seem like such a great investment. 

Nationally syndicated writers, economists and property "gurus" boldly kept predicting Geraldton was the next "boom town", and that it was a "gateway" to the North West and to the Mid West. 

Oakajee Port was not built. 


Fast forward a few years. 

I remember attending a rates meeting briefing with the CGG a few years ago, where they presented rates predictions over the next decade. I raised my hand with a question. 

"You're predicting in those charts that the Geraldton population is going to hit 75,000. Where are you getting those numbers?"

It seemed to me an important question. Here we are budgeting for the future based on an assumption that Geraldton is going to spike in population within a foreseeable timeline. Based on what I knew about Geraldton's economy, what was coming to town, and the downturn globally in commodities, I couldn't see why 40,000 people were going to decide to move to Gero all of a sudden. 

I was told the numbers were from different "official sources". 

There was no explanation about how those official sources made their predictions, but if reading Nassim Taleb has taught me anything, I was right to be skeptical. 

As you know, the exact opposite happened. Geraldton's population declined in the following few years. 


Now, to Alannah McTiernan's credit, she DID try and calm the mindless hype about Geraldton down a little. "Cautious optimism" was what she publicly called for at an economic forum in Geraldton. She was a little drowned out by others predicting untold riches who thought China had a special money printing machine that never turned off. 

But perhaps her message was the narrative we should have adopted all along. 

"Cautious optimism." 

Invest only after doing your own due diligence.

Don't borrow more than you can afford to repay because you don't know if you'll be able to sell this asset later. 

Maybe Oakajee Port will get built, maybe it won't. But even if it IS built, it will only employ a couple of hundred people when it's finished. 

Maybe the investors who are saying China's economy is grossly overheated are correct, and we're going to see a very, very painful economic collapse from our largest customer. 

Cautious optimism. 


Now I don't write this brief overview to say "I told you so"... because I didn't tell anyone so. If the banks would have given me more money, I'd own 7 units in Rangeway right now wondering why God hated me so much by allowing me to make such a decision. 

At best I was a bit skeptical.

And hey, maybe history could have gone differently. Maybe the US never allows stupid loans to be written to people who couldn't afford them and we don't have the GFC. Maybe Oakajee Port gets built AND the surrounding land gets developed into a thriving industrial precinct.

Maybe that pile of land near the airport sitting dormant the City of Geraldton tried to turn into a technology park gets bought by Amazon and we have a thriving little tech community employing developers and software engineers.

But those things didn't happen. And instead, those "gurus" who made the heady predictions about Geraldton's growth lost no money. They're off doing other things, making money predicting the future somewhere else. They had no skin in the game, but we listened to them because they told us what we wanted to hear. 

The people who paid the price are those who didn't possess the ability to dig below the surface, and made investment decisions that they now regret. 

I realise that all of us in business want to see positive economic sentiment that will help raise the tide of all our boats. 

But lets make sure we don't repeat the mistakes of the last decade. Let's ignore the instinct to only listen to economic predictions that we WANT to be true. 

And let's dispense with the hype. 

I don't need hype. I need facts. 


Update: Correction around who had rights to originally build port. 

A chat with our Mayor after one year in the job

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It's now been over 12 months since the people of Geraldton elected Shane Van Styn to the position of Mayor.

I had a chat with Mr Van Styn about the past year, the state of the union, as it were, and how he's finding the role of Mayor.

"One surprising thing for me has been the high regard that people hold for the office of the Mayor. It's extremely difficult to turn down attending an event or an opening."

"A casual thing that's changed is now having to get better dressed to go to Bunnings. Everyone likes to stop and have a chat about what's important to them in their city. Bunnings has gone from a 10 minute walk-in-walk-out to an hour or two job. Same as the supermarket. It's a small thing, but it's something that impacts you nearly every day."

So you shop online now?

"No! Shop local, buy local!" Shane bellowed cheerfully.

I was curious about the Mayor's background, and how he came to live in Geraldton and become Mayor. And I found the story rather surprising.

Shane is from the suburb of Gosnells in Perth's south east. He had just finished uni, and was heading north, past Geraldton, to visit some friends when his car broke down in Geraldton.

"I couldn't afford the tow truck at the time," said Shane. "So I swapped them for my car. I was forced to stay the night in Geraldton."

"In my last exam there was a guy from Geraldton, Christopher Quelch. And for some reason I wrote his phone number down on a pencil case. I had decided I was moving to Albany. I was moving to the country and had chosen Albany. And for whatever reason I took that pencil case with me (on the trip up north). So I had a phone number to ring. So he did a ring around for me. 'He's a good bloke, big fella, plays footy, does security, is an accountant, looking to move to the country.'"

"A couple of footy teams approached me and offered to sign me up. I got offered a job doing security work, and I got offered an accounting position in town. By the morning the real estate agent had come around to show me houses."

"I met some security guards that I knew, and got an accountant job in the now Town Towers."

So you have great memories of that place then?

"I remember very well getting stuck in the lift. It was the thing to do in Town Towers,"  Shane recalled, smiling.

"I was also there the day the toy store caught on fire. I came downstairs and they were surprised to see I was still there. They had forgotten to evacuate everyone upstairs."

Whoops.

"I said 'That's alright.'"

"As part of that trip to Geraldton, and this is why I'm so passionate about the verge pick up skip bins, I fitted out most of my utensils, furniture and appliances in my house by landing in Geraldton during the time of verge pickup. I went and scavenged. Got a chair, got a bed, toaster, vacuum, wok."

So you started at the bottom.

"On the bones of my ...."

"I originally said to Mum 'I'll be back in a year'. About a year after that I decided I'd hang around for a while. I don't think I ever made a conscious decision I'm staying here for good, it's just the way it's evolved. I certainly have no desire to leave, at all."

"Geraldton chose me, not the other way around."

From that humble beginning, albeit with an accounting degree in his pocket, Mr Van Styn became involved in a number of companies over the years, including Yamaji Mining and Civil, Westwood Accountants, Camel Bar, a night club, and has had roles in the community including president of the basketball association, Councillor, and of course now Mayor.

And for those paying attention, you'd know Mr Van Styn has tried entering state and federal politics also, as a candidate for the National Party.

Had politics always been an aspiration for Van Styn? In short, yes.

"Even as a young kid my Gran would tell me I should always be a politician the way I would debate issues. Her Father was a Labor upper house member in the Western Australian parliament."

So she had exposed you to the political world?

"Yeah. But she couldn't stand it. Ha."

But she still suggested you should be a politician?

"I don't think she was meaning it all positively," Shane says, smiling.

I laughed at the thought of an old lady sarcastically telling an argumentative little Shane he should be a politician, meant as a gentle criticism, but becoming a prophesy.

"Even in primary school and in early high school I used to go and visit the local member and have a chat."

Shane also spoke of being involved with 'guild tickets' at Curtin Uni, student clubs, and other activities that would lay the foundation for aspirations in the political world.

Once Shane was settled in Geraldton, he became one of the regular letter writers into the paper.

"So you had people like me vs Olly Wrenstead, Jack Simpson, Jim Du Boulay... they were some of the regular letter writer inners, and I became one of them. I started going to council meetings and challenging the status quo, as a member of the public."

Shane reflected on how he was similar to the folk who regularly appear now at Council meetings, challenging himself and Council.

"John Sewell, who was on council at the time, one day said to me 'Look Shane, you're showing up here all the time, giving us a hassle. Put your money where your mouth is, put up or shut up.' I can't remember the exact phrase, but something like that. 'A couple of us aren't standing, there's a couple of spots.' And I thought 'He's right there. He's extremely right. If you think you can do a better job, then stand.'"

"So I did."

Thus Shane Van Styn became a councillor.

So how did Shane Van Styn end up with the National Party and running for state and federal parliament?

"So I was sitting there in my offices at Yamaji Mining and Civil and Grant Woodhams came and knocked on the door, with my mate Gerry Gould from Geraldton Hydraulics. They asked to have a word, and said 'Would you mind running for the National Party in the upcoming state election?' They put forward their case. I thought about it. Brendan Grylls rang me. Few other people rang us. At the time I rang Ian Blayney to say "I'm actually thinking about this."

Previously Shane had been a member of the Liberal party. He says he had tried to engage them, but hadn't had any success getting to a conference or making it into the inner circle. "But the National Party was the exact opposite," says Shane. "They couldn't do enough for you. They invited me to all their conferences, gave me a chance to meet people and speak. So that was that. Had a run, obviously didn't make it. Then the Federal election came up. They said 'Would you run against Barry Haase? Shane, your posters are still up. You've just run an election. We've got no money. Haase is going to win. We just want a name on the ticket.'"

"Just a name on a ticket. Political parties do it all the time. They just want a name on the ticket, it helps them get electoral funding."

Shane said it was also close to the upcoming local government elections, thus he was able to quit his position at council without triggering a by-election.

I can remember at ABC on a Friday, Glenn asking me, 'Shane, really what would it take for you to win?' And I said 'Barry Haase would have to retire.'"

"Then Saturday morning, phone rang about 7:30 in the morning, it was Barnaby Joyce, and he says 'Shane, Barnaby! Have you heard Barry Haase has retired?' I went 'What?' I thought he was joking. But then why would Barnaby be ringing me at 7:30 in the morning? But if he's ringing my personal phone it's serious. Then Alex McKinnon from the Guardian rang, and then it was on."

"It was quite late in the election cycle, so at that point I was the only profile candidate announced in Durack."

There was a big swing toward the National Party at that election, but Van Styn would ultimately come up short, after Labor gave their preferences to the Liberals instead of the Nats.

Shane was pragmatic in reflecting on the two losses. "In terms of losing, I came second. If Palmer United hadn't spent so much money I would have won. If Labor hadn't given their preferences to Liberal, I would have won. But not with the State election. Ian Blayney won that fair and square."

Is Ian Blayney going to win the next State Election?

"The next state election is going to be incredibly tight. I honestly can't pick it. But I acknowledge that it will be harder for Paul (Brown, Nationals) to win it than it would be for Ian to lose it."

Shane was pretty dismissive of Labor's chances of winning however. "When you look at the last election, Liberal and Nationals primary vote was 70%. Labor can't win. Unless the National party decides to do a preference deal with Labor, and Labor getting ahead of the Nats. That's the only way I see Labor being with any reasonable prospect of winning."

Following the Federal election, Van Styn put his hat back in the ring for Councillor with the City of Greater Geraldton. This was the year 'City of Greater Geraldton Ratepayers Demand Change' endorsed a number of candidates, Shane being one of them.

"Not officially," said Shane, when questioned about the endorsement. "But I was one of three people that voted against it (the massive rate increase of 2012 that birthed CGG Ratepayers Demand Change). 

The other two councillors to vote against that now infamous rate hike were Jerry Clune and Bob Ramage.

Are you proud now that you voted against that 27% rate rise?

"It was more than just voting against 27% rate rise per se. The principle of what we were arguing about, particularly me and Bob, was the need for expenditure restraint. If we were running an incredibly lean and mean operation, skin and bones, it could be put forward that we needed a 27% rate rise to build infrastructure that everybody wants; if rates were at record lows (compared) to everybody else, you could make the argument. So it wasn't the 27% rate rise per se. The context of us having a woefully bloated administration, and THEN a 27% rate rise, was way too much. So we had two arguments. We thought we were too big and bloated ALREADY, even without the 27% rate rise. The two combined was utter madness. And rate payers... well, unfortunately Bob Ramage got chucked out in the election. That was the election where I was the only one that was returned."

Becoming Mayor

From talking to you, you seem to have a lot of regard for Mr Carpenter, (the former Mayor), even though you disagree on several things. How did you feel running against him?

"I used to discuss this occasionally with Neil (McIlwaine, Deputy Mayor at CGG). At the time I wasn't comfortable running against Ian. I have a lot of regard and respect for Ian. That being said, there were some significant disagreements... the size of the city operation, and the rate rise for one... and look, that was by and large all we ever really disagreed on."

"It wasn't an easy decision, but then I saw Rob Jefferies nominate, and start to get traction, you know, a bit of utilisation of social media and the like. Rob was also one of the former CEO's of the city, and we're still paying off those investments from back then. The administration grew under that as well, the financial structure deficits that we have... Everyone was telling me they want change, someone new. We saw Shane Hill stand. Again, he'd been elected as a Labor member, wasn't new, and Gavin Hirschhausen, who at the time I had no knowledge of. So as time went on people told me 'You should run, you should run.' In the end it wasn't easy. I chatted to Neil McIlwain about it, I asked if he was going to run, he elected not to, so, after enough people asking me to run, and that was a big part of it, I elected to run for Mayor."

Would you have run if Neil had run?

"Can't answer that. I don't know."

Shane spoke highly of Neil McIlwaine, the deputy Mayor. Neil is someone a lot of the Councillors go to for advice, and everyone holds in high regard.

So you won the Mayorship. There would have been a lot of sad faces as the person who was their boss for the last eight years was suddenly gone.

"I think there was a lot of sad faces in there, I think it's fair to say that we're fairly different characters. So there was probably an element of 'What have we got ourselves into?' when I came here, and I actually take great comfort that people would tell me that to my face. And not in any way derogatorily... I mean, I'm a pretty open guy and people seem to feel pretty comfortable telling me what they think, one way or the other."

"So I think the most important thing you can do after winning an election is winning over the naysayers, those who didn't vote for you... and look, we went straight to work into what ratepayers wanted. Within weeks we got rid of tip fees. That was the number one thing people spoke to me about."

Shane talked about what he wants as far as the City's fiscal position goes.

"I want to be breaking even as quickly as we can. I want to see the city in surplus, and currently our long term financial plan has that set for four years time. I think that quite comfortably we can beat that."

Does that fiscal conservatism come from your time in business or is that a philosophy you held prior to that?

"The initial part of my fiscal conservatism is probably that I grew up in a low income household. So we didn't have much, but yet we had plenty. Never went hungry, got to go on a holiday once a year. Lived in a small house, in the wrong suburb, in the wrong part of town, yet we had a great upbringing. So you learn to appreciate what you've got."

Shane reflected on how his upbringing trained him to live within his financial means, and how that translates into his role in local government.

"I think too often local government, because it's not your money, you don't apply the same level of rigour in the decision making process. So I treat every ratepayer dollar as if it was a dollar I paid, and if I didn't spend it, it's a dollar I don't have to pay."

Your differentiation when you were running for Mayor was 'We're the city, we shouldn't try to be everything. We shouldn't be trying to put a man on the moon, we're just the city of Geraldton.'

Do you feel like you've been able to execute some of that?

"That's a great analogy, because that's exactly how it was. Getting back to basics. Get back to the business of being government. We were putting a man on the moon, trying to do this and that... they're great aspirations to have, but how do you intend on attracting record tourist levels if your own residents don't think it's a nice place to go for a walk on the weekend?"

"If you can't keep the residents entertained from time to time, how do you intend on attracting people from other regions to come and spend time here? So you've got to get your house in order. The 'roads, rates and rubbish' argument for local government, and there's a couple of other r's these days; recreation, we're responsible for entertaining everyone these days, and of course regulation. We bust you for smoking and lock up your dog."

"The election result was so strong that it sent a message that this is actually what the community wanted."

"When you have a ward system, there's actually only one person who gets voted on by the whole of the city, and that's the Mayor."

"So, I reluctantly use the word 'mandate', Ken (Diehm, CGG CEO) hates me using that word, but if there was any mandate to be drawn it's just to get back to basics. People are tired of rate rises, for what they saw as frivolous things, stuff that we shouldn't be involved in, so I've been able to bring other councillors along, and collectively we've been able to achieve that."

Van Styn put the emphasis on collectively, as though to remind everyone he's not railroading changes through, but decisions are being made by the whole of council.

Let's talk about tourism.

"Tourism is incredibly important. We spent a little bit of money on the dump point at Francis St Jetty, and see how rampant that got overnight, RV's and caravans are everywhere."

"Now we've had to put Rangers down there so it's not full of people camping."

"Just that little investment showed us how fruitful it can be. A cruise ship was here today. Those little investments we've made with some shelters and some shade around the place is bringing them ashore. It's been phenomenal. What it will do is it will drive us to improve accommodation, Town Towers and the like."

"Tourism is also about your family members that might live in Perth coming to visit. Tourism is about people who might be 4 or 5 hundred kilometres away, might be in the Wheatbelt, coming here. We associate tourism with inbound foreign tourists, and that's good, but the overwhelming majority, over 80% of our tourists, are actually from Perth."

"So focusing on tourism will mean more cafes, more accommodation. One of the things about being a tourist town is you actually create more stuff for locals. As you beautify your town to attract tourists... you actually have a beautiful town to live in. Win-win."

Shane spoke a little of the branding issues we still have in Geraldton. "We don't know if we're the Batavia Coast, Coral Coast, Turquoise Coast, Sun City, Geraldton, Geraldton-Greenough, Greater Geraldton, Geraldton-Greenough-Mullewa, who knows? Golden Outback, Mid West, Mid West with two words, Midwest as one word. We can't even agree how to spell Midwest! This is how diabolical it is."

It's definately two words.

"One word," argued Shane, which only served to prove his point.

"As we've tried to work out how we're going to handle the branding we've engaged consultants, looked at reports, looked at migration reports, looked at visitor perception surveys, put some science behind it, how we're perceived in the market, and benchmark that against other places we either want to be like or consider ourselves on par with. It's all great to say 'We don't know what we call ourselves,' or 'we can't find crayfish,' or 'It's great because we've got some wind and sand.' Let's actually put some data behind it. Then you look at what that tells you and you relay that to the businesses and say 'How would you fix these issues?' They come up with the ideas, and only then do we start. And I see radical change coming in that space as we get tourists together under the banner of Progress Mid West, a soon-to-be-in-existence economic development unit, a stand alone enterprise that's not a lobbying or representative group per se, it's an economic development agency outside of council so it can move at the speed of business rather than the speed of government."

And tourism will be in its portfolio.

"We've spent a lot of time singing kumbaya at council, it's time to get down to implementation."

What else has happened in the Mayor's first year?

One Night Stand

One Night Stand was a massive coup for Geraldton. Thousands of visitors descended on our city for Triple J's annual massive regional concert event, the One Night Stand. 15,000 people were at the event. Apart from being a fantastic night out with performances from Boy and Bear, Urthboy, Alison Wonderland, Bernard Fanning, and locals Alex the Kid... plenty of money was raised for local charities and community groups.

"That came from the Mayor talking to a bloke on Facebook! Through my Mayor page."

Geraldton was originally nominated by a local resident who then reached out to the Mayor. "Never met the guy. Brad Gundlach. He contacted me through my Mayor page. So I'm the first Mayor on Facebook. And we communicated that way. And we got in touch with Triple J that way, and then had Ken and our city team get together and they went and put together the proposal and got it across the line. So that was social media working for good."

"We had to move fast. Decisions had to be made. Budgets had to be "interpreted". And you had to keep it all secret. But we got it done."

Shane spoke of the economic benefits in the community too. "Within an hour of the announcement from Triple J about One Night Stand, every hotel room was booked. The economic benefits of all of that were huge. Little Athletics had about 400 campsites. I think they raised about 40 or 50 thousand dollars for the night. Probably more money than they'd raised in three or four years. Towns football club made $6000 selling cans of drink. $20,000 for headspace. And it flows through (the local economy) massively."

Sport

"We've had the Wildcats playing a pre season game. And we're pitching for an AFL preseason game early next year."

Shane also mentioned the Stand Up Paddle Boarding event, Open Water Swimming Challenge, BMX state rounds, and polocrosse.

Improving people's opinion of Geraldton

"The best form of marketing is not TV ads. It's about getting them here and them taking a look around. 'Cause everyone's sort of been here once. 'I drove through once. Yeah I pulled in there for fuel and it was crap.' You know? You've got to get people here. And the way to get people here is to run events that drag people here. So attracting people with large concerts, large sporting events... all these events that bring people up and they see it. And that is how you boost tourism. You get the word on the street. 'Yeah I've been there for myself. I've seen it. I've tasted the food. I've walked down the street. I've been to the foreshore. I've been to the memorial. I've looked at the wildflowers.' That is how you improve the state's perception of the city. What Geraldton people need to do is lift their positive outlook of the City. Part of that is getting back to basics. And providing the footpaths and the trees, parks, and all the stuff that they need. Including putting playground equipment back."

Shane started recalling a conversation he had. "'GO AND FIND THE BUDGET AND PUT THE PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT BACK!'"

He was referring to the large number of parks that had their play equipment removed without being replaced, prior to him being Mayor.

"I think it's fair to say we're a lot more engaged with the community now than we have been. I think we're held in a lot higher regard. We've listened to the community and become community led, which is how we should be."

 Mayor Van Styn flanked by CGG CEO Ken Diehm.  

Mayor Van Styn flanked by CGG CEO Ken Diehm.  

Council and the future

What's your relationship like with the other councillors?

"Really good, I get along with all the councillors."

Even the Mullewa ones? There was bit of a thing earlier in the year.

"Look, Mullewa councillors are passionate about their community. I think when councillors are in disagreement with each other are often at their best."

If you were to ask anyone on the street what ward they're in they couldn't tell you. Except the Mullewa people. Do you support the Ward System broadly, or would you support changing that?

"I think we have too many councillors."

Why?

"Because we could save the city some money. If we halved the number of councillors we'd probably save a quarter million a year. But that's an issue for council to debate, the public to comment on. Part of that is 'Do we have wards, do we not have wards, do we have more wards, less wards?' I know that when people used to contact me they'd look up the phone number on the website and then they'd go to the ward that was relevant and go 'You're my ward councillor, etc.' Happens all the time. I think there's an appetite to review whether the ward system should happen or not."

"The complication is Mullewa. Under the current implementation, Mullewa ward councillors exist at the discretion of the Minister. It expires in 2019. Because wards are supposed to be 'one vote - one value'. But they get two councilllors for 500 electors. Tarcoola has two councillors for 5800 electors. It's not even close to 'one vote - one value'. So in 2019, applying the principles as it stands in the local government act, there will be no more Mullewa Councillors. So let's start getting our heads around what that looks like, what's going to happen."

"And this is why I want to have these conversations. As council we should be talking about what we're going to be doing next year, in two years, in five years. And not sitting there having round tables, you know, about old mate's driveway or old mate's shed. I mean issues will come up. But what we should be doing as council is working on policies or local laws that prevent these things from happening ever again. How do we set a policy strategy, how do we set a direction that will guide us into the future, so that whenever there's a lime sand mine again, it's dealt with here? We don't have to keep having public unrest, marches, petitions. Generally petitions and marches only ever happen when you haven't set your policy framework correct."

Do you think in the future in will make sense for Chapman Valley to join the City of Greater Geraldton?

Shane paused and chuckled. There's a bit of history over this now delicate topic.

"There are no plans at the moment..." Shane began to respond in a predictable, politically sensitive manner.

"I don't think there's an appetite for Geraldton residents to consume any of Chapman Valley, and vice versa."

I pressed him a little more.

But as a business man, on paper, do you think it make sense?

"On paper as a business man I would suggest west of the Moresby Ranges, particularly places like Park Falls and the like, would be better suited to being in Geraldton. I mean they're essentially an urban suburb. They live and work in Geraldton. They consume the City of Geraldton's resources. Is the rural part of Chapman Valley suitable for being in the City of Greater Geraldton? ... You'd view how successful the integration of Mullewa was with Geraldton. On paper there'd be an argument. But you'd need to look at what financial impact it had on the Shire if you took out the residential rate payers; would it make them unsustainable? So look, there's got to be discussions in that space going forward, but there's no timeframe at the moment. My focus at the moment is financial sustainability of our own city. Let's get our own house in order first, before we can even entertain the idea of taking on more."

What do you say to local businesses out there that are doing it tough?

"It's not a Geraldton thing. This is what happens too often, be it crime, economic downturn. Too many of the overly public social media types think we just live in this little silo, and the problems that we face in Geraldton are unique to us, and no one else has this."

"Nothing could be further from the truth. If you go to other towns, cities, around the state, they all claim to have the worst ice problem. They'll claim to have the worst crime. They'll have their own Facebook group that reckons it's hell on earth. Every suburb. Every town, has those."

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"So what I tell business people is... My job as Mayor is to try and be positive, a confident message and a confident vision, for our city... to never talk the place down. And I wouldn't talk it down because I love the place. Hence I'm the Mayor. But the way I talk about things is in practical examples. If Woolworths is building a Supermarket in Wandina, they don't invest that sort of money unless their demographers and their economists who do this nation wide, the best people in the land, say 'this is a good place to do it.'"

"And what is the key factor to determine where a good place is? Population growth. That's what they're looking for."

"You've got Aldi and Dan Murphy's trying to come to Geraldton... I know they're multi nationals, and I know it's about buying local. I get that, I do. But what you need to do is look at these enterprises using significant resources doing demographic studies before they decide to invest, and they're looking at coming here. The development approvals at the City are at I think the second highest on record for the last financial year. That's not building applications, that's dollar value. These are big numbers, these are big times. This year we're going to see Beresford Foreshore, Olive Street, Town Towers..."

In conclusion

So a year has now passed with Shane Van Styn in the chair. There are policy changes evident at the City of Greater Geraldton, which City staff and Geraldton residents have mixed feelings about. It will certainly be interesting to see how the next few years play out, and if CGG can balance the books while improving tourism and providing the services we all want.

Shane Van Styn sees the big outcome of his first year as Mayor as the delivery of the Growth Plan for the City of Greater Geraldton.

But we've all seen plans before. The next challenge will be executing said plan.

Watch this space.

Greenough Pioneer Museum have a very cool "Women Through The Ages" exhibition at the moment

Get down to the Greenough Pioneer Museum and check out the Women Through the Ages exhibition. 

Thanks Michelle McKoy for these great shots.

Who is Lara Sadowski?

If you've ever looked in the real estate section of a Geraldton publication, chances are you've come across Lara Sadowski's smiling faced. She's been selling real estate for the last decade in Geraldton, and has consistently been ranked as one of the most successful sellers. 

I first met Lara on the very week Everything Geraldton launched in 2012. It was at a business networking meeting. Lara happened to be chairing the meeting, and I remember clearly thinking 'wow, this person is pretty dynamic.' She had control of the room, confidence in herself, and achieved it all with a warmth and calm that made others feel comfortable. 

When I learned of her real estate sales success, I was not surprised in the slightest. Every time I've spoken with Lara since then, she's been equally engaging.

I have long had the goal of speaking with a number of active, successful, or interesting people in Geraldton, and learning a little more about what makes them tick. Lara was kind enough to grant me some time out of her busy schedule. 

As I sat down with Lara Sadowski in the Geraldton Property Team offices, a coffee was brought in for me. It was a Moccona. Lara sent it back and asked her staff to bring a "proper" coffee. 

As I chatted with Lara for the next couple of hours, I would learn Lara has no problem doing things the hard way if the result means a better outcome.  

Lara Sadowski was born and bred in Geraldton, a child of European immigrants. She says her parents were both very hard workers. 

She attended St Francis Primary and then Stella Marris, now called Nagle. 

Her original plan was to become a school teacher, but that didn't quite pan out. 

"I mucked around too much in year 12", she recounts. "So my TEE scores weren't high enough."

That sent Lara to TAFE to redo year 12, which was where she stumbled across dental nursing. 

"There were 250 applications, 15 positions, and I was the only country kid." The fact that Lara can remember those numbers so accurately points to her sense of accomplishment. 

A relationship back in Geraldton at the time made sure Lara did her best to land a position back home once her studies were finished. She worked in the school dental service upon her return to Geraldton. 

"The school dental service was very boring," says Lara, clearly not a fan of a cushy job. "Just checkups, fillings... it wasn't challenging. Because it was government as well, there was no drive to work."

The disconnection between her income and how hard she would work used to drive Lara mad.

"So I ventured out into private practice. I was working in the school dental service by day, and for Chapman Road Dental at night, with Jim Hu."

After the nurse working for Geoff Noonan at Chapman Rd left, Lara took the position, and was there full time for 14 years. 

But even that full time position wasn't enough to keep Lara from becoming restless. 

"While I was doing that job I was working at Video Ezy. I'd finish work at 5:30, jump the fence, literally, then work 6 to 9 at night at Video Ezy. I did that for about six years."

Lara's life philosophy begins to show through at this point. "If you want things in life you've got to work for them," she says. "I've always been one to get what I wanted myself." Her emphasise was on the I, not the wanted. "I haven't been one to rely on someone else to get it for me."

Lara also spent time working at Price Attack, and running a night time dental nursing course.

So how did Lara find herself going from dental nursing, plus two other part time jobs, being an owner of a real estate firm?

It seems it may have simply been a case of noticing what someone else had, and asking what she had to do to get that too. 

Lara says she had a "very very dear friend", named Natalie, who at the time was working for Kalazich Smith Real Estate. Lara couldn't help but notice that her friend's income was a lot higher than what Lara was pulling in, despite working three jobs. 

"So I approached Warren Kalazich and asked 'What do you think if I got into real estate' and he said 'I think you'd be great.'"

Lara has a tenderness in her voice when she recounts her conversation with Warren Kalazich. "He was a dear family friend, and he backed me financially. It was a roll of the dice for him." Even today, Lara still looks to Warren as something of a mentor. 

Within the year Mr Kalazich retired and sold the business. 

Around that time Lara made the move to Geraldton Property Team, having been approached by the owners at the time. She didn't leave immediately to join GPT, due to a goal of staying the full 12 months to give herself the best chance of winning Rookie of the Year in sales. Had she moved offices early, her sales count would not have carried over to her new employer. 

But the transition to GPT wasn't perfectly smooth. Some internal issues and office conflict resulted in departure for GPT before the full 12 months was done.

But Lara still managed to win Rookie of the Year, "and came third for the whole of Geraldton," Lara recalls. Quite the feat for an industry newcomer. 

But while those who didn't know Lara personally would have only seen an extremely successful sales rookie, with a growing income, plenty of employment prospects, and a bright future, Lara's private life was going through a very rocky time. 

Lara's father, a local business personality, took his own life. This had a strong impact on Lara, and not too long after, Lara also lost her marriage. Coupled with a change of employer and the stress involved in leaving her previous place of employment, she clearly had a lot to deal with. 

So how did she cope?

"I reset my whole life, and outlook and everything. I went on a few courses, personal development courses, Cre8. I also went to a lot of real estate courses and seminars on my own. I'd jump on a plane and go to Sydney. I really just started to broaden my mind."

"So that was about 12 months of soul searching, but I was still doing very well in real estate. My career had taken off big time."

"And then I met an ag pilot."

Tim Greenaway was his name. 

"So life is back on track. I met this amazing man."

"He was over here flying, doing some jobs. We met and fell in love. He moved over from Byron Bay and he started real estate with me. He wanted to give up the flying because it was dangerous, you're flying low, power lines... health wise it wasn't good for him."

"So he gave it up, started real estate with me. And he came home one day and said 'look, a farmer just wants me to do a quick job, it'll be some quick cash'. "

"That was the last time I ever saw him."

It was a Tuesday in September 2010, when the crop duster Tim was flying crashed near Northern Gully Road, in Chapman Valley. 

My attempts to convey what someone must have felt using written words are sometimes completely futile. This is one of those times.

"I took four weeks off. The office was very supportive."

Having said that, Lara admitted her P.A. left upon her return to work. So that was another setback.

But something odd happened upon her return to work. She was able to hang on to all her clients. And in addition to that, new clients came on board. Lara said it was because people saw her as a strong person, who had overcome such a tragedy and still kept moving forward, that they sought her out to be their real estate agent. 

I questioned whether she knew this for a fact. 

"I'd have people ring me for an appraisal and I'd say:

'Why did you call me?' 

'Well your partner died in a plane crash didn't he?'

'Well, yeah.'

"So it was the feedback of my determination to move on with my life... see I could have hung my boots up, Jason, and said 'I'm not doing that any more.'"

I asked, "Was it a conscious decision (to not quit), or was it just never on the cards?"

Lara responded in a flat, calm voice. It was a tone that was vulnerable, and lacked any inflection, emphasis, or meter. It was the kind of somber tone you would use in a confessional with a priest.

"I had to work very hard mentally to do that."

Very. Hard. 

That it didn't come easy for Lara, someone gifted in so many areas, reminded me she is human. Financial or business success is no insulation from the trauma of life. It was no given that she would manage to get out of bed each day after such a loss. Yet that was the path she had chosen. 

We chatted about professional help after dealing with traumatic events. "In life we bottle things up, and that's why everyone has melt downs. I mean, no one escapes break down. I was never diagnosed as someone having a mental breakdown, but you know in yourself ... when you're not your usual self, and you think 'wow, this is not me'. So when you speak to people, professionals, who know what questions to ask, it's amazing how good you feel."

Lara continued on in her sales capacity at GPT for two years, then discussions began regarding succession planning. Lara Sadowski, along with David Potiuch, and Mairi and Jim Quinn, would end up becoming the new owners of GPT. 

Even as an owner, Lara still works in a sales role within Geraldton Property Team. 

Part of chatting with Lara was an attempt to learn who she was outside of work. What I learned was that Lara doesn't ever really stop being Lara the real estate agent. 

"I love it. Any team member can call me any time. I work seven days a week."

Lara said her and her partner, Warrick Nevill, will work every single day for eight weeks, then perhaps head to Perth for the weekend for some time off. 

But she admitted she still enjoys some downtime, and shared of her new tradition with Warrick to try and catch a movie together on a Thursday. Lara acknowledged that if she was married to someone outside of real estate, the marriage would fail. 

 Some downtime.

Some downtime.

"Certainly I've got more work-life balance since I've been with Warwick, which is the last four years." She calls Warrick her best friend, and enjoys being able to work with him. 

They say if you find a career you love, you'll never work a day in your life. I guess I was surprised to actually meet someone so passionate and committed to their profession that they didn't really try to switch off from it. 

"My work is my passion, it's my life."

Geraldton just got its first Tesla and Electric car recharge point

Geraldton's Ocean West, a local short term accommodation provider, is the home of Geraldton's first TESLA and electric car recharge point. 

Minnie Reynolds from Geraldton's Ocean West provided the following info regarding the install.

"Apparently they have approached a lot of businesses, council etc in the past.  

"We were more than happy to have the first install here – TESLA paid for the recharge point equipment being the first in Geraldton, and Ocean West get to support the electric car movement. Win Win!

"We have the Tesla charger plugged into a 3 phase socket, which is good, since Electric Vehicles other than Tesla’s will be able to plug into the socket direct."

Click here to see a map of charging points.

Click here to be a legend and buy a TESLA

You need to speak Chinese to qualify for this labouring job in Geraldton

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A local resident spotted this curious labouring job ad on Gum Tree recently.  

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The job requires someone who can "lift heavy things".  

But what made eyebrows raise was the need to also speak Chinese.  

At a building site.  

In Geraldton.  

Western Australia. 

The job was also listed on Indeed. 

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No explanation was provided why the need to speak Chinese, and we were curious as to why this was a requirement. 

We reached out to Herald Build and have not received a response.  

Other Geraldton based jobs advertised by Herald Build did not include a requirement to speak Chinese. 

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Herald Build are based on Newcastle Street in Perth. We will update this if they respond to our enquiry.

Town Towers' building site has been robbed 8 times already... $500 reward for your help

For the last eight weeks, SMF Projects have been underway doing the renovations works to the Town Towers. 

In that time, they are reporting that they have been broken into eight times. The offenders have caused damage to the property, and are adding cost and time to the building process. 

SMF Projects are offering a "$500 reward for information that will lead to an arrest."

If you can identify any of the individuals in the images below, please contact Geraldton Police on 9923 4555. 


Our recent video on the announcement of Town Towers renovations being underway. 

Town Towers Redevelopment Underway

 Artists impression of finished project  

Artists impression of finished project  

The City of Greater Geraldton has been in negotiations with the developers of Geraldton’s iconic Town Towers building and works have now commenced. 

The application proposes the refurbishment of the existing building to include a mixed use development, consisting of commercial and retail components as well as 40 serviced apartments.

The City has been in talks with property developers for quite some time to ensure the best outcome for the building.

City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn said in-depth discussions had been taking place to ensure the best result.

“Negotiations on rates concessions and incentives have been concluded and all parties have agreed on an outcome that will see Town Towers redeveloped,” he said.

“I extend my praise to the developers on this project who have worked tirelessly on the progression of this development and the works, and on behalf of the City we are very grateful for their investment.”

Built in the 1970s, Town Towers was occupied by tenants until 2008. Since then, it has been empty and under much scrutiny due to crime and vandalism.

“The development of Town Towers has been a big talking point for quite some time as the building holds such significance in our community due to its prominence in our CBD,” Mayor Van Styn said.

“We know the potential this building holds and that’s why we have been working so closely with developers to get this over the line.

“This is a great and very significant indicator of the up-turn in our economy and it means great things for Greater Geraldton’s future.”

Project Manager, Grant Pitman, said the positive growth in Geraldton was a big factor in moving forward with the development.

“We’re extremely excited about the development of Geraldton’s Town Towers and we know the potential this holds for the city,” he said.

“This has been a prolonged process, and a tough project to get off the ground, but it was the proactive approach of the Council and the willingness to work right alongside us that helped us get the project going.

“We see a very strong future for Geraldton and we believe this development will only help grow that.”

A recommendation to grant a rates concession for the building was passed by Council and Mayor Van Styn said the project would mean positive outcomes for the City’s vibrancy.

“This development fits in perfectly with our City Centre Revitalisation Plan,” he said.

“We have a new vision for our CBD and we will be engaging and working with even more key industry stakeholders, developers and investors to help enhance the vibrancy of our CDB.

“Revitalisation in our City centre has been a top priority for us and we have already progressed our Foreshore with the finalisation of the West End Revitalisation Project and the progression of Town Towers is the next phase in our bigger plan.”

Updates on construction works and announcements on road closures will be released in the coming weeks.

Brilliant news! Tourism to the Coral Coast up 15% for the year

In brief:

  • The Coral Coast stretches from Cervantes to Exmouth. 
  • Visitors spent $638 million in the last 12 months. 
  • 951,000 domestic tourists visited in 2015-16 financial year
  • That's 15 higher than last year, and 42% higher than 3 years ago. 

Australia’s tourism industry is currently growing three times as fast as the rest of the Australian economy, and the latest tourism numbers for the Coral Coast show it. 

More than 950,000 domestic tourists came to Australia's Coral Coast, the coastline between Cervantes and Exmouth, and spent $638 million in the last 12 months, the latest figures from Tourism Research Australia show.

The Member for Durack Melissa Price MP said the National Visitor Survey shows Australia's Coral Coast is proving popular for those holidaying in Australia.

“This is great news for the local economy and local jobs,” Ms Price said.

“It is fantastic people are choosing our beautiful region to visit and spend their money.”

Produced by Tourism Research Australia, for the 2015-16 financial year, the survey shows 951,000 domestic tourists visited Australia's Coral Coast, an increase of 15 per cent from the previous year and 42 per cent over three years. 

While visiting tourists spent $638 million, an increase of 16 per cent from the previous year and 58 per cent over three years.

Visitor nights also recorded growth, with domestic tourists staying 4,740,000 nights in Australia's Coral Coast, an increase of 24 per cent from the previous year and 46 per cent over three years.

“The survey shows tourism continues to drive local jobs and economic growth,” Ms Price said.

“Tourism remains an important focus for the Turnbull Government, with our vibrant tourism sector forecast to continue its growth trajectory over the next decade,” she said.

The National Visitor Survey is available on the Tourism Research Australia website: tra.gov.au


In Defence of F.I.F.O.

Letter to the Editor. Received Sept 15, 2016

Author is a local Geraldton resident who asked to remain anonymous. 

I've seen a few posts lately about the evils of the FIFO lifestyle. What it does to families and communities etc. 

This time last year, we were a FIFO family. My husband started working on the mines when my youngest child was about 7 months old. His (the youngest child's) sisters were 4 and 6. We did it for financial reasons. Having met, married and had our family a little later than most of our friends, we found ourselves wanting to be able to provide for our kids, and plan for our retirement and we realised that we'd left it a bit late. So off went my husband, to a better-paying job than he'd been in. Not hugely better-paying, but enough to hopefully pay off our mortgage before retirement age (Not looking good at this stage, but here’s hoping!)

I wouldn't say it's been all plain-sailing, but then life never is. Yeah, sometimes it's hard to be the stay-at-home parent. 24/7 responsibility, for everything, over 50% of the time; No-one to fix complicated stuff when it breaks (I have however, learnt to re-wire trailer lights, change mower blades, use high-school-level physics to lift and shift heavy stuff, and bury dead pets); showing up alone so often to school events that people think you're a single parent; Most of all, a lack of sensible adult conversation. My husband missed the kids horribly; had to juggle his own needs when he was home, with the need to take care of "stuff" (mostly the afore-mentioned complicated broken things); and deal with the sense of isolation that comes with being absent - whole chunks of life that happened while he was away, and that he struggled to catch up with.

Then my husband was made redundant. And suddenly we have him home again!! Or do we? 

He is now working in the same industry he was in before he became a miner. On less money than he was getting 11 years ago; with shitty conditions; away most of the time, usually at short notice, and usually with no idea of when he’ll be home again.

It's still hard to be the stay-at-home parent. 24/7 responsibility for everything 90% of the time and with no ability to plan ahead; Still no-one to fix complicated stuff when it breaks (No time on his 1-2 days off every 2-3 weeks, so now some of our reduced income has to pay people to do that stuff); Both of us showing up even less to school events because I'm trying to work extra hours to cover the loss in income; Having to rely more on friends and neighbours to help us out with running kids around, while having less ability to return the favours; Adult conversation has become less sensible and less about us and our family, and more like a counselling session to help him cope.

Most of all, my 11 year-old son misses his Dad. He always did, but I could always tell him when Dad would be home. We could plan stuff; We could prepare surprises or special meals and events for when he was home; If he was going to be away on a special occasion (Birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries), we had time to adjust and organise to celebrate on different days. Now we never know if he’s going to be home in 2 days or in 20. Or for how long. 

FIFO doesn't suit every family. You have to be strong, and you have to be resilient. As a stay-at-home parent, you have to learn how to fix stuff (or when to call an expert in); You have to learn how to ask for help sometimes; Sometimes you have to learn how to make decisions without discussing it with your partner; You have to work on friendships, because it's your friends who will provide the adult conversation, the support, the baby-sitting and transport to sports events etc. (and the assurances that it doesn't matter that you can't repay the favour); and every so often, the shoulder to cry on, or the loan of a husband to help you shift something really heavy. 

You also have to learn not to burden the FIFO partner unnecessarily. He or she is lonely, tired and isolated. There's a difference between sharing what's going on at home, and worrying them. 

So what if the family car blew an engine and is going to cost $4000 to repair. Telling them one day into an 8-day swing is not going to help anyone. They can't do anything. Except worry. While they're working. With explosives and heavy machinery. A kilometre underground. On 12-13 hour shifts.

That’s why we never got into the habit of phoning every day. Perhaps I’m a product of an age where telephone calls were a luxury; not every family had a phone, and it was completely normal to go days, or weeks without contact. I have friends with FIFO partners who spend a fortune on telephone bills. I have friends whose children get upset if they can’t talk to Daddy every day. (Personally I think I’d struggle to know what to talk about if we spoke every day!!!). I also have friends whose partners live at home, but whose kids go days, and sometimes weeks, without seeing or speaking to their Dads… people who work as truck drivers, shift-workers, farmers, fishermen…. For my kids, it’s normal not to talk to Dad every day. They know they can phone him if they need or want to, but otherwise they’re pretty chill with the situation. At least these days, we have telephones, the internet, social media, government-funded support agencies, mobile phones etc. for when we really NEED them. 

Our forebears had none of that. Imagine waving goodbye to a partner going off to drive a mob of cattle from one end of the state to the other. Or to a fisherman, going off for weeks, if not months at sea. Or, almost unimaginable to most of our generation, to a newly-wedded husband off to war. These days we have mobile phones, social media, skype etc. The really BIG stuff can be shared, and partners can come home if they're really needed. 

So yeah, there’s a certain degree of strength needed if you plan to embark on a FIFO lifestyle. But there are also many benefits, apart from the financial incentives. It will always be a matter of personal choice. 

Personally, I’d welcome the chance to return to being a FIFO family. I’d like to be able to book annual leave from my job at a time that suits the family. I’d like to be able to commit to events 6-12 months down the track. Or in 3 day’s time.  I’d like to be able to accept an invitation to an event, or a chance to work extra hours, or to attend a work-related course later this month; I’d like to be able to promise my kids that they’ll be able to go to an event 3 weeks from now; I’d like to plan to do stuff with my husband. 

In my opinion, FIFO is an opportunity, like any other lifestyle choice. There are many other lifestyles that are far harder, and less certain, than the FIFO life. There are also many options that are easier. Choose carefully, based on your own personal circumstances, but please don’t demonise the FIFO lifestyle without giving it a fair go, or blame it for all the ills of society. It works for many of us.

Cucumber Virus first found in Geraldton now discovered in Perth

Joanna Predergast for the ABC:

A cucumber crop in the Perth horticultural area, which extends from Gingin in the north to Karnup in the south, has tested positive to Cucumber Green Mottle Mosaic Virus (CGMMV), making Perth the third location in the state to test positive for the disease.

The disease was first found in Western Australia in a cucumber crop near Geraldton in July and has since been found in Carnarvon.

Click here to read article.

Why you should never do "Share to Win" competitions

Over the last year or so I've noticed a proliferation of "share to win" competitions on Facebook. 

Everything Geraldton has run a number of "like to win" comps in the past, and they're a nice way for our audience to win a prize. 

BUT, it may interest you to know that it's actually against Facebook's terms to make "sharing" or tagging a friend a condition of entry.

Business owners beware: if you post something with "Share this post to win" on your Facebook page, you actually risk Facebook shutting your entire page down. 

Here's the link. (Section E 3)

Why is this a problem?

Apart from the fact that very few people want to be constantly spammed with "share to win" posts in their newsfeed, there's a technical reason why you cannot make sharing to win a condition of entry on a Facebook page:

A page owner has no way of knowing who shared a post, unless the sharer has their privacy settings set to public.

Recently a competition appeared in my Facebook news feed. I clicked and had a look, and the post had over 490 shares. But when I clicked on the "shares" link, I am only shown 83 names. So although 490 people think they've entered a competition, really only 83 people have a chance of winning.

Most Facebook users have their privacy settings set to "friends". So when they share a post from a page, the page administrators cannot see their name. When they click the link to see who shared a post, Facebook only shows them the names of people who shared it publicly. 

When you enter a competition that asks you to "share", the page admin then checks the names of who shared the post, and picks a winner. The problem is, your name probably isn't even on the list, even though you shared it with all your friends. 

Unless you went and deliberately changed your privacy settings to "Public" (which most people do NOT want to do) your name isn't in the draw to win anything, despite you sharing the post. 

If people are following the terms of entry, but they're technically not in the running to win because the business cannot see the names of who shared the post, then not only has that business broken Facebook's terms, but there could be legal or ethical implications. It's like obtaining a raffle ticket but your entry never goes in the barrel, it goes in the bin. 

Running a competition in Western Australia is covered under the GAMING AND WAGERING COMMISSION ACT 1987, Section 104. 

Section 3 states: the permit holder shall ensure that every ticket or chance sold or subscription received is included in the drawing of a standard lottery; ... 

Section 11 states: "Records relating to the lottery shall be maintained for a period of twelve months and shall be made available to an authorised officer of the Gaming and Wagering Commission or a Police Officer upon request."

So not only does anyone who has been told they're in the draw HAVE TO BE ACTUALLY IN THE DRAW, but you have to be able to show the Police that this is the case, for the next 12 months. 

"Share to win" competitions on Facebook conflict with this section of the Act, because the method of entry is not consistently measurable by the business owner. 

But I didn't know!

Neither did we until a few years ago. But once it was explained it made a lot of sense. We still get a lot of businesses asking Everything Geraldton to run Facebook comps with "sharing" as a condition of entry, and while we acknowledge it's tempting because of the amazing reach those posts get, we don't think it's ethical, and it's a clear breach of Facebook's terms.

We will still run "Like to enter" competitions on Facebook, which are quite popular with many of our followers.

What should I do?

If you run a page, our advice is to make sure you never make "sharing" a condition of entry for a competition. "Like to win" is still ok. Or "visit our website and fill in this form", or whatever you can accurately measure. If whoever manages the social media for your business isn't aware of Facebook's terms, and the laws around Trade Promotions in WA, they could be getting your company into hot water. 

If you're just a Facebook user who sees these "share to win" competitions all the time, it's up to you if you want to spam your friends. But you'll need to change your privacy settings to public to even have a chance of winning, which means ANYONE, even people not logged into Facebook, can see your posts. 


But I've seen lots of organisations do this?

So have we. We've seen government agencies do it, large media companies, social media professionals, and lots more.

We haven't named or singled out any company in Geraldton doing this, because it's likely they simply didn't know how Facebook's sharing mechanism worked. Social media is still very new and confusing to a lot of us. 

In addition to the confusion, few of us read the terms and conditions when we sign up for anything, even a Facebook page. 

But we hope that once people understand how sharing and privacy settings work on Facebook, they'll realise "share" is not a suitable way to gather entrants for a competition. "Liking" on Facebook is perfect, though. 


Footnote: It may be argued that by "liking" the post as well, people have entered the competition, even if their "share" isn't visible to the page admin. The two arguments against this logic are that 1. it's still a breach of the ACT, and 2. people who "like and share" from a shared post on their friend's page will have their share appear on the original page's list, but NOT their LIKE. In a nutshell: Many people's names will only appear in the list of those who "shared" the post, not those who "liked" it. 

Footnote: Another new type of competition is the "Post on your page with this hashtag". While the rules around these are also ambiguous, it's worth noting that, again, unless the person posts with their privacy settings set to Public, their post will never be able to be seen by anyone other than their friends, and they won't be in the draw for anything.

 

Geraldton Guardian owner Seven West to buy Sunday Times and Perth Now

From the ABC:

A takeover by The West Australian newspaper's owner Seven West Media (SWM) of the Sunday Times newspaper and its website Perth Now has been given the green light by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Click here to read full story.

Text message scam warning

ANZ are warning customers of a scam text that is doing the rounds.

Here's an example of what it looks like.

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There are two main types of scams like this that circulate by text.  

The first tries to get you to submit personal data for nefarious purposes. Be aware of this. 

The second is even more maliscious.  This is where hackers can essentially take over your phone just by you clicking a link. It may not be obvious they have done this at first, but they can essentially control the camera, microphone, and see everything you do without your knowledge. 

If you are running an old version of Android or iOS (iPhone) your phone can sometimes be hacked with a simple text message.  With one particular Android vulnerability, you don't even need to open the message. 

Unfortunatly for most Android users, security updates are few and far between. Unless your carrier issues a security update for your phone (which they rarely do) you're pretty vulnerable all of the time. You can root your device and install the latest version of Android yourself, if you don't mind spending a bit of time mucking around. 

Apple recently found and fixed a security vulnerability in their iPhone, so if you have the latest software then you're ok. 

As a general rule though, don't click on links from unknown sources. And don't forward links you are unsure about.  

And keep your iPhone running the latest version of iOS.