THERE is an unofficial tradition that when a North West Star journalist leaves the region they write a piece about how they are going to miss Mount Isa.
You have heard it before; the opportunities we had here, the friendly community, the beautiful and rugged landscape. There’s nothing new for me to add.
I would rather let my work speak for me, mainly so that the subjects I cared about since March 2014 are not forgotten. Some of these are terrible subjects that have left me confused about the world we live in. Other stories make me glad about how quirky our lives can be. Sometimes we take such quirks for granted.
So in no particular order of significance or importance I begin with:
The Budgie Smuggler Cowboy
‘Dingo’ Dan Leyden was the story that kept on giving ever since he jumped into the Mount Isa Rodeo arena in 2016 in budgie smugglers, an Akubra, and his matching socks.
What was supposed to be a light hearted story about budgie smugglers and a guy’s night out with the boys while the missus was out of town snowballed when it caught the attention of brand Budgy Smuggler.
Some people might think it was a silly or trivial matter to report but I saw it as a positive story which also encouraged discussion of men’s body image issues. In many ways Mr Leyden’s adventures helped me come out of my own ‘shell’.
The brand was hosting a competition called ‘Australia’s Most Ordinary Rig’. Mr Leyden won the competition after joking he should get his own billboard, as a parody of a billboard of My Kitchen Rules finalists Jac and Shaz.
The Ordinary Rig billboard was created as part of a competition where anyone could take a photo with it in their smugglers. The best photo would be on the new billboard, which was won by an athletic figure who turned out to be Australia’s Ninja Warrior contestant Jack Wilson.
The billboard of Jac and Shaz remains today above the Mount Isa legends board, outlasting the Ordinary Rig’s.
Seizures in a river bed
Members in the community criticised the behaviour of campers living in the riverbed and I thought, ‘well, shouldn’t we ask them what they think about living there?’ There was no plan to write the piece in first person but after I witnessed police officers’ response to a seizure I returned to the office rather emotional.
After the piece was published I visited the Birdsville Races and unintentionally avoided the community reaction to the article for a few days. It was rather controversial. I was accused of being a liar by some people mainly because I wrote ‘Dougie’ asked for an aerosol can to sniff from. They said they knew him and he was not a chromer. Maybe that’s true. He had asked for an aerosol can and so it was wrong and perhaps even biased of me to assume its purpose.
Another said that I must be a new reporter given that riverbed dwellers have stayed there for several decades at least.
Others in the emergency services since then have explained to me their view that the story showed an insight into a repeat pattern – which the emergency services consistently deal with, and need to take seriously.
It would be wrong of me not to mention lead concerns which had been an ongoing subject for a long time. In the last three years the topic usually returns to the national media with a release of studies by Professor Mark Taylor.
More recently the Lead Pathways Study was released which said lead poisoning did come from fallout. But it did not come from the copper smelter but rather from the Urquhart Shale.
Some of the articles published include:
State MP Rob Katter said that lead issues should be more a concern near city highways that in Mount Isa. Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said residents were safe from lead exposure as long as they followed recommendations including washing local grown produce and keep basic hygiene practices. She recommended children under five be tested for lead levels annually.
Jet Ski Incident at Junction
I’ve wondered about mentioning this story but there’s no point writing this list if it’s not included. It remains a matter in the court system.
There are stories that are horrible to write and it’s confusing to work out our own role reporting death of people we know. Police, paramedics, and responders attend these scenes in tragic circumstances in much more detail and they carry on working and without complaint. They set the example when we try to report what we can, balancing community expectations with our own fatigue or inaccurate information (or none at all) we receive.
Domestic Violence and Awareness Campaign
There has been much coverage and awareness about domestic violence in the community. That’s fair enough given the high rate in Mount Isa, according to the Not Now, Not Ever Report.
There have many been marches, meetings, court reports and discussions within several years. The awareness campaign that stands out to me is watching Mount Isa police officer Brendan Poustie and his colleagues walk in high heels for a campaign called ‘Walk A Mile in Her Shoes’.
Meanwhile his wife Jakki can be heard in the video taunting them by shouting “bum wiggle there boys! Bum wiggle.” The article inspired a Bret Currie cartoon.
It’s the memory of Brendan that really stands out to me and even today it brings a smile to my face. Unfortunately Brendan died in June, 2017, after being hit by a car while jogging off-duty last year. His memorial was held in Mackay.
One Night Stand
When Triple J and ABC revealed One Night Stand would be hosted in Mount Isa in April – through the work of local ABC reporters and resident Harry Mounsey – I have to admit I did not quite understand the significance at first.
Yet Australia’s Triple J audience soon learned that Mount Isa was a place where “The weather’s hot and so are the women, and the men are hard as the rocks they blast.”
For us at The North West Star this topic was probably the subject in which we collaborated the most, and I feel this may be one of several reasons that month was our strongest online presence than ever before. The record was only overtaken in August (rodeo month).
My task at One Night Stand was to take the photos of the performers on stage. Flash wasn’t permitted for good reason and I freaked out, wondering how I was going to take any decent photos. I had used auto settings on my camera for five years and this event motivated me to switch to manual settings. After 10 minutes talking to a photographer in our company I was able to get these photos that were shared across the country.
But it did not change concerns for our own local music scene and following the event I wrote an opinion piece that I still feel is relevant. ‘Can Mount Isa turn a One Night Stand into a relationship?’
Tasered Man Did Not Obstruct Police
There reached a point where it was frequently reported that Mount Isa police struggled with regular riots or drunken behaviour in the suburb of Pioneer. For at least one report which happened in March, 2015, family feuding caused 300 people to riot.
Police were undoubtedly struggling to deal with these issues of concern when it was determined by a Mount Isa Magistrate that on one of these occasions, a man among a group of people in Pioneer was wrongly tasered.
The Constable who tasered the man told the court that he had been frightened of the defendant’s aggressive behaviour.
John and Edna Ormonde
When I first interviewed this elderly coffee over drinks at the then brand new building of the Laura Johnson Home in 2014, I was nearly in tears. They had an amazing story to share with its high and lows throughout their long life together.
When I was at the home for other work reasons I would always ask about them. Then several years later I received a phone call from a son asking if I could write a story about their 60th wedding anniversary.
I visited their room at the home for an interview, covered with a mask as a precaution because the post-rodeo flu was everywhere at the time.
”I thank you for our years together because without you it wouldn’t have happened,” Mrs Ormonde told her husband, with tears in her eyes, in the presence of their grown up sons John and Kevin.
As the nation discussed the definition of what marriage should be I was able to witness one couple that seemed oblivious to this. I was witnessing marriage near the end of a long road – filled with challenges, obstructions, romance, devotion and faith.
Deighton Street Caravan Explosion
Like many others I heard that blast that morning and it woke me. I knew something was wrong and this feeling increased when the emergency service sirens went off.
I went to the office and phoned the police. They weren’t able to tell me much but I knew from the officer’s tone that something was extremely wrong. I tried to get to the scene and found it blocked off in every direction. The details of the caravan explosion unfolded, bit-by-bit; from police, neighbours, and politicians. Meanwhile, as we tried to learn what happened, media outlets across the country including Channel 9 sought our opinions.
We heard one of the police officers first to the terrible scene was new to the police service. That officers rushed into the house to try and save the victims, and only gradually learning they had been in the caravan.
The last we heard police treated it as a double murder-suicide and that an investigation report was prepared for the coroner – who had not determined an inquest at that stage.
Job cuts at Glencore’s zinc operations
It was a devastating time for the region’s mining industry when Glencore announced in October, 2015, that it would close Lady Loretta Mine and reduce production from George Fisher.
The announcement came months after a chief operating officer explained intentions to capitalise on MMG’s Century Mine closure by upgrading George Fisher.
Still, besides the positive mineral prices there are other green shoots, positive signs of exploration, talk of phosphate development, discoveries of rare earths and construction of a gas pipeline from the NT.
Just announced is Jemena’s decision to link that gas pipeline to the east coast – meaning more construction and jobs for central Queensland.