I have been watching with interest the developments surrounding the Rex Hub Project over the past couple of years, culminating in November’s Council meeting and the 4:3 decision by Councillors Hood, Simpson, Henderson and Hewitt to discontinue action on the Hub.
I have been a proud resident of Hepburn Springs for the past five years, and I continue to be dismayed and confused at the lack of facilities, opportunities, and creative engagements available to residents – particularly our youth – who seem to get much less attention and priority than tourism.
If you’re a child who’s not particularly into sport, there is very little opportunity within Hepburn Shire to engage you creatively. Youngsters often leave regional areas soon after reaching adulthood because there simply isn’t enough to creatively engage them.
I should know – I was one of them.
When creative people leave their regional hometowns, the balance of power continually shifts to those who don’t value or seek out creative activities or cultural engagements, because it’s not part of their everyday lives or lived experiences. I worry that the result of this loss leaves us with situations like we have now with the Hub, where a majority of Councillors who place economic factors above all else hold the balance of power that determines what our community can (or cannot) achieve.
The economic arguments presented by Councillors to justify their decision to discontinue action on the Hub look completely legitimate on paper, if – and it’s a big if – you believe Councillors shouldn’t be taking into consideration other aspects as part of their decision-making process.
Maybe the Councillors did take other factors into consideration. It’s been impossible to find out from Councillors Hood, Simpson, Henderson and Hewitt directly. The answers provided to my two questions at the December Council meeting were generic and typical political waffle and my email to my own Councillor from Birch Ward, Lesley Hewitt from 6 December 2021, has to date remained unanswered.
There is a reason why the public has such distrust for politics, and the actions of this Council – and these four Councillors in particular – epitomise why the public remains largely unengaged. Making decisions that will impact entire communities, not just now but for decades into the future, with no community consultation is frankly highly inappropriate and should not be tolerated by our community.
I don’t care if Council is undertaking a community engagement process AFTER making the decision. Councillors Hood, Simpson, Henderson and Hewitt made the decision to kill a major community project WITHOUT consulting with their constituents.
I live in a world of facts. They are the facts.
I have used the Councillor’s names in this letter repeatedly for good reason – they are responsible for the decision and the trajectory this project now finds itself on, and it is my hope that our community remember this so that they continue to hold their power to account.
When you are a child or a teenager who is drawn to the creative arts and live regionally, it can be incredibly isolating when there are no major spaces or programs available to you.
The Hub could provide that. It could re-center and re-prioritise the value of community and the arts within the Shire. This is a long-term vision that has long-term benefits for the community – including, I would hope, seeing more of our young adults creatively engaged and less of them leaving the Shire upon adulthood.
Yes, economics and balancing the budget are important considerations, no one is denying that. But the importance placed on it above all else shows just how wrong the balance currently is. You can tell this by looking at the community reaction to this decision.
I expect my Councillors to think long-term. I expect them to be visionary. I expect them to consult on major decisions with community BEFORE making them. Councillors Hood, Simpson, Henderson and Hewitt have got it wrong this time, and until this decision is reversed, I for one – and I hope the majority of our community – won’t let them forget it.
Adam Fawcett is the General Manager of Lab Kelpie, a theatre company dedicated to performing and touring new Australian works. We recently relocated our head office from Meat Market in Melbourne to Vincent Street, Daylesford. More information at www.labkelpie.com.
The Mayor, Cr Tim Drylie, was offered an opportunity to respond on behalf of Council but declined the invitation.