We look back at 2020 — a year that tested Geraldton
The year in news started on a sad note, with a land and sea search launched for Spalding deli owner Dean Thomas Gellatly, 41, who went missing off St George’s Beach while diving for crays. He was later found drowned. His mother Kathy later said he didn’t even eat crayfish, but liked to catch them for family and friends.
Another tragedy followed as dad-to-be Armando Trimocha Jr died in a motorcycle crash at the corner of Brand Highway and Barrett Drive, leaving a widow pregnant with their first child. Main Roads has since commenced work on safety improvements to the intersection.
Also in January, the bushfire crisis in eastern Australia prompted many welcome enquiries from people keen to become volunteer fire fighters.
The Independent Principality of Hutt River’s self-styled Prince Graeme announced the micro-nation’s borders would close later in the month as the family restructured the business.
Later in January we reported a nail-biting rescue as Narngulu forklift driver Brendan Sekuloff managed to stop nurse Joanna Moore’s vehicle from rolling over on to her neck, and yachtsman Gary Hill was reunited with his wife Penny after his motorised vessel broke down in “terrible conditions”.
As the month ended, a survey showed people in southern Geraldton to be the fittest in regional WA, and the council approved funds for a driverless bus trial.
As February began we reported the first of many COVID-19 stories as business owners warned of a sharp decline in tourism when international borders closed to visitors.
The Federal Court granted Native Title over 48,000sqkm to the Southern Yamatji group, who agreed to forgo all rights over much of their ancestral land in exchange for a range of benefits.
Small businesses in Geraldton’s CBD complained of declining revenues from cruise ship passengers as the free “hop on, hop off” bus changed its drop off points. Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative announced plans to reinvent Barnacles fish and chip shop as a tourist café with crayfish.
Then, a police officer was charged with murder — the first time that has happened in WA in almost a century —in a move welcomed by the family of a young woman who was shot dead while behaving erratically and allegedly being armed with a knife.
A Geraldton family who had spent time in China said they were glad to be back home where they self-quarantined. By the end of February, Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative reported rock lobster sales had fallen by 98.5 per cent in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
By March, 11 cruise ships had added Geraldton to their itinerary as they were no longer able to take passengers to overseas ports. Supermarkets had panic buyers emptying their shelves of staple items such as rice and toilet paper as doctors and nurses braced themselves for the pandemic. University economists reassured residents and businesses the pandemic should have no long-term effects on Geraldton’s economy.
Drummond Cove caravan park reported 15 power outages in four months, realising the back-up generator they had acquired under a Western Power scheme was too small.
The effects of a new practice called social distancing became apparent to everyone when the organisers of Geraldton’s popular comedy festival Funtavia postponed the event, which could not operate under such conditions.
Geraldton Hospital reported 51 “code black” emergencies over the previous six months, where a person threatened harm to themselves or others, and a serial shoplifter with a meth habit thanked the magistrate for giving her eight months’ jail.
The Irish Club scheduled “one good day out” before the impending lockdown and veteran rockers The Mullets scheduled a reunion gig.
Late in March the Mid West’s first confirmed COVID-19 case appeared, before ice-cream vendor Michael Trowbridge handed out freebies to newly unemployed people in a socially distanced queue outside Centrelink.
Several schools decided to switch to online lessons in the wake of the pandemic.
April began with a Geraldton woman contacting the Guardian from Germany, urging us to take the virus seriously as her neighbour had just died after becoming infected. The RSL announced it had cancelled the usual Anzac Day services but undaunted, many held private ceremonies in their own driveways.
The City of Greater Geraldton forecast a $3 million deficit, but promised not to increase property rates. As COVID-19 precautions caused many businesses to close, a Geraldton beautician said she had refused many requests for services “on the sly” as they would put her and her family at risk.
As international passenger flights slowed to a trickle, Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative was able to send live lobsters on what promised to be the first of many Commonwealth chartered flights directly to China.
A Geraldton man who flouted quarantine orders after flying from New Zealand copped a $2000 fine, and visits to nursing homes were banned. Geraldton Hospital’s COVID-19 team said it was well prepared for a spike in infections, and fuel retailers hit back at claims they were “price gouging” amid the pandemic.
Rolling into May, the Australian Medical Association warned the regions would be put at risk if the WA Government lifted restrictions too soon.
Mayor Shane Van Styn blasted Main Roads for ordering the removal of an unauthorised crosswalk in Marine Terrace and a man was jailed for leading police on a 140km car chase though the suburbs.
The Commonwealth then announced a $1.7 million grant to BP to research a renewable hydrogen and ammonia production facility for Geraldton. Trainer Eddie McGuire, wheelchair bound after an accident, had a horse race named after him before storms ripped through Geraldton, damaging buildings in the wake of ex- tropical cyclone Mangga.
As we neared the halfway mark of 2020, the virus prompted Central Regional TAFE’s Geraldton campus to get creative and stage its National Reconciliation Week activities online. Jacob Dann charged $100 to lose each of his dreadlocks as a fundraiser for breast cancer research, and employer and business groups gave State election hopefuls a $600 million wish list of infrastructure projects.
Later in June, a group staged a peaceful protest against Aboriginal deaths in custody outside the courthouse.
Various service providers said there was not enough accommodation for people with acute mental health issues, and as a result 27 per cent of mental health patients in hospital had no clinical reason to be there.
The WA Nationals called for two high-speed vessel jetties to be built to facilitate tourism to the Abrolhos Islands.
A former Geraldton fisherman was hit with almost $8 million in fines for catching thousands of rock lobsters above his quota — the “biggest penality ever on a commercial fisher” in WA history.
Councillors passed a very different budget to what they had expected just a few months beforehand, and a number of Geraldton tourism operators called on Premier Mark McGowan to set a tentative date to reopen the State border. Irwin Shire Council decided to close two free campsites and charge $20 per night for the others as it could no longer afford to operate them without an income.
PART 2 JULY TO DECEMBER: NEXT WEEK
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