Weekender: Big Dad Out

Iconic building to be revitalised for Community Hub

Megan Dean

Originally the Wintergarden Theatre, and more recently Blockbuster and a gym, an iconic CBD building will be preserved and revitalised as a Community Hub.

The project is one of the first to be delivered as part of Bundaberg Regional Council’s vision for a Civic and Cultural Arts Precinct.

The hub, located on Maryborough Street, will provide permanent office space for a range of community groups in addition to low-cost rooms for hire for not-for-profit and community organisations.

The design and renovation of the building was funded in Council’s most recent budget.

Mayor Jack Dempsey said the aim of the Civic and Cultural Arts Precinct, which would also include a new art gallery, performing arts theatre and Council service centre, was to inject new life into the CBD.

“But of course, the heart of any city is its community groups and organisations,” Mayor Dempsey said.

“This Community Hub will provide tenancy spaces for local organisations, however it will be so much more than that.

“It will be a low-cost, well resourced facility that not-for-profit and community groups can use to host meetings, forums, provide training or raise awareness for important causes.”

Local architect Tomas O’Malley won the tender to design the internal fitout of the Community Hub, which will focus on preserving the building’s history while providing modern facilities.

Initial internal demolitions are expected to commence early in 2022, with the main element of construction starting from mid-2022.

The Community Hub is expected to be complete towards the end of 2023.

Community Hub to celebrate heritage of iconic building

By the time the historic building takes on its new role as a Community Hub it will be just shy of 100 years old.

Officially opened in the late 1920s, the Wintergarden Theatre remained in operation as a popular community facility until 1968.

A significant internal renovation occurred in 1994 in the former theatre’s auditorium which resulted in the balcony level being transformed into a second floor.

The upstairs area became a gymnasium, retaining all of the decorative plasterwork and the upper section of the theatre’s stage.

The ground floor was a Blockbuster video store until it closed in 2017 and has been vacant ever since.

“It is wonderful to now have an opportunity to celebrate this well-loved piece of local history and ensure it remains in the hands of the community,” Mayor Dempsey said.

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Stewart and Sons to celebrate 73 years

Ashley Schipper

The wheels on the Stewart and Sons bus have been going 'round and 'round for almost 73 years, with the local family proud to service the region's travel needs through their iconic company.

Currently operated by Graham and Julie Stewart and their son Ryan, the dynamic trio have kept the family company going from strength to strength and will be celebrating more than seven decades in business next month.

Graham said his father, uncle and grandfather all established the company in 1948.

“They came from Brisbane and originally purchased a little business called Jorgensen Bus Company,” he said.

“It started out with three old Bedford buses and has since grown to the extensive fleet we have today.”

Graham said he had been in the bus industry all his life, having grown up surrounded by the vehicles ever since he was a child.

“I actually started driving buses at nine years old,” he said.

“Up in our tip yard there was a little laneway with the workshop on the side, I used to get in the bus, drive up the laneway and back around.”

It's what started Graham's passion for bus driving which has continued to this day.

“I love doing it mostly because of the kids and the wonderful people I get to meet,” he said.

“People are always happy to have a chat and tell you their stories, it is enjoyable.”

While Graham focuses on the bus driving and workshop side of the business, his wife Julie is making sure operations continue to run smoothly from the office.

She said she was proud of the extensive range of services the company offered within the Bundaberg Region and beyond.

“We offer school bus runs which go from Bundaberg to the outlying areas of South Kolan, Elliott Heads, Coral Cove, Innes Park, Moore Park Beach, Childers and back to Bundaberg,” Julie said.

“We also operate a charter service to take groups on trips and an urban service six days a week from the city to coast and coast to city.”

Julie said what made her role in the company extra special was the fact that she got to work alongside her husband and son.

“We work closely together and all have our own skill sets,” she said.

“We are a very tight-knit family and are so proud to continue what the rest of the Stewart family originally started.”

Graham and Julie's son Ryan is now the fourth generation of the family to contribute to the local business.

Ryan, who along with his dad drives the buses, also manages the engineering section of the business and said it was what propelled him into his apprenticeship as a young man.

“The engineering section was created off the back of us doing our own maintenance and mechanical work,” he said.

“We continued on into making tray bodies, tippers and flat tops and that's where my trade came in.

“I started as a young guy in the workshop and moved up into learning how to weld, spray paint and more.”

Exciting new additions to Stewart and Sons

Ryan said more recently the company had introduced some exciting new additions, including a new, high tech coach with plenty of gadgets on board.

“This coach is wonderful to drive and feels like sitting in a lounge chair,” he said.

“It features two USB charging points at every seat and TVs which come down from the roof.”

Ryan said it was sure to be a popular vehicle within the fleet, much like their bright green bus which had been affectionately nicknamed Kermit by its regular passengers.

“One passenger even purchased a green Kermit the frog plush toy for the bus which now sits up at the window every day,” he said.

“It's colour is based on the theme of the Brisbane Q Connect brand and is used to transport people to and from the shops and other areas within the region.

“Not only does this bus transport human passengers, it is also used by a very special guide dog who has his own seat behind the driver's side.”

Ryan said being part of the family business not only meant he got to work alongside his mum and dad every day, it was also a great opportunity to gain skills and meet lots of people in a diverse role.

“Working in both the engineering and bus driving side of the business is great because there are so many different things to be involved in,” he said.

“I can go from being in the workshop to picking up school kids in a bus and taking them on an excursion to Tinaberries.

“It really is a fantastic place to work.”

Take a deep dive into Bundaberg Aquatic Centre

Megan Dean

Training, learn to swim and remedial facilities for the entire community will be delivered in the new Bundaberg Regional Aquatic Facility.

With the detailed design process underway, Bundaberg Regional Council has created an in-depth view of what the project will include.

Click here to find out more.

Thousands of plants for Belle Eden project

Georgia Neville

What was once a concrete drain is one step closer to being returned to a thriving natural waterway with over 55,000 rushes, sedges, shrubs and trees now being planted in Belle Eden.

 The plants form a key part of the Belle Eden naturalisation project - and not just by creating a welcoming and inviting community space.

Bundaberg Regional Council Natural Areas Officer Sally Obst said the concept would see the plants act as natural water filters, resulting in cleaner stormwater runoff which eventually finds its way back to areas like Baldwin Swamp.

“We have hit a really exciting point in this project where we have been able to start planting,” Sally said.

“Throughout the three stage project we will be planting over 55,000 plants and of that, 46,000 are low growing lomandras, rushes and sedges that you see closer to the ground and the remainder will be trees and shrubs.

“The particular plants we are using are really important in managing water flow and also assist in improving water quality, which is another key component of the project.”

Sally said the project would benefit surrounding natural areas and wildlife, with the reinstatement of habitat creating the potential to attract many species back into the area.

“We are planting a range of plant species that are local to the area and that also suit the drainage system including tea trees, callistemons, melaleucas and then nestled amongst those smaller shrubs are some larger trees such as bloodwoods and gum trees such as the Goodwood gum which is iconic for the Bundaberg Region.

“A project of this type that naturalises what was once a concrete drain is really important in terms of developing habitats, linking wildlife corridors and providing the opportunity to treat some of the storm water that comes from our urban areas before it enters our natural waterways.

“Having a naturalised drain will encourage a range of animals to come back to the area and this includes animals like frogs, by creating a frog friendly habitat, as well as lizards.

“The long term outcome of this project will be a beautiful bushland area, surrounded by open grass parklands that people will be able to access for play.”

Bundaberg Region Mayor Jack Dempsey said the project would be a fantastic addition for the community and environment alike.

“It is great to see the excitement from people in the region waiting for this to be completed so they can enjoy the natural flora and fauna,” Mayor Dempsey said.

“The first two stages of the project are well underway with planting aiming to entice animals and small creatures back into this wonderful environment.

“This project will link into the other projects that are connected to Baldwin Swamp and are going to be a generational benefit and a project that all of Bundaberg is going to be proud of.”

Little Red Engine 503 makes tracks to region's parks

Ashley Schipper

A Little Red Engine will soon be chugging around the region's parks to provide children and adults alike with a unique experience just in time for the school holidays.

Owned and operated by the local Biggs family, Little Red Engine 503 is a trackless train comprising three carriages and powered by a small vehicle engine.

The family will be offering rides at the start of the upcoming school holidays as they launch their new business in the region.

Jade Biggs said her family had been working to give the train new life in the lead up to the holidays and were excited to introduce The Little Red Engine 503 to the community.

“The Little Red Engine is a miniature train ride for children as well as the adults which has three carriages featuring three wooden bench seats,” she said.

“The engine itself runs just like a car motor, which doesn’t make much noise.”

Jade said while they had only owned the train for two months, it was already proving to be a popular sight when spotted around the region.

“I love the kids’ faces when they see the train when we have transported it around town,” she said.

“We placed designs on the train that would appeal to children’s' interests and the new decals and paint has brought The Little Red Engine back to life.

“This train is unique as there is only a few around the whole of Queensland and one is now residing within Bundaberg.”

Bundaberg Regional Council recently granted the Little Red Engine a permit to operate in a number of the region's parks during the school holidays.

Parks and Gardens portfolio spokesperson Cr Wayne Honor said the train ride would be a fantastic addition to the region's recreational spaces.

“This wonderful little engine will be set up in the quieter areas of our beautiful parks, which don't experience a lot of foot traffic, and will provide an added layer of fun to family days out in the region,” he said.

“Little Red Engine 503 will be of great benefit to the community and will assist in supporting the use of our wonderful recreation spaces.

“I look forward to seeing the train in action and I am sure it will bring plenty of smiles to the faces of our park visitors.”

Jade said The Little Red Engine 503 would begin operating during the school holidays.

“At this stage, we will be running at Alexandra Park during the upcoming school holidays and people can check out our Facebook page to keep up to date with information on times and places,” she said.

“We also offer Little Red Engine 503 to be hired for all events or occasions.

“We look forward to bringing the Little Red Engine 503 to Bundaberg and surrounding regions.”

Little Red Engine 503 rides cost $5 per person and take approximately five to seven minutes per ride.

Find out more here.

Coffee shop makes The Journey to CBD

Ashley Schipper

After almost five years operating a successful coffee shop in Bargara, Mat Grills has his sights set on the Bundaberg CBD to open his second cafe, The Journey.

To be situated in The Laneway in Woongarra Street, Mat said the opportunity to open a second store had been in the planning for a number of years.

“It has always made business sense to open a shop in town however we have been very picky about locations,” he said.

“We wanted to make sure the space, feel, vibe and area was in alignment with our current model.”

Mat said when he found out about The Laneway, he was adamant that it was the perfect spot for his business.

“We went there for one of the night markets and the spot felt perfect,” he said.

“It ticked all the boxes, felt like it was where we were meant to be, and when a shop space became available, we jumped at the opportunity.”

Mat said The Journey Bundaberg would follow the same model as the Bargara shop, with great coffee being the number one focus.

“Coffee is always number one,” he said.

“We also sell a variety of other cold drinks and smoothies and then a wide range of healthy, no processed sugar (a lot of gluten free) plant-based food from muffins, breads, raw slices, wraps and similar items.”

Mat said he was excited to bring his brand to the CBD and couldn't wait to be part of the small but passionate range of businesses in The Laneway.

“We didn't want to be on a main thoroughfare and wanted to continue to be a ‘destination' location like we are in Bargara – one you have to find and not just know it is there,” he said.

“The Laneway is perfect and ticks all those boxes and additionally, the girls in The Laneway businesses currently are fantastic.

“They have done an amazing job creating a beautiful, vibrant and energetic cool place to be and we wanted to be a part of that also.”

The Journey Bundaberg is set to open by November 12 with Mat currently on the lookout for more staff.

“We are looking for qualified café workers, particularly baristas who can work in a super busy environment and fit the vibe and energy of The Journey Bargara,” he said.

“Our motto has always been to help someone leave the shop feeling better than when they arrived.

“Coffee is a big part of that but service and relationship is a much much bigger part of that story.

“We want to build community around the shop in The Laneway and create a family there like we have at The Journey Bargara.”

Mat said he was looking forward to the next Journey that his coffee shop business would take him on.

“We couldn't be more excited to bring Kai Coffee and The Journey vibes to Bundy City,” he said.

“We look forward to meeting you all, getting to know your names, have a laugh and share life together at The Laneway.”

Mon Repos car park designed with environment in mind

Ashley Schipper

Glow in the dark turtles will illuminate the pathways of Mon Repos at night providing visitors a unique and safe way to navigate the low-light area.

The design is part of the recently completed upgrades to the Mon Repos carpark, with many artistic and environmentally conscious features combined to create a “sense of place” at the popular tourism spot.

Known as a resting and nesting space for sea turtles, the Mon Repos carpark was recently highlighted for an upgrade to bring the area up to safety and environmental standards through a modernised design.

Mayor Jack Dempsey said a dedicated team at Bundaberg Regional Council had worked hard to transform the area into a space that would benefit visitors, turtles and the surrounding natural elements.

“There have been plenty of amazing and innovative ideas that have come to fruition thanks to the team's passion for this project,” he said.

“As part of these works, an entry statement has been featured as visitors first drive into the carpark.

“They will notice a bright blue stamped turtle design on the road symbolising the beginning of our turtle sanctuary.

“Two flat asphalt roundabouts have also been created with the most easterly roundabout featuring similar design of stamped marine life to signify the space as a turtle sensitive area.

“These flat surfaces have been created in such a way that there are no trip hazards in the low-glow carpark.”

Mayor Dempsey said as part of an ongoing initiative to protect the turtles and their natural habitat, the carpark created very little light pollution within the new design.

“It's about creating as little amount of artificial light as humanely possible, but in a safe way,” he said.

“That's why, when exploring Mon Repos at night, you will see neon green turtles glowing along the pathways to help you navigate through the park.

“There are smaller turtles situated along the path with larger turtles placed at every turning point or stop.”

The car park has also experienced a major change to its layout, with buses and caravans provided parking in a separate space to smaller vehicles such as cars and motorbikes.

“Council has also taken away much of the existing asphalt and replaced it with a large, grassed area to catch runoff instead of it ending up in the ocean,” Mayor Dempsey said.

“Not only does this new layout benefit the environment but it is also safer for visitors when crossing the road or walking from their vehicles to the beach.”

Turtle Sands Camping and Holiday Park is situated in the vicinity of the upgrade with manager Ben Baker stating the work had greatly transformed the area.

“It's absolutely fantastic,” he said.

“The upgrade has definitely brightened up the area and turned it into what it should be – the premier destination of our turtles.

“The pathways are fantastic, the new fencing that is currently going in is superb – it all just adds another great feature to Mon Repos.”

Public artwork to feature in Mon Repos carpark
As part of the second stage of the carpark upgrade, Mayor Dempsey said Council had plans to introduce public art along the pathways and fenced areas.

“Mon Repos is such a special place and what better way to showcase our love of turtles than through public art created by our community,” he said.

“This project is about improving environmental outcomes and celebrating the home of our beautiful sea turtles by providing a wonderful space for them and for our visitors to enjoy.”

The carpark redesign project was funded through the State Government's Transport and Tourism Connections Program.

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Jake thanks emergency services crews for life-saving treatment

Ashley Schipper

When nine-year-old Bundaberg boy Jake Bacon suffered a heart attack while playing football, the RFDS and QAS crew flew into action and transported him from a soccer field to the Brisbane hospital.

It was their combined efforts that saved Jake's life last year.

Recently, after regaining his health and getting back to being a happy, sport-loving kid, Jake and his family met up with the crew to thank them for their help.

Looking back on that fateful day, Dad Joshua said he was still overwhelmed by how everything unfolded.

“You know, it's a little bit surreal,” he said.

“I was freaking out as I was already emotional enough because it was the exact same day three years prior, in 2017, that I'd lost my dad to a heart attack.

“We want to say thank you to everyone, from the first responders to Colin the pilot and flight nurse – we just really are appreciative of what good work they do.”

Queensland Ambulance Service paramedic Anthony Fletcher was part of the team that was dispatched to attend to Jake when he collapsed on the football field and said it was a unique case to be involved in.

“When we arrived we were pretty surprised that Jake was unconscious because it is very rare for that kind of situation to happen to someone so young,” he said.

“We packaged him up and took him to the hospital and by the time he arrived he was breathing, had a pulse, had blood pressure.

“He was actually starting to come good which was great.”

Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) Nurse Manager Robyn Langton said it was an honour to meet up with Jake and his family and know that he was well again.

“I was a flight nurse on shift and we got tasked to take Jake down to Brisbane,” she said.

“It's really heart-warming to be remembered for what it is that we do every day.

“It's quite humbling, especially to hear that he is back to playing sports and is happy, healthy and probably a little bit cheeky too!”

Jake one of thousands of RFDS Bundaberg missions

Jake is one of 2,025 patients who were flown by the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) Bundaberg crew to emergency or specialist care during the 2020-21 financial year.

The latest annual patient and aviation statistics reveal that 12,319 patients were transferred across the state last year.

Queensland crews provided, on average, 190 occasions of care each day.

Among the most common reasons for transfer by the RFDS Bundaberg were medical conditions related to the heart, sepsis and broken bones.

RFDS pilots flew a total of 24,279 hours over 8.3 million kilometres, landing 22,587 times.

RFDS (Queensland Section) Chief Executive Officer Meredith Staib said she was immensely proud of the work delivered by staff each and every day.

“For more than 93 years the RFDS has helped rural and remote Queenslanders overcome the tyranny of distance to access healthcare services,” she said.

“Our efforts over the past year demonstrate our commitment to ensuring continuity of this service well into the future.”

School holiday fun just around the corner

Georgia Neville

Bundaberg Regional Council’s facilities are turning up the fun these school holidays with a range of activities on offer.

There is something for all ages with activities ranging from a movie at the Moncrieff to rambling through the rocky shore at Bargara searching for wonderful wildlife.

Bookings are essential for some activities, so ensure you get in quick.

What's on

Snakes Downunder add macaws to the mix

Georgia Neville

David and Kate Mercieca are not the only new additions to Snakes Downunder, with the first-time zoo owners recently welcoming a pair of hyacinth macaws to the popular Childers wildlife park.

The macaws have been added to the zoo with the hope of beginning a breeding program as David and Kate look to expand the current animals on display.

David said the opportunity to bring new species to the park was exciting and something that the couple were planning to continue to do into the future.

“We have these two hyacinth macaws which we are looking forward to introducing to the park,” David said.

“They are currently in their newly built holding aviary while they get used to the new environment, and down the track we will be moving them into the park alongside the other species of birds.”

The birds have been sent to the zoo from New South Wales and are expected to be on display for the public within about six months’ time.

“The move from New South Wales has affected them a little bit but they have settled in well here,” David said.

“They are almost ready to go out and we are just finalising plans to get their enclosures finished in the park.”

The hyacinth macaw is native to central and eastern South America and is the largest parrot in the world.

According to The Animal Facts, a mature individual may measure as much as 1 metre long and weigh up to 1.6kg.

David and Kate said the macaws were on the list of many animals they hoped to introduce at the Childers zoo.

“We are excited to build on the addition of the macaws by hopefully introducing some other new species of animals such as monkeys,” he said.

“We have a bit of a list we will work on to expand the park and introduce some new animals.”

Ian and Barb Jenkins sold the Snakes Downunder business to new owners David and Kate Mercieca earlier this year as they relocate to Brisbane after 15 years of operating the park.

Snakes Down Under is open from 9.30am to 3pm, although closed on Wednesdays.

You can find out more about Snakes Downunder here.

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River Nations Dancers to share love of culture

Georgia Neville

First Nations teenagers from across the region are sharing their passion and culture through dance at the region’s major events, including the upcoming Milbi Festival.

The River Nations Dancers group is made up of 27 Indigenous students from three state high schools in the Bundaberg Region, aged between 13 and 17 years.

The dance group was recently formed after Bundaberg Regional Council approached River Nations Indigenous Corporation to utilise the talented youth to create an Indigenous cultural experience for tourism and events.

River Nations Indigenous Corporations CEO Norelle Watson said the concept had been discussed with local Indigenous Elders and there was great support behind the project.

“The River Nations team met with local Indigenous Elders at a Bundaberg Regional Council Elders Yarning Circle to pay respect, acknowledge and inform Elders of the projects objectives and expected outcomes,” Norelle said.

“Local Indigenous Elders and community members were invited to each of the Indigenous Mentoring sessions to share their storylines, song lines and lived experiences with the students who participated in the program.”

The young dancers have thrived and, with that knowledge passed down from Indigenous Elders, have fostered their love for their culture and sharing it with the community.

“Each student dances with a deep pride in their Indigenous heritage that has shone through in a number of events since the group’s formation,” Norelle said.

“The students represent their schools with dignity and pride, displaying a deep sense of culture in each of the presentations in the public arena.”

Norelle encouraged residents to participate in Milbi Festival 2021 events for the opportunity to see the River Nations Dancers in action.

“Each student’s commitment and consistency throughout each presentation is a joy to watch,” she said.

“Twenty-seven students are involved in the program, representing their families, school and community in a culturally inclusive and spiritually strong presentation at each event they perform.

“The Indigenous Elders of our community are proud of the way the students conduct themselves and they are capturing everyone’s hearts and attention
with every performance.

“The students dance with purpose and passion, sharing the traditional songlines of their ancestors.

“Most importantly, they have fun, they are totally immersed in their culture and walk away from each performance, steeped in the knowledge of who they are and where they come from.”

The River Nations team engaged a range of stakeholders in the mentoring program which Norelle said had contributed to the success of the program.

From Elders, mentors, dance teachers and community members to Council and local high schools, she said the River Nations Dancers could not have been the success they have become without this support.

The troupe has performed at a range of local events since coming together including the State of Origin Maroons Fan Day at the Multiplex, the Taste
Bundaberg Festival Indigenous Elders Dining Event and Indigenous Dining Experience held on Mon Repos Beach.

More recently the students performed at the Wide Bay Hospital Health Service Annual NAIDOC event at the Healing Garden.

Doug’s front garden will brighten your day

Morgan Everett

Four years ago Doug Punchy caught the gardening bug and decided to bring his yard to life through the use of flowers, hearty foliage plants and native animal sculptures.

When Doug first moved into his property there was nothing but a few trees and shrubs, so he spent his time beautifying the front yard for everyone to enjoy.

“Once I put in the first section of the garden, I began to picture what I wanted it to look like,” Doug said.

 “The garden has continued to develop greatly over the years.

“I think it looks good for Bundaberg, especially when people come into town and drive passed and it also compliments the neighbours who have a really nice garden.”

The green thumb said the style of his garden is Australian tropical, which had been achieved by adding realistic, native animal ornaments as a feature throughout. 

“I love spending time in my garden, just looking at the plants and animals and picturing what project I can start next,” Doug said.

“I’ve recently added a water feature to attract birds and frogs.”

To overcome the poor soil quality, Doug said he had found a solution in planting in pots.

“There is a lot of sand, especially around the palms here,” he said.

“The roots go everywhere, so you've got to put as much in pots as you can.”

Doug has proven a garden doesn’t have to be high maintenance to be attractive by choosing plants like bromeliaeds and succulents that don’t require a lot of water to thrive.

Doug is far from finished though, and he said he wanted to have plants all along the fence and fill every gap with colour.

“I think everyone should have a bit of colour in their yards, get out amongst it and brighten up your life,” he said.