A protest held on the Guilderton foreshore on Saturday 11 February drew approximately 100 people dissatisfied with the Shire of Gingin’s management of the coastal town, and with organiser Katie Enright calling for a vote of no confidence in CEO Aaron Cook.
The protest was the culmination of years of residents having to adjust to a series of seemingly puzzling decisions that have negatively impacted the town, from the introduction of paid parking in 2018 to awarding the lease of the Guilderton General Store and Café to Belgravia Leisure Centre in 2021. This decision was a shock that removed long-term manager Kerry Enright from the position. Kerry says, “It has been a sad 18 months for me, personally. I have grieved the loss of my business. It was not just a business for me, it was a way of life that I have missed.”
A prolonged closure of the store and café followed while Belgravia carried out renovations, finally re-opening at the start of June 2022. The renovations failed to live up to the artistic vision sold to the town, with Belgravia citing escalating building costs as to why the renovation was not fully complete. After just 8 months of service – which locals describe as patchy, with the coffee machine often out of operation or basic supplies not available – Belgravia shut the café at the end of January 2023. The general store was sub-leased to the Sun City Group and continues to operate.
While the Shire of Gingin and Belgravia hope the glitch in operators will be short-term, it was yet another blow to the town. In a statement released prior to the protest, they said, “The Shire has been working with Belgravia to address operational issues affecting the Café and Caravan Park. Updates concerning the Café, including changes to lease arrangements if any, will be provided to the public as they come to hand.”
Other issues raised included transparency in regards to where the revenue from the controversial parking meters is used – in their statement the Shire says, “All revenue other than operating costs has been assigned to a Reserve Account for the purpose of funding significant improvements.” However, with dozens of reserve accounts listed on the 2022 Annual Report, it is not clear how much revenue is being generated from the paid parking, or where it is being spent.
While many comparisons were made at the demonstration between perceived inequalities between the Shire’s investment in the Gingin townsite and its coastal neighbours, there was a strong push not to harbour a ‘Gingin vs The Coast rivalry. Country Value’s Craig Hyne – who runs businesses in both areas – addressed the crowd and encouraged them to keep banding together as a community.
“It is a bit unproductive to have this us-and-them-mentality – it just doesn’t achieve anything,” said Craig. “We needs community groups to push it – the Shire won’t do these things off their own back.”
This garnered an emotional response from several residents, with one asking, “Why? We have people representing us on the Shire who do sh*t all!” and another who said, “We try and try. And we are tired.”
Another protestor emphasised, “Our problem is not with the town. We love Gingin, the people are friendly and welcoming, the place itself is a delight. It’s the Shire, and what they’re doing – or not doing with the funds.”
No representatives from the Shire of Gingin attended the protest, however they addressed other key concerns in their statement. In regards to calling for the removal of CEO Aaron Cook they said, “The aspersion that there is no chain of responsibility is false and the calling for the removal of the CEO in this context is arbitrary and not supported.”
In regards to the removal of the playground and Guilderton boardwalk (both closed after a safety audit), the Shire states that, “Public safety – particularly children’s – comes first,” and “The Shire understands the boardwalk is important to the Guilderton community and this project has now formed part of the list of priorities to be determined by the Guilderton Foreshore Working Group.”
While the Shire may have made what it considers the best decisions at the time with the information on hand, it is clear that their coastal residents feel – at best – underrepresented, and at worst, directly under attack.
Protest organiser Katie Enright is encouraging all ratepayers and members of the community address their issues directly with the Shire of Gingin Council. This can be done during Public Question Time at an Ordinary Council Meeting. Alternatively, they are welcome to attend the Annual Meeting of Electors on Tuesday 7 March at Council Chambers in Gingin.