FUTURE FOCUSED: Some of the Southern Downs' biggest names share hopes for 2021. Picture: contributed
FUTURE FOCUSED: Some of the Southern Downs' biggest names share hopes for 2021. Picture: contributed

LOOKING FORWARD: Leaders reveal hopes for 2021

WHILE 2020 may have proven a year many would rather soon forget, the Southern Downs community still forged ahead in the hopes of creating a better and brighter 2021.

With a new year full of opportunities stretching out before them, many of the region’s leaders and prominent faces have taken time to reflect on the challenges of the past year, and hopes for the next 12 months.

From reconnecting with communities to establishing the region as one of the most liveable in the state, here’s what these Southern Downs names had to say.

SOUTHERN DOWNS MAYOR VIC PENNISI

Leading the Southern Downs through a year defined by drought and the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Vic Pennisi acknowledged the challenges of his first months at the helm.

Regardless of the seemingly endless hardship, Cr Pennisi said his key memories of 2020 were positive.

“I think for me, the big take away is how resilient the people in the Southern Downs are, and that’s why it’s so great to live in (this region),” he said.

“Despite what was thrown at them, they dug in, and together we’ve overcome some reasonable obstacles and they’re coming through it better off than a lot of other people.”

Cr Pennisi said his top priority heading into 2021 was to reconnect with people across the region, with regular meet-ups and even personal appointments with individual residents to kick off in coming months.

The Mayor was also looking forward to “getting his teeth into” several major decisions coming before SDRC this year, including the Warwick Saleyards revamp and Emu Swamp Dam, along with water management.

MEMBER FOR SOUTHERN DOWNS JAMES LISTER

Facing no easier a year as Member for Southern Downs, James Lister agreed the region’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and prolonged drought remained his top goals for 2021.

“It’s no surprise that number one on my list will be conquering Covid. It profoundly impacted our society and the economy in ways that we haven’t seen since World War II,” Mr Lister said.

“We should be proud in Southern Downs of the sacrifices that we made … especially since we have more than 400km of border country, where local communities, farmers, and businesses suffered particular hardship and sacrifice.

“Drought is another one – how great it has been to see good rain in places recently?

“I’m hoping for a wet start to 2021 to see our dams fill, our waterways run, and our farms prosper.”

Mr Lister added upgrading the region’s major roads as another main priority, focusing on Cunninghams Gap, the New England and Cunningham Highways, and the Gore Highway.

TRACY DOBIE, WARWICK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE PRESIDENT

For CoC president Tracy Dobie, improving the region’s drought response needed to remain at the forefront of each person’s mind heading into the new year.

“This drought we’ve gone through in the last couple of years is still not over, and we need to make sure that into the future we place good, solid water resources to supply the whole region,” Mrs Dobie said.

“It’s one of those things that when we’re not talking about it, people take their foot off the pedal, and that’s exactly what will happen.”

After much of Warwick and the Southern Downs’ tourism industries were decimated by coronavirus lockdowns, Mrs Dobie contended the town’s focus needed to shift to attracting residents as much as visitors in 2021.

“We have to continue to market Warwick – if we’re not out there front and centre all the time talking about who we are and what we have to offer, people don’t know we exist,” she said.

“The second thing is we need to make Warwick liveable. It’s about having the same facilities and entertainment areas you can access in Toowoomba, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast, here in Warwick.”

Granite Belt Drought Assist co-owners Glenda Riley and Barbara Marsden.
Granite Belt Drought Assist co-owners Glenda Riley and Barbara Marsden.

GLENDA RILEY, GRANITE BELT DROUGHT ASSIST

In a year where it was almost too easy to focus on the difficulties, GBDA co-manager Glenda Riley said she would only take the good memories with her into 2021.

“One of the best parts was about connecting with the community on a more personal level – we were locked up for weeks, then when you got out you really came to value the people you know,” Ms Riley said.

“Another big thing to come out of 2020 for me is remembering who we each are as a person, and that we are important to ourselves, our families, and our communities.”

Alongside continuing the GBDA’s work with drought-affected residents, Ms Riley said another key priority in 2021 would be the community-focused Ladies’ Shed, or “The She-Hive”.

“We want to focus on giving people something to look forward to. There’s a lot of focus on tourism and hospitality, but you can’t forget about the local community,” she said.

“We’ve had the community respond to our survey asking for picnic days, trivia nights, and other community events, as well as some arts classes.

“It’ll be a place for networking, health and wellbeing, creative action, and knowledge. They can learn a new skill, but a lot of it will just be coming in, having fun, and chatting in that safe space.”

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