SHOW SOME INTEREST! Mildura Councillor Mark Thorburn has this week questioned Council’s commitment to preserving the region’s history, citing the recent removal of 100-year-old sugar gums in Deakin Avenue, and a disregard of the Princess Diana Fountain, PICTURED,  as examples.

MILDURA Rural City Councillor Max Thorburn is calling on his fellow Councillors and Council staff to do more to preserve and promote the region’s “rich and cultural history.”

Cr Thorburn this week said it was his belief that Council suffered from “a lack of interest in our local history,” saying the perceived attitude was “the most disappointing aspect of my time in Local Government.”

“Apart from Cr Mark Eckel, who works tirelessly to promote the Chaffey Trail and its part of our history, there seems to be total apathy towards the rich and cultural history of Mildura,” he said.

“We are now witnessing the destruction of our 100-year-old trees in Deakin Avenue to create a modern looking street, with every old building along its route in jeopardy.

“In the next few years, 55 wonderful old Deakin Avenue sugar gums will be hacked and axed in what can best be described as a mass tree slaughter.”

The sugar gums in question are being removed as part of the Deakin Avenue Master Plan, with the trees’ poor health, and their threat to community safety, prompting the removal.

Cr Thorburn said another example of “Council’s apparent disinterest in the region’s history” was a lack of commitment to preserve its railway history.

“There is all this talk about stage two of the Mildura Riverfront Development, which is the development of land along Seventh Street to make housing affordable only for the future rich and famous,” he said. “This land includes the site of the heritage-listed railway carriage shed and our last surviving locomotive turntable.

“I have questioned the riverfront before, only to be dismissed, with the importance of the railway to Mildura played down by proponents of the Mildura Riverfront Development in recent years.

“The fact is had the railway come here a few years earlier to when the settlement began, farmers would have been able to get their produce to markets. There was not only a financial collapse but drought, with the riverboats unable to operate and the settlement became stranded.

“The arrival of the railway line quickly changed things for Mildura, and a siding was also quickly established to transport livestock.

“In America you hear stories of how rail built that country, we have similar claims in Mildura.”

Cr Thorburn said that cattle yards, and Mildura’s first railway turntable, has been established in 1904 on the siding to Olive and Walnut avenues.

“In 1922 a siding was built to the sawmills near where The Nowingi Place is today, and this also included a South Australian gravel pit and riverfront landing where paddle steamers were unloaded,” he said. “Locals today don’t really know that the railway came to Mildura two decades before Lock 11 was built in 1923.

“A railway line to the Lock 11 site was key to getting construction materials to the Lock and weir. Gravel from down around Maryborough was carted by rail to Mildura, and then put on riverboats to take downstream for Lock 9’s construction.

“Mildura had a five-locomotive shed where the netball courts are now situated on Mansell Reserve, and a 70-foot locomotive roundabout, which are now all long gone.

“The carriage shed, which is heritage-listed, is falling apart since being detached from the rail network, and I believe Mildura Rural City Council is hoping it falls down so it can get on with its current riverfront plan to build apartments on the site.

“It is my belief Council should be putting pressure on VicTrack to secure the future of the carriage shed so we can retain some of our rail history.

“The turntable should also be retained, because one day there may be a steam locomotive that will operate on the standard gauge which the Mildura line will become by January.”

Cr Thorburn said the district only ever had three locomotive turntable sites, located in Merbein, at Mansell Reserve and in Walnut Avenue, with only one still in existence – however, he said it no longer functioned.

“Perhaps that’s where the train at Jaycee Park should really be situated in the future, and provide additional open space at Jaycee Park,” he said. “The railways have a 115-year history in Mildura, and the part they played is not valued by many, especially those in the Council system.”

Mildura Mayor Glenn Milne this week disputed Cr Thorburn’s claims, saying that Council staff “value and are dedicated to preserving the history of our region.”

“Stage 2 of the Mildura Riverfront Redevelopment does not include land on the city-side of the railway line currently occupied by the disused rail yards at this stage,” he said.

“I think Cr Thorburn’s claims are incorrect. To say that Councillors aren’t interested in history is a total misrepresentation.

“Myself, as Mayor, was one of the main drivers in saving the old Nichols Point School and Rotunda, and the old Merbein South hall. Cr (Ali) Cupper in the past has also quite strongly raised issues around preserving old buildings and shopfronts.

“All these things are about preserving our history.”

Cr Milne said that while it was easy to make “sweeping statements”, Councillors had a responsibility to come to the table with ideas of how to address issues.

“If you’re really concerned about something, come up with a plan or answer,” he said. “If Cr Thorburn is concerned about preserving the old carriage shed, he should be asking Council to write to VicTrack and see what they are going to do about it.”

Cr Thorburn said it was his belief that a large portion of the local community wanted to see a passenger train return to Mildura, adding that if the current Mildura Railway Station is retained, future passengers will disembark on a platform which gives “a magnificent river panorama that will create an instant ‘wow’ impression.”

“It’s not just 100-year history we should be preserving – thanks to Bob Faulkhead we have saved the old Mildura Base Hospital building in Thirteenth Street, with this proposed apartment complex to prove a magnificent use of an old building which a large section of the population can relate to,” he said.

“Then there is the Princess Diana Fountain – the only one she opened outside of England  – and none of the visitors know it’s here. Princess Diana is known throughout the world – not just the western world – so where are the photos of her on that day visiting Mildura?

“Why aren’t there photos and signage indicating that the fountain exists so tourists can reflect on her life and Australian visit? Council’s commitment to this fountain is zilch, and at times I think they hope it will fade into obscurity like most of our history.”

Cr Milne also dismissed those claims, saying Council maintains the Princess Diana Fountain as part of its regular property maintenance program.