When Lake Cargelligo businessman Ernie Hayes made his submission to PM Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit in 2008, he wrote this dramatic sentence on the front page: “Populate the inland and the north, or we perish.”
Hayes was one of many far-sighted regional Australians then, and now, who realised Sydney (and other capital cities) were “drowning in their own juice and producing very little; water, rail, housing, hospitals, roads and major port facilities overstretched, and still an airport that is chockers.” Hayes’ proposal included, among many outstanding recommendations: “You can’t keep stacking millions more people on three small coastal strips – Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. A small percentage of the billions poured into roads alone on these three black holes would build a new dam every year”.
This, too, from Hayes: “Turn more coastal water inland; Burrinjuck was the second biggest dam in the world in 1912 and its waters in 2008 were estimated to have produced 4000 tonnes of food every day of the year.”
More recently, Griffith’s “dam man” Dino Zappacosta has been trying to agitate successive NSW’s governments into turning much of the Clarence River’s flow inland through the Darling River system. None of them, aided by the Greens, has the bottle to do it. These and other great proponents of regional projects and national developments were remembered last week when the DA revealed Narrandera Shire Council wants to use the town’s 1616m World War II airport as an export base for premium Riverina meats.
The plan has been hailed by agriculturalists and others, including Wagga’s Cr Paul Funnell, who said he hoped our politicians got their heads out of the sand, sliced the red tape, and made the project happen. No ifs or buts, it must happen! Don’t wait for the politicians.
An ace up Narrandera’s sleeve is an early association with the Toowoomba family-based export company Wagners, which built its own international airport (Wellcamp, 15.5km west of Toowoomba CBD) – the first major green field international airport built in Australia since 1970, when Tullamarine opened. It was also the first privately funded (by the Wagners) major airport in the country.
Not only that, but it was probably the fastest airport constructed in Australia.
The Wagners started construction in April 2013, with a completion date of October 2014. In June 2014, the main runway and taxiways were sealed, using EFC, a low-carbon cement-free concrete developed by Wagners, enhancing the airport’s green credentials.
By November, the first passenger service ran from Sydney to Wellcamp and six days later the first Cathay Pacific 747 freighter made a brief stop to pick up 58 tonnes of fresh Darling Downs produce en route to Hong Kong.
Wagga’s Craig Couzens, a former RAAF pilot and businessman, has been telling me for years the Narrandera council was sitting on the best piece of real estate in the state with its airport which, combined with the fact the town is positioned at the crossroads of two of the nation’s most vital connecting highways, makes this proposal irresistible.
As he pointed out, Narrandera airport’s runway is fog-free and under-utilised for decades. He also suggested Wagga council should be thinking laterally about Narrandera’s proposal, adding “how about a spur railway line from the airport to Bomen Inter-Modal Hub?”.