2021 – Year in review

December 31, 2021 BY

Bright spot: Sovereign Hill was transformed into a colourful winter wonderland, complete with faux snow as part of the living museum’s Winter Wonderlights event. Photo: CHIPPY RIVERA

At this time every December, as we get ready to celebrate the start of a new year, we also take a look back the twelve months that just were in our traditional Year in Review.


Warm return


IT was going to be a summer of fun, quite literally.

With the region seeking to bounce back from a COVID affected 2020, a range of groups teamed up to bring different events and activities to Ballarat, titled Summer of Fun.

“At the end of a tough year, people are ready for a summer of fun… people may think they know our city, but there’s so much more to explore, and this campaign is designed to encourage them to look again,” said City of Ballarat mayor Cr Daniel Moloney.

In other municipal news the City sought to further put behind it a tumultuous 2020 and appointed a new CEO.

Evan King got the nod, and the former Hepburn Shire head had a lot on his plate.

“I feel like I’ve been working towards this job for all of my career,” he said.

“The region needs a high functioning city, and the city needs a healthy region.

“I’m really passionate about continuing my work with all of our neighbouring shires to make sure that we work together.”

Late January is awards season as communities seek to acknowledge those who make where we live a better place on, or around, the 26th of the month.

On a national level Bill and Marie Rinaldi were awarded Medals in the Order of Australia for their work with Riding for the Disabled, while Buninyong’s Lorraine Powell received the same honour for efforts in that town’s Botanical Gardens.

Locally the City of Ballarat citizens of the year were Dr Sundram Sivamalai, Heather Luttrell and Gabriel Gervasoni.

In Golden Plains the nods went to Brad McKenzie, Damian Baker, Sophie Busuttil and members of the Smythesdale Cemetery Trust.

Enriching city life: Gabriel Gervasoni, Dr Sundram Sivamalai and Heather Luttrell the City of Ballarat’s 2020 citizens of the year. Photo: CHIPPY RIVERA

Ready to roll


They may have come a little bit later than usual, but the RoadNats took to the streets, roads and hills around Ballarat to crown Australian champions.

And, Buninyong & District Community Association’s events and tourism representative Roger Permezel didn’t mind the later start time.

“We hope that the revised schedule one month later becomes a fixture,” he said.

“It is more amenable to community involvement with local residents, schools, retailers and businesses.” Spoiler alert – it didn’t!

The second in a trilogy of accounts into the conduct of the City of Ballarat, known as the Pitcher Partners report, was just a “historical record,” said outgoing CEO Janet Dore.

The report looked at issues relating to the Gatekeeper’s Cottage, the Botanical Gardens Fernery, a Flemish Chandelier at Town Hall and spending by a former mayor.

Ms Dore said the findings within the report have been used to improve policies and processes and won’t be referred to other authorities.

“The reports are historical records, they do not reflect how the organisation is today and how we are moving forward towards best practice,” she said.

Following a year’s break, Commerce Ballarat announced that the annual Business Excellence awards would return in 2021.

However, like everything else, they would look a bit different as the focus of the event, and the processes leading up to it, emphasised COVID normal.

“For the first time in our history the awards were cancelled last year and replaced by development and marketing support,” said Commerce CEO Jodie Gillett.

“There were businesses able to adapt and thrive, and businesses that worked tirelessly to ensure they simply survived. All of which we believe should be celebrated.”

Playful events: Western United’s Alex Baker and Aaron Calver get ready for a big weekend of events in mid-February with bit of practice over the top of Rick Dexter. Photo: EDWINA WILLIAMS


Shot in the arm


THERE was potentially light at the end of the long pandemic tunnel as vaccinations against COVID-19 began rolling out across the region.

Seniors were some of the first inline to get the jabs and resident of the Ballarat Health Services run James Thomas Court in Sebastopol, 83-year-old Elizabeth Lowday, was keen to roll up her sleeve.

“I want to do it to help the younger generation, so that everyone can get their lives back together. We’ve got to give it a go,” she said.

“We can get out and have a meal with our families and see grandchildren and all that.

“I hope this will work and everyone’s lives will get back to normal.”

As March 4 Justice events took place across the nation, Ballarat joined in the campaign with a huge rally at Alfred Deakin Place where people marched against sexual and gendered violence.

Ballarat Trades Hall president Cassia Drever-Smith said she was grateful to all attendees – women, men, and non-binary people – for taking a stand against sexism, misogyny, violence, and inequality.

“Every day, women are experiencing violence and sexism at work, at home and in our communities. The time has come for us to bring this to an end,” she said.

Out in Linton the importance of publicly accessible defibrillators became even clearer as a tale of community support and true survival emerged.

In December 2020, Janet Verdoorn went into cardiac arrest at the back door of her home

With the help of other locals and a triple 0 call taker, cafe owner Carl Oberhauser was able to bring Ms Verdoorn back to life with the aid of an AED kept at the Linton Police Station.

Happy: Ballarat Specialist School pupil Jackson received a new iPad to help him communicate and learn as part of a not-for-profit State Schools’ Relief program. Photo: CHIPPY RIVERA


Good sport


THE region’s first COVID-19 mass vaccination site was pressed into service.

Run by Ballarat Health Services and located at the Mercure Hotel and Convention Centre on Main Road in the facility started with people in the phase 1A cohort, before moving onto 1B.

Ballarat Health CEO Dale Fraser said with about 7000 vaccinations done at the Base Hospital, it was time to expand.

“The Mercure is going to increase our capacity, but having said that our capacity is always limited to the supply of vaccines that we do receive,” he said.

Top-level sport was in order in on the weekend of 10 and 11 April with the Melbourne Vixens and Adelaide Thunderbirds in preseason action at the Ballarat Sports Events Centre, while the Western Bulldogs and the Brisbane Lions played for premiership points at Mars.

City of Ballarat mayor Cr Daniel Moloney said the flood of people into the city’s sports precinct did a lot to lift the community.

“It’s good to see people happy again, and they’re happy because they are out and seeing live sport,” he said.

“The reason why you can’t get a carpark in this area right now is because people have backed the events by coming in big numbers.”

Also well attended were Anzac Day services, with people allowed in person for the first time since 2019.

Ballarat based 8th/7th Battalion’s Lieutenant Colonel Shaun Richards said Anzac Day offers a “paradox,” as the public mourns and celebrates.

“We’re here to commemorate our collective loss, pay our respect to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, acknowledge Australians who have served and currently serve our country, and celebrate mateship and patriotism,” he said.

Better late: John Cotter and Trevor Whitefield prepare to raise the East Point 2019 premiership flag at the start of the 2021 season. Photo: ALISTAIR FINLAY



From little things


IF you ever think you’re just one person and can’t make a difference, consider nine-year-old Esther Cutts.

The Newington Primary School student looked around Sebastopol’s M.R. Power Park, wasn’t happy with elements of it, and decided to make a difference.

Esther, her friends, and family worked to clean up the space of a “surprising amount” of junk before lobbying the City of Ballarat for permeant fixes.

Young people seeking to make the world around them was a bit of a theme in May, with the youth led climate strike movement again taking to the streets.

The action was sparked in part by a Federal Government decision to put taxpayer money into a new gas fired power station in the Hunter region of New South Wales.

“We want our government to fund our future, not gas,” said spokesperson Abby Halliwell. “We’re trying to show our government that we are very passionate about this and that we need change.”

The State Government budget was announced, and it contained several big-ticket items for the region.

They included 25 new X’Trapolis 2.0 trains built in Ballarat for $986 million, replacement of the Lydiard Street rail gates at $10.5 million, Woady Yaloak Primary School campuses upgrade and modernisation costing $9.05 million, and Forest Street Primary School works at $5.57 million.

Hospitality awards were also a bit of a reoccurring idea toward the back end of the month.

The Western Hotel trumped several Melbourne-based finalists to take home the trophy for Best Takeaway Initiative at the Australian Hotels Association State Awards, and then Dollar Bill Brewing won Champion Australian Beer at the 2021 Australian International Beer Awards, for its wild ale called Gold Teeth.

Style: About 50 people took part in the Ballarat Heritage Festival’s Tweed Ride. Photo: ALISTAIR FINLAY


It’s an honour


AND just like that, we were back into lockdown. As part of the response, the State Government announced a $250 million support package to help businesses survive the seven-day shutdown.

Unfortunately, yo-yoing in and out of lockdown restrictions would become a theme for much of winter and early spring.

Then, almost 12-months after it was announced, the City of Ballarat finally took an official stance on the Western Victoria Transmission Network Project that was potentially going to impact landholders in the north of the municipality.

In the end council decided to feedback into the project’s environmental effects statement process and push for an underground solution for the plan.

Cr Mark Harris said the actions of the project’s key backer, AusNet Services, were “appalling” and council needed to hold the involved entities to account.

“When you look at AusNet and its approach, it really defies even the most basic consultation dynamics and genuinely talking to communities and trying to get the best outcomes,” he said.

Council was also set to begin lobbying the State Government to move a road at the Ballarat Airport.

Between the municipality and the Federal Government there was $10 million sitting on the table to extend the runway, but Airport Road was blocking the way.

“The runway can’t be extended until Liberator Drive is built,” City of Ballarat CEO Evan King said.

Finally, Queens Birthday honours were announced, and three locals were on the list.

Former University of Ballarat pro vice-chancellor Robert Hook was made a Member of the Order of Australia, while Bigger Hearts Dementia Alliance founder Anne Tudor and GP Dr Rimas Liubinas were both awarded Medals of the Order of Australia.

Growing up: Annie, a grade 1 student at the Scotsburn campus of Buninyong Primary School, plants a tree as part of a revegetation project along the Midland Highway. Photo: ALISTAIR FINLAY


Work to remember


FOLLOWING much planning and effort, the ground-breaking Dementia-Friendly Forest and Sensory Trail opened at Woowookarung Regional Park.

The idea of Bigger Hearts Dementia Alliance Ballarat founder Anne Tudor, the one-kilometre trail is accessible for people of all abilities, wheelchairs and walkers.

The space has wetlands, a boardwalk, and six circular outdoor rooms where people with dementia and their carers can rest and enjoy the bush.

It was a mid-winter of discontent for some, as the State Electoral Commission released provisional boundaries to be used at the 2022 Victorian election, and Ballarat changed drastically.

That in turn led to criticism for the suggested lines from all sides of politics.

“Ballarat has been short-changed by only having one seat,” said City of Ballarat councillor and former Liberal candidate for Buninyong, Cr Ben Taylor. “I don’t think it’s a good outcome for Ballarat as a whole.”

Former Labor member for the state seats of Buninyong and Ballarat East, Geoff Howard, agreed.

“I think Ballarat is a big enough city to deserve two proper State members of parliament, as it’s had for many years,” he said.

In a case of being so close, yet so far, Bungaree netball legend Amanda Clarke was set to play her 500th senior game of netball. And then COVID lockdown hit, again.

Regardless, the always humble Clarke was keen to put the focus on everyone.

“This is a celebration of the people I’ve played with and that have been along for the ride and journey,” she said.

Another victim of mid-July’s lockdown was Lyric Theatre’s production of We Will Rock You. They got in one show before the COVID curtain dropped.

Bright spot: Sovereign Hill was transformed into a colourful winter wonderland, complete with faux snow as part of the living museum’s Winter Wonderlights event. Photo: CHIPPY RIVERA


Park it


A PROMISE of one-thousand new carparks in Ballarat’s CBD was a central tenant to the Labor Party’s 2018 State election pitch, but until early August the issue had gone silent.

That was until the location of about 100 of them, near GovHub, was revealed.

“We’re looking at the community interest in a number of sites,” said Member for Wendouree, Juliana Addison.

Only 900 to go before November 2022…

After nearly a decade of community consultations, plans and pitches, the idea of lighting Moneghetti Track around Lake Wendouree was starting to become a reality.

That also meant those opposed to the plan were also preparing for a battle, with Wendouree Parade resident Gail Hirst saying the project could “destroy” the “beauty and wellbeing” of the lake.

August also saw another snap lockdown. Par for the course really, but it disrupted many things, including community sport where the Ballarat Football Netball League, like many comps across the state, were meant to play their annual TAC round.

The message wasn’t lost though.

“I doubt there’s a club anywhere that hasn’t been touched by road trauma, and it’s something we all need to work together to improve, and to help others,” said BFNL general manager Shane Anwyl.

On the lighter side, Winter Valley-based power gardening tools company Jono & Johno went viral with a humorous job ad.

“You will embrace our company like it was your own. Not exactly like it’s your own. Don’t take money out of the safe,” the ad said.

“If you already live in Ballarat, bonza. You already have a massive kitchen and a Kathmandu jacket. You’re half-way there.”

True colours: Clubs from across the Ballarat Football Netball League and the state were set to participate in the annual TAC round, then, lockdown. Photo: CHIPPY RIVERA


COVID returns


IN business news, quiet achiever C.E. Bartlett Manufacturing landed a major deal and became a prime contractor to the Australian Defence Force.

“Securing this contract represents great reward for our team,” said Bartlett CEO Dave O’Brien.

“With the many challenges faced by regional manufacturing businesses, being able to offer workforce stability and job security for our valued production staff is extremely important.”

We hit a vaccination milestone with 100,000 doses given out across the Grampians health care region.

Not before time too, as Ballarat was thrown into a snap seven-day lockdown as detected COVID-19 returned to the city for the first time in over a year.

“We… are really needing to buckle down and make sure that we’re doing everything we need to do to be able to keep COVID at bay,” said medical director of the Grampians Public Health Unit, Associate Professor Rosemary Aldrich.

Within seven days a further 17 people had been identified with COVID-19 across six households, leading to more than 50 tier one and two exposure sites at locations all over the city.

As a result, resources were rushed to Ballarat with pop-up testing clinics established in Newington, Lake Gardens and Wendouree, in addition to the Ballarat Health Services run site in Sebastopol.

That in turn led to the cancellation of the Ballarat Football Netball League senior comps for the year, although flags were awarded to the minor premiers with North Ballarat taking the senior football and A Grade netball titles.

On an individual level Sebas’ Lachlan Cassidy claimed the Henderson, and Rooster Stacey Matthews took her second Sally McLean in four years, while Burra mid-fielder Jaye Dalgelish claimed the inaugural BFLW best and fairest medal.

Plane-spotter: 45-year City of Ballarat employee, John Hartigan, is currently the manager of the Ballarat Airport. Photo: CHIPPY RIVERA


Doors open


IT had been around the country and even to New Zealand, and now it was Ballarat’s turn as surreal art installation and experience 1000 Doors creaked open.

Created by Australian artists Keith Courtney and Christian Wagstaff the labyrinth was designed to be nostalgic, yet a haunting and claustrophobic experience.

“Each space is about personal memories from our own childhood,” Courtney said.

On the installation’s location next to Town Hall, Wagstaff added, “We’ve always been on a path or in a festival environment, so to have it in the heart of the city is quite unique.”

As a way of saying thank you Sovereign Hill threw open its doors for just $1 for locals to visit.

“Considering all the compounding pressures of COVID that we have been through, we want to give something back to our community,” said president of the living museum, Craig Fletcher.

Speaking of Sovereign Hill, the TV show filmed there in 2020 finally hit the small screen, with SBS’s four-part TV drama, New Gold Mountain broadcast.

In part exploring ideas of racism and sexism during the 1860s, star Cheung Lei said the show confronts the country’s violent past and brings up questions about what it means to belong.

“I feel like a lot of history has been erased,” she said. “I think this show puts that at the forefront and sees it with not a whitewashed lens, which I think is really important.”

Not even COVID could stop Commerce Ballarat’s night of nights, with 14 winners announced in 15 categories announced during an online event.

The always the optimistic organisers held over the overall winner reveal for an in-person event at the end of November.

Colour your way: With an established international customer base, Shelby Sherritt launched a new DIY pottery painting line. Photo: EDWINA WILLIAMS



Some things change


City of Ballarat councillors were asked to vote on who would lead the municipality over the next 12 months and they voted to stay the course, with mayor Cr Daniel Moloney and deputy Cr Amy Johnson returned to their positions.

“It’s really important we have a consistent leadership team. We’ve got a great CEO in place, and the same mayor and deputy-mayor as we carry through into the Federal and State elections,” he said.

In a case of four becoming one, health services from across the region, including Ballarat Health, got the okay to combine.

The merger meant the dawn of Grampians Health and Minister for Health Martin Foley said the deal was a good thing.

“The creation of Grampians Health will provide a strong, integrated health service to benefit the health and wellbeing of the local community,” he said.

After a community consultation period the final boundaries for the 2022 state election were set and they had changed a bit since first being mooted.

However, all sitting members welcomed the change and current Labor Buninyong MP Michaela Settle noted the importance of the electorate’s name change.

“It’s wonderful that this new seat will be called Eureka as it celebrates one of the most important events in Victoria’s history,” she said.

In one of his first official visits outside of Melbourne since heavy restrictions lifted, Premier Daniel Andrews commented on the new boundaries.

“We don’t take any seats for granted, wherever the lines are drawn,” he said.

“We know and understand that the people of Ballarat, this community, [has] been very good to us. And we… have worked as hard as we possibly can,” he said.

Game on: Ballarat Petanque Club president Gordon Oliver at the club’s first ever tournament. Photos: ALISTAIR FINLAY



Taste sensation


FINALLY, the 2021 Federation Business School Commerce Ballarat Business Excellence Awards came to a spectacular conclusion with the Business of the Year announced at Civic Hall.

In front of about 400 people, Carboni’s Italian Kitchen was revealed as the big winner.

“It feels surreal,” said owner Donatello Pietrantuono. “I wasn’t expecting it. Looking at the calibre of the finalists and the winners I never thought in a million years I’d be on this stage.

“I’m so happy, to be recognised of course, but for all the staff to be recognised at the same time.”

A few weeks later something very different took place at Civic Hall with thousands of protesters using the site as a starting point for a march through the city.

Attendees were variously anti vaccinations, anti lockdowns and restrictions, and against the State Government’s pandemic laws, Premier Daniel Andrews, the established political system as well as many other things.

“The whole reason for Daniel Andrews behaviour over the last 18 months is… to cover up his incompetence with health care over the last 15 years,” said Paul Harper.

In sewer news, it took pretty much the whole year, by Central highlands Water were able to celebrate the completion of the first stage of the Ballarat Sewer Build, with 960 meters of new pipe laid a long Peel, Eastwood, and Anderson streets.

October saw devastating storms across the region and many historic trees along the city’s famed Avenue of Honour were not spared.

However rather than turn the wood into chips, members of the 8th/7th Battalion Royal Victoria Regiment decided to use the timber from tree 3347 in a meaningful way, creating memorial picture frames.

Rally cry: Thousands of people marched through Ballarat last Sunday in a self-described ‘freedom’ protest. Photo: ALISTAIR FINLAY