Serving a community for a quarter of a century

Mayor Leonie Kerley from Barunga West Council in Yorke Peninsula, South Australia.

This month Local Government Focus catches up with Mayor Leonie Kerley from Barunga West Council in Yorke Peninsula, South Australia.

Local Government Focus: Tell us about your area: what makes your council special or different?

Mayor Kerley: At the top of Yorke Peninsula in South Australia lies the Barunga West Council (BWC) area — a stunningly beautiful region of beaches, rich farmland and friendly small towns. Barunga West is bounded by the Hummock Range to the east, with valuable farming land spreading to the coastline. BWC has a population of 2169 (LGA 2021). It encompasses a large area of 1528 square km with a 930km road network. The estuary at Port Broughton with its mangroves and samphire is an important and very special part of our coastline as it provides the breeding grounds for a commercial fishing industry and recreational fishing which brings hundreds of fishers to our community. Farming land in BWC is some of the best in South Australia.

LG: Do you have a favourite part / aspect / attraction in the council area?

Mayor Kerley: We have stunning sunrises and sunsets and they are a photographer’s dream. Great fishing brings seasonal tourists to the award-winning Port Broughton Tourist Park, fresh from a multi-million-dollar upgrade. The award-winning Bute Silo Art is a very new attraction but one which has put BWC in the spotlight. And a favourite part about BWC is its country feel and laid-back lifestyle.

LG: How long have you been on Council and why did you become involved in Local Government?

Mayor Kerley: I have lived in BWC all my life so have a lot of historical knowledge which is invaluable in my role as an Elected Member. This is my 24th year as an elected member and my sixth year as Mayor. In about 1999 I attended a council meeting to present a petition, the EMs invited me to stay for the meeting, which I did, and I was hooked. I just thought this is what I want to do. Make a difference. When I was a child, sitting around the meal table, discussions invariably included politics, state and federal. My grandfather was Chairman of Bute District Council and my cousin was a former Mayor of Glen Innes Council. The local State MP, Fraser Ellis, is a relative, so maybe there is something in my heritage which made me interested in local government. It was difficult at first being the only female on council and even more difficult trying to change ingrained ideas. Later in my time as an EM there were five females on a nine-person council. We currently have three female EMs making inroads in what has been a male dominated arena. I make the point though that I am not in LG to push the female barrow, I’m just me doing a job I love.

LG: What activities do you enjoy outside of work hours?

Mayor Kerley: Outside of Mayoral hours I am the proof reader (among other things) with a small group who publish a monthly magazine called the Port Broughton Echo. Any mistake you see, blame me. I’m a rather intense gardener, where I spend most of my spare time. I love the natural environment and I love my acre of land where I’ve planted hundreds of trees and shrubs and where I raise native seedlings to plant and to share with friends. I am always happiest when I’m elbow to elbow walking through a scrub somewhere. I love photography. I always wanted to be an artist, but can’t paint to save myself, so I take photos. Being able to nurture and welcome artists who wish to use Gallery 1871 in Port Broughton is very fulfilling.

LG: What are they key challenges facing you and your Council?

Mayor Kerley: Key challenges would always be rates, how to stretch them further and how we can keep them as low as possible; how to be sustainable. Engaging the community. Challenges are that Local Government is becoming more involved, more logistical and with more legal hurdles than ever before. Navigating the legislative requirements isn’t easy and that in itself is a problem as the general public don’t understand how intricately detailed Local Government is.

LG: What innovative projects or policies is Council working on?

Mayor Kerley: Currently we are working on our Civic Square upgrade and splashpad adjacent to the Port Broughton jetty. We have almost finished the Bute play space and Silo Art viewing area. A new industrial zone has been created and two new housing estates, one in Port Broughton and one in Bute, are being developed to accommodate much needed housing blocks and population growth. Barunga West Council has proposed new planning rules with the aim of protecting the area’s local heritage, marking itself as the first council to utilise South Australia’s Code Amendment process for this purpose. Local heritage has been sadly neglected in BWC until now and I’m excited that hopefully we will have an extensive list of Heritage buildings.

LG: Tell us about a specific success you have had in Local Government.

Mayor Kerley: The freeholding of Fisherman Bay has probably been the highlight. This complex process began at the time I was elected to council in 2000 and is finally being completed in 2024. Working alongside our CEO Maree Wauchope, who has led a very challenging chapter for council over the past five years, we finally have got the job done. This has been a mammoth decision-making effort by Elected Members led by Ms Wauchope.

LG: What is the best part about being a Councillor?

Mayor Kerley: Knowing I’m making a difference! Meeting people. Working side by side with an amazing and encouraging CEO. Opportunities which I would never have, meeting community leaders, meeting mayors and forming invaluable friendships. One of my favourite events would be Citizenship ceremonies and welcoming our newest Australians to our district.

LG: What is the worst part?

Mayor Kerley: I love most things about my job as an EM and mayor but media interviews scare the pants off me.

LG: What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

Mayor Kerley: A district which has a growing population and economic growth, that is constantly evolving and progressive. I want to continue to engage with the community and engage with our youth to encourage involvement with Barunga West Council and Local Government.

Accomplishments of BWC of which I’ve been an integral part and of which I am extremely proud: – Fisherman Bay freeholding, involving $20 million of private investment and the $3 million Port Broughton CWMS upgrade.

– Advocating to the State Government for road upgrades, resulting in the upgrade of the Bute to Port Broughton Road.

– Top of the Yorke branding and tourism marketing strategy.

– Sensory Santa sessions for our annual Santa’s Cave.

– Introducing FOGO, which was a contentious issue, but which has proven to be very successful.

– Bute Silo Art winning gold in Best Rural Art and Silver for Best Mega Mural in the Australian Street Art Awards.

– Port Broughton being awarded the 2023 SA Tiny Tourism Town Award.

– Bringing attention to the importance of the natural environment, which is now a focus of our Strategic Community Plan.

– Getting Gallery 1871 (an art gallery in Port Broughton) up and running.

– Poppy Project (my idea supported by EMs and staff) whereby members of the community made crosses and knitted poppies for an installation of 1000 poppies on Port Broughton Foreshore for ANZAC Day. A massive community effort (one of my proudest moments paying tribute to all servicemen and women).

– My suggestion to build a dog park and subsequent use of the park has been huge. It’s become a meeting place for dog owners (The 7am Club) where friendships are made, and it’s used regularly by tourists wanting their dogs to have a safe run.

– Supporting the construction of a Helipad in Port Broughton.

– Construction of all-abilities playground.

– Recreational Trails Strategy.

– Foreshore sand replenishment.

We might be small, but we are mighty and will continue to make brave decisions for the future of BWC.