‘A Short history of our local Council 1853–1997’ (Part 6)

AROUND THE TOWN - Aug’19 - by Frank Tuckwell

Next month will mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 2. As the final part of a short history of the evolution of our Council will appear in the September issue of the Goolwa Community Newsletter, a new series of articles will start in “Around the Town” taking us through the experiences of our townspeople of Goolwa at home and abroad during WW2. So now read on towards the next-to-last part of:

‘A Short history of our local Council 1853–1997’ (Part 6)

From 1928 the Corporation of Goolwa was in the process of fighting against the local government amalgamation proposals. The Council, although in a sound financial position found itself in unknown waters and doubts as to where it would stand in any of its forward planning, subject to the outcome of any amalgamation proposal. It caused rifts among the elected members when Council was faced with major financial concerns addressed to it.

One such concern was with the closing of Goolwa’s only private hospital under the owner-management of Nursing Sister Mary Jemison who had built and opened the facility in Liverpool Road in 1920. When Sister Jemison had disposed of her Victor hospital in Grantley Avenue to set up in Goolwa, Victor Harbor’s Mayor White introduced the subject of need for a replacement hospital in that town.

For eight years the Goolwa hospital functioned well but in 1928, with Sister Jemison’s failing health threatening its closure, demand rose in the town for Council to act in some way to resolve the problem. Council could not agree on any of the solutions put forward and so the hospital closed when Sister Jemison was finally forced to retire in ill health. The outcome of the Council’s indecision brought criticism from Cr Percy Wells whose progressive vision was for an improved lifestyle and better facilities for the people of Goolwa. However, during the declining health of Sister Jemison, another hospital was founded to become the South Coast District Hospital, thus centralising these facilities in Victor Harbor, requiring the adjoining Councils to contribute financially to its running costs. Having lost the battle to save the Goolwa hospital, Cr Wells turned his energies to meet other rising challenges.

Percy was a member of the Goolwa Institute committee and saw great opportunity in bringing the Institute hall up to date and fitted up with the latest “talking pictures” technology he had experienced recently while on an overseas tour. He addressed the committee with his plan in which he saw the benefits of local businesses having a chance of taking over from the old travelling silent picture-show men. His research had shown that silent movie production was winding up, so that unless the committee was ahead of the coming change by re-equipping the Institute hall, there would be no more travelling showmen.

Although some of the members could see the need, most of the Goolwa Institute committee refused to upgrade and modernise their building to be able to screen sound-on-film pictures and refused any future discussion on the subject. In frustration he responded to the refusal by promptly resigning from the committee and announced he personally would finance and build a movie house and general public use facility across the street, commencing immediately.

At the same time Percy nominated for the mayoral position for the upcoming 1928-29 town Council election, which he subsequently won. He had served as North Ward Councillor since 1923, just a couple of years after his arrival in the town and opening his chemist and optician business in Cadell Street. In Council he was an energetic advocate for town improvements, tourist promotion and job creation activities. His advocacy and broad view of town advancement earned him much opposition from the conservative members of Council. As Archie Dowland in 1898 had galvanised the people of Goolwa in support for national federation by bringing them together with a grand view of a united Australia; so too did Cr Percy Middleton Wells, as he set about and ensured that his great new Centenary Hall rising across the street from the Institute hall would represent the town’s past glories and the grand future for Goolwa. It would be finished and opened in time to mark the centenary of Sturt Expedition’s arrival near the site of future Goolwa on February 11, 1830.

As the threat of forced Council amalgamation grew, the Goolwa Corporation, local business and the community were drawn together under the overall patronage and considerable financial support of Mayor Percy Wells. In this spirit of unity came the question; what is it that we can do to demonstrate the strength and purpose and unity of our town and our Council? It quickly gelled into the idea to demonstrate who we are, what we do, how we live, work and play in the wonderful environment that surrounds us.

The outcome was the staging of “Back To Goolwa, 1929”, an Easter weekend festival organised by a special committee appointed by Mayor Percy Wells for a showcase event of water, land and aerial sports, school and church celebrations, lodges and Returned Soldiers and Sailors Clubs, with hotels and other businesses contributing to a program organised by the committee to fully integrate the whole community to ensure its smooth running. The major attraction would be the annual RSL Easter Regatta, combined with a nation-wide challenge to attract leading aerial service sponsors to an air race down the Goolwa Channel. The full festival program ran over the four-day holiday weekend which was attended by the greatest number of people ever seen in the town up to that time. It received significant coverage in all city and local country press, who carried stories of the event, interviewed the old pioneer navigators, aviators and local people along with politicians and other public notaries. Special trains to and from the city ran throughout the event.

It was hugely successful as an outstanding event on the state calendar and a financial winner for the community, earning Mr Arthur Neighbour (later elected to Council) a well-earned inscribed gold medal for his work as secretary. But as for the main aim of the event, the mighty effort failed to impress the state government in favour of Goolwa Council’s seeking to retain its municipality.

In the last two terms of the Goolwa Corporation (1930-1932), Harold D. Goode was elected Mayor, the last for the Town of Goolwa, to become the last member of the Goode family to serve in that office. He was first elected to Council in 1908 to 1910 to represent North Ward. Harold’s grandfather, Thomas Goode senior, became the first mayor at the inaugural meeting of the new Goolwa Corporation (town council) in 1872, serving two terms to 1874. Harold’s father Thomas Goode junior, then served as town mayor from 1877 to 1879.

The people of Goolwa strongly supported Harold’s candidacy for the office of mayor following the retirement of Percy Wells in 1929. He served the last two terms in office until the financially viable Goolwa Corporation passed into history in 1932 when it was absorbed back into the struggling District Council of Port Elliot.

Photo caption: Inaugural Council meeting. Proclaimed 11-12-1872