West Australian - April 14, 2003


A tale of two communities
By Tony Barrass

BY ROAD, there's only 90 minutes between them, but in attitude it could be light years.

Exmouth and Coral Bay are chalk and cheese.

One has turned the corner despite some recent setbacks and is on the road to prosperity. The other is wallowing in bureaucratic chaos, desperate for sensible, long-promised guidance from government.

Exmouth Shire president and Gascoyne Development Corporation executive director Mike Purslow is typical of the entrepreneurial spirit of the North-West and believes there is an urgent need for a good management system to be implemented in the Coral Bay area immediately.

Carnarvon Shire director of planning and development Steve Thompson has apparently come up with one. It's been sitting with the Department of Planning and Infrastructure in Perth for more than a year. Typically, no one has heard a thing.

Mr Purslow said the Gascoyne Development Corporation was supportive of Mauds Landing as long as all environmental criteria had been met. He believed Ningaloo Reef could put both communities on the world map.

He said the infrastructure was already in place. Learmonth Airport, halfway between Coral Bay and Exmouth, was the biggest airport in Australia and could take all sizes of jets. It could service tourists from around the world not only wanting to visit the reef, but other areas in the Gascoyne and Pilbara.

The corporation was also holding talks with airlines over the movement of international freight and believed Asian markets such as Singapore were keen to take fresh produce from the area, just three hours away by air.

"At the moment, all our produce goes to Perth," Mr Purslow said. "We don't see the Asian option as a huge hurdle. It can be done, we just need to do it together."

IF there was a proper balance between development and the environment, the Cape region would blossom, particularly in tourism.

"Tourism at the moment is the fastest growing industry in the Gascoyne," he said. "And soon it will be outstripping the fishing industry and the horticultural industry. It's estimated that $85 million a year comes into Exmouth through visitors to the area and other associated benefits.

"We need that money to survive. And I think that the key to any future growth will be closely linked to the airlines." He said remote communities faced problems but none that could not be overcome.

He highlighted the difficulties of getting Exmouth's marina and residential development off the ground after years of financial and planning difficulties and the decision by the American military to walk away from its naval communications base.

Originally, construction of the marina was supposed to have started in 1996. The project was now three years behind schedule. Throw into that last year's rush of water that ran down from the slopes behind the town and surged through a hole in a sand dune, sinking two Kailis Brothers' trawlers in the process, and you've got one troublesome project.

"But that's life, that's what happens and you get on with it."

The Americans leaving town was a blessing in disguise, pushing the community into making a decision about its future.

"I think it made us realise that we had to consider your future and in particular get serious about tourism," Mr Purslow said.

"We're going through a period of expansion. Development is providing valuable jobs and pumping money into the community and if it is balanced and sensible, everybody benefits.

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