Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

July 11th 2012
Community action plan man returns

Lorna Hempstead with Peter Kenyon at the markets on Sunday He was on Magnetic Island in 2001 when, amid a period of high tension over the Nelly Bay Harbour development, Peter Kenyon arrived to help build a community and business development action plan. Armed with pithy insights and endless examples of small but enduring local success stories, he surveyed and listened to everybody and every organisation he could meet with; to learn about our strengths, weaknesses, hopes, passions and much more. From this he worked with us to distill a direction we might all embrace. For a community it was like having a personal trainer to analyse our fitness and flexibility levels and recommend new and hopefully successful ways we could engage with the future and with eachother. So, after more than a decade, Peter is back to work with us again.

Having already attended a MI Community Development Association barbeque the night before, we found Peter at the Horseshoe Bay foreshore market, standing beside a notice board headed: “What do I care most about re Maggie? With MI Community Development Association President, Lorna Hempstead, Peter was asking as many locals as were passing to allocate six stickers against the noted issues of importance hand written on the list. It was a good conversation starter with a man whose work is built around good conversations.

The "What do I care most about re Maggie?" list with stickers

Our conversation began with the obvious comparison: 2001 and now? One of the more heavily stickered issues on the board was “Being an inclusive/connected community”. And, while it’s something we might still yearn for, Peter thinks the biggest changes he’s seen are in attitude and mindset. “Back then there was conflict across friends and families, for and against the harbour, (which was still under construction)”. He thinks much of that has passed with those opposed seeing it as something little more can be done about and many former supporters now also disappointed with the outcome. Despite that time he thinks that now there is more of a sense of a united community.

One local had approached Peter exclaiming, “I’m no greenie, but...” and, as Peter puts it, went on to highlight a range of issues one might easily place in a “green” basket. One included “retaining Magnetic’s village character” another, strongly sticker-supported, attribute from the list. It seems that for many issues there may be more agreement than we might expect. Some issues divide communities, it seems, by the way in which they are communicated and how people see themselves socially and culturally.

“Business life is struggling across the country but the economy across the Island is a concern.” Peter calls it the “Bali appeal” that drawing thousands of Aussie dollar carrying, potential Magnetic holiday makers to more exotic shores. It’s not news to local business people but his focus returns to, “what else can we do to build upon the Island’s competitive tourist assets?”

Things we find that work are more likely to be community-created attractions.” Peter, who may need some updating, rates the village-feel of the RSL’s Friday night markets and what used to be the walk-in movies at the Sport and Rec Club as, “not just good for locals but good for visitors too”. Sadly one of these is no more and the other is in decline for reasons which don’t diminish his notion. Better examples may well be Vern Jack’s Toad Races, Magnetic Island Musos Club and the most recent, major community-building success story, the Magnetic Island Men’s Shed.

So if building our community’s prized, self-generated, activities and attractions also benefits the economy - but, if those attractions are understaffed and reliant on a passing generation of near burnt-out, volunteers, then reversing the decline of community participation looks like a linchpin for much more. On this Peter Kenyon has some interesting examples to share.

He tells of a Canadian survey which discovered that if someone asked you to do something you were interested in then there would be a 90% uptake. “How well do we know what people (in the community) know(?)” he asks.

He cites another example of a school P&C struggling with just 5% of the parents actively involved. “Parents these days are half as likely to be involved in their P&C as 5 years ago,” he claims, but then adds that at this school they raised the parent participation rate from 5% to 85% in just 12 months! How? They put a list together of all the things that needed doing into a fact sheet. They then personally rang each P&C member asking that they contribute, “just 1 thing!” After two weeks 55% chose and half of them chose 2 tasks. The 45% remaining were contacted again and this time the doer’s list jumped to 75%. Then, the remaining 25% were recontacted and 10% of these did something! Peter sees great benefit in personal contact and keeping the task singular.

Commuting is however, according to Peter, damaging for community involvement. “10% of commuting time equals 10% less community time. “Two hours commuting each day leads to pretty low involvement”. One wonders however if this rule would apply to Magnetic Island where commuters can well benefit from the daily time spent together on a ferry. Think of all the social events conceived on the 5.20pm ride home.

He went on to flag another sort of problem exemplified in harsh reality in Murray Town, South Australia, where “all the shops and even the pub had now closed”. Peter attended a supper there and, “everything was negative”. One man sadly exclaimed, “Three years ago we had a table tennis club.” Ten minutes later Peter meets another resident who was a table tennis champ and willing to get involved. He told Peter simply, “No one has ever asked me to do something!” Mapping community skills and assets is a vital ingredient and Peter expands on “How well do we know what we know” to say, rather challengingly, “All we need is local”.

The conversation shifts to a weakness often voiced about Magnetic Island: the lack of interesting places and activities for youth. With the obvious exception of the Solar Cities Skate Park, our recent story on the need to save the Sea Cadets underlines the need. Peter suggests a youth club and describes a parent who say’s her daughter doesn’t feel part of the Island. She has no friends here and if she doesn’t feel part of the Island it’s going to affect the parents and whether they will stay.

Just how others perceive the attraction of voluntary community tasks is another factor. “There is the martyr syndrome when the same old faces complain that nobody is doing anything else.” But in a Seattle neighbourhood Peter came across, they say, “Never organise a meeting when you can organise a party!”.

“Just do things around food,” he says, adding a little mantra, “Discover, connect, act and celebrate!”

Peter is on Magnetic this week with his daughter Ali and, this afternoon, from 4.15pm (off the school ferry) there will be a free pizza party at Pizza Tonight (next to the Nelly Bay Foodworks) for local high school students and their parents if they also want to attend, to meet and talk with Peter about their ideas for Magnetic Island.

Lorna Hempstead expects Peter’s report to be finalised by late September or early October.

Peter has an excellent website full of resources and inspirational ideas for communities to draw from and we highly recommend a look. (Click here)

Story and photos: George Hirst

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

Community action plan man returns
July 11th 2012
How much is all this costing?
As for Ergon and the solar cities project - for the amount of money that was spent, we could of all had a solar hot water system installed free of charge that would of taken a load off the grid.
The island has ended up with very little - no solar street lighting, we did not get what was promised.
And now they are spending money along with MICDA for consultancy - that didn't work last time.
Many people holiday on the island for various reasons and many stay at Blue on Blue and One Bright Point and love it.
What a lot of Bull pun intended Peter!
July 13th 2012
I agree entirely with Cynic, Solar city was a waste of money. We were told it was not possible to feed back into the grid by Solar city, we shopped around and have had 3 years of large refunds from Ergon. This Island has not progressed in the 10 years we have been here, in fact it has gone backwards. Businesses closing down everywhere. As for street lghting they are often still on at 7.30 am when I walk my dogs. What a waste of energy. It has been light for almost an hour in winter and for one and a half hours in summer
July 15th 2012
jaen, as far as I can recall, the Solar Cities project involved households 'hosting' solar panels for the duration of the project so that the industry could use the data collected in the trial. The hosted panels were not connected into the house but directly into the grid. It was not intended that the hosting house would collect any financial benefit from the hosted panels. This trial was carried out in a small number of locations around Australia to give a spread of data. Presumably that data collection is ongoing.
Of course it was still possible that a householder could choose to purchase their own solar panel array and enjoy the benefits that arose from that. But that was a separate possibility not part of the Solar Cities funded 'experiment'.
Apparently, one benefit that has already manifest itself is that the submarine electricity supply line from the mainland has not had to be upgraded/duplicated because sufficient power is being generated on the island to be able to delay this eventuality for a number of years.
I can't see a connection between the Solar Cities trial and businesses closing down. Is there one?
July 21st 2012
Chasmac, There is in fact a connection between soaker city aand businesses closing down. Firstly solar city just wanted to use peoples rooves to host their panels for free and obviously did not care about the comunity at all. If they did they would be helpingg businesses reduce their electricity and get some refunds from Ergon for having panels on their rooves and feeding bsck into the grid, thus helping them in some small way financially. Instead all they wanted to feather heir own nest and for everyone to think how great the islanders' were in hosting their rooves. Who will pay the restoration bills when the first cyclone hits the islansd and panels are damaged and rooves uprooted. I bet solar city will not they will not wnnt to know the first thing about the affected houses! This island is a quiet little island with old fashioned values and it is not a place to develop a new business. Let it remain that way!!!
July 22nd 2012
Yasi was about a Cat 3 here. Did anybody lose any solar panels or find the panels lifted their roofing iron that night? Hadn't heard of any.
July 22nd 2012
Jaen, Solar City built (renovated) the Smart Lifestyle centre in Horseshoe Bay and will hand it back to "the community" at the end of the project. That's a gift to the community which would have cost a small motza.
It's true the project "...wanted to use peoples rooves to host their panels for free", but they did ask nicely, it was entirely voluntary and every participating household was given a free electricity budget check and many received updated monitoring equipment and other aids to help understand how to reduce consumption. Clearly some people had expectations that they should be able to get more for free - no one was ever offered "refunds from Ergon" for hosting panels.

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