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Year in Review Part 1: The top 21 stories of 2021

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Kate CampbellGeraldton Guardian
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Lewis Parker, 6 months, helping his dad, poppy and uncle finish harvest in Westonia.
Camera IconLewis Parker, 6 months, helping his dad, poppy and uncle finish harvest in Westonia. Credit: Jazmin Parker/Supplied/Supplied

If 2020 was the year that turned the world upside down, 2021 was the year locals were forced to put their resilience to the test.

The Geraldton Guardian is looking back at the year that was and how locals rose to the challenges of cyclone devastation, an ongoing global pandemic, health crises, shocking criminal acts and tragic deaths.

But there were moments of triumph in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, making 2021 a year Geraldton will not be forgetting any time soon.

Kmart district manager Michael Richardson and Geraldton store manager Cherie Williams.
Camera IconKmart district manager Michael Richardson and Geraldton store manager Cherie Williams. Credit: Lisa Favazzo/The Geraldton Guardian

21. KMART COMES TO TOWN (pic Kmart001)

It was a retail revolution for Geraldton. And one locals had been wishing for, for many decades. Geraldton’s very own Kmart.

Wishes turned into reality in June when the old Target store was rebranded and opened its doors as a brand new Kmart at Northgate Shopping Centre.

At the opening held amid much fanfare, Kmart State manager Glenn Butkus said “the customers in Geraldton have waited long enough”.

“I have had more than one person tell me they don’t have to do the eight-hour return trip to shop at Kmart,” he said.

It was a red-letter day for Geraldton and the city’s economy, with bargain-hungry shoppers flooding into the new store.

Six months on, the novelty of having our own Kmart hasn’t seem to fade, with the store seemingly as busy as ever, with stock regularly sold out.

St john of God Hospital Geraldton
Camera IconSt John of God Hospital Geraldton Credit: Edward Scown/Geraldton Guardian

20. MATERNITY SHUTDOWN (Pic St John Geraldton)

There one day, gone the next was the St John of God Hospital maternity ward.

It was yet another story of labour shortages in hard border WA. St John’s just couldn’t find the midwives to staff their wards. Not only here, but in Hedland and Karratha as well.

Rumours spread that staff were quitting in droves over COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Amid it all the hospital appointed a new CEO, Phillip Balmer, who didn’t blame it all on the jab but admitted it was definitely a factor.

Meanwhile, all the mothers who would have had their babies at St John’s were tossing up whether to jump across to the public hospital, or travel to Perth if they wanted a private option.

The question was if Geraldton Regional Hospital could cope with the extra patients. Then Health Minister Roger Cook assured us it could. Agricultural Region MLC Steve Martin wasn’t so sure.

It’s now been a month-and-a half since the private maternity ward closed, and still no word on when it will reopen.

Hundreds of guests attended the 80th anniversary memorial service for HMAS Sydney II.
Camera IconHundreds of guests attended the 80th anniversary memorial service for HMAS Sydney II. Credit: Phoebe Pin/Geraldton Guardian

19. HMAS SYDNEY 80TH ANNIVERSARY (pic: hmassydney(2) and thomas01)

As the sun set at Geraldton’s HMAS Sydney (II) memorial, a crowd of hundreds paid tribute to the 645 men who died at sea 80 years ago.

The ship and her crew met their end when a warship flying the German Battle Ensign open fired on the vessel on November 19, 1941.

A torpedo ripped into the ship and cost all aboard their lives, but not before HMAS Sydney’s retaliatory fire wiped out the raider’s radio and engine rooms, and killed 20 men on the enemy vessel.

Thomas Welsby Clark has been identified as the Unknown Sailor who died on HMAS Sydney, below, in 1941
Camera IconThomas Welsby Clark has been identified as the ‘unknown sailor’ who died on HMAS Sydney, below, in 1941. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

Geraldton’s 80th anniversary commemorations — which were streamed across Australia — saw Able Seaman Thomas Welsby Clark finally identified as the ‘unknown sailor’ who perished in what is now considered Australia’s worst naval tragedy.

A ceremony to mark the anniversary was also held in Denham, which is recognised as the closest town to where the ship rests at the bottom of the ocean.

Guests enjoying the Abrolhos Island long table lunch.
Camera IconGuests enjoying the Abrolhos Islands long table lunch. Credit: Shot by Thom/Supplied

18. INAUGURAL SHORE LEAVE FESTIVAL (Pics Abrolhos lunch and Shore leave004)

Touted as the Mid West’s signature seafood event, the inaugural Shore Leave festival saw guests come from across WA to wine and dine in Geraldton.

After years of planning, the festival was put on ice after cyclone Seroja and uncertainty around WA’s COVID-19 restrictions forced organisers to postpone the four-day event in May.

But the delay did not dampen the appetite for delicious western rock lobster and other regional delicacies, with tickets to most events sold out.

The Western Rock Lobster took centre stage at Shore Leave Festival.
Camera IconThe western rock lobster took centre stage at Shore Leave Festival. Credit: West Beach Studio/RegionalHUB

A luxurious long table lunch at the Abrolhos Islands was the unanimous highlight of the festival, but there were also plenty of free activities for all to enjoy along the Geraldton foreshore.

Organisers are now finalising plans for next year’s festival at the end of April, with the State Government predicting Shore Leave will inject more than $2.7 million into the local economy over the next three years.

Harry Taylor sits with the AFL Premiership Cup.
Camera IconHarry Taylor sits with the AFL Premiership Cup. Credit: Justine Rowe/SnapAction/SnapAction

17. HARRY TAYLOR’S HOMECOMING (Pic GNFL013)

It seemed like a footballing tall tale when rumours surfaced that Harry Taylor would be playing for Northampton this year.

But not only did he come straight off a fourth AFL grand final to lace up the boots for the Rams, he also joined the GNFL’s back office as operations manager.

He wasted no time on the field, making it into the club’s record books after a shift up forward and booting multiple 10-goal bags, including a historic 17 majors against Mullewa.

He finished the season with 85 goals, 14 above next-best Dale Williamson, who is the league’s second all-time top scorer.

That smashed Malcolm Gould’s 1969 record of 69 goals in a season for the Rams.

Harry Taylor on his way to a goalscoring record.
Camera IconHarry Taylor on his way to a goal-scoring record. Credit: Kate Box/SnapAction/SnapAction

It was less than Dale Baynes’ 2011 league record of 136 in a season, but a commendable achievement for a backman who had spent 13 seasons and 280 AFL games playing on some of the game’s best-known forwards.

GNFL president Colin Cox says Taylor’s appearances led to some of the league’s best turnouts in years.

Northampton benefited, making the league preliminary final. Clubmates say Taylor gave the whole Rams setup a boost.

A constant at games in either one of his roles, he helped introduce video streaming and worked on club culture.

Taylor and all-time leading Eagles goalkicker Josh Kennedy famously have a deal to play a senior game together for Northampton.

With Taylor heading back east for a performance role with Geelong and Kennedy back at West Coast for another season, that reunion will have to wait. The Mid West footballing community will wait as long as it takes.

Former Geraldton taxi driver James Michael Greenup, accused of slashing passenger with machete, leaving Geraldton Courthouse on June 17 before attempting to snatch a female reporter's phone out of her hand. Picture: Elise Van Aken
Camera IconFormer Geraldton taxi driver James Michael Greenup, accused of slashing passenger with machete, leaving Geraldton Courthouse on June 17 before attempting to snatch a female reporter's phone out of her hand. Credit: Geraldton Guardian

16. TAXI PASSENGER’S THROAT CUT (pic: greenup001)

An alleged crime that sent shockwaves through Geraldton involved former taxi driver James Michael Greenup and his passenger Charlie Collard.

Police allege Mr Greenup slashed Mr Collard’s neck with a machete he had stowed away under his seat following an “altercation” in the early hours of a Sunday morning in March after other passengers had been dropped off.

Mr Collard was allegedly forced from the taxi and left lying in a pool of blood, but managed to seek help from a nearby resident. His jugular vein was severed and he spent days in Royal Perth Hospital fighting for life, needing 28 stitches to close the wound.

In the weeks after the incident, Mr Collard told the Guardian he lost most of his blood and is lucky to be alive.

“You’re in a state of shock, and you get the flight or fight option. I think I took the fight as in I’m going to fight to stay alive. And by doing that I tried to remain calm . . . I knew I had to do that to survive,” he said.

Mr Greenup has pleaded not guilty to causing grievous bodily harm and is scheduled to stand trial in the second half of next year.

Steve Zimmermann in Royal Perth Hospital after the alleged hit-and-run attack in Geraldton.
Camera IconSteve Zimmermann in Royal Perth Hospital after the alleged hit-and-run attack in Geraldton. Credit: Supplied

15. CYCLIST LEFT PARALYSED (pics: Meadowcroft001 and SteveandLeela)

It was a random encounter at a busy Geraldton roundabout that ended in shocking circumstances, leaving the local community reeling and searching for answers.

Police allege Paul Stuart Meadowcroft deliberately ran down cyclist, German backpacker Steve Zimmermann, with his Isuzu D-Max ute, moments after the pair had a heated exchange at the Bayly Street-George Road roundabout on April 1. He allegedly fled the scene and was arrested the next day.

Mr Zimmermann was left paralysed with life-changing injuries, including fractured vertebrae in his neck, spinal damage and partial paralysis below the neck. He faces an uncertain future, full of treatments and rehabilitation.

Paul Meadowcroft, accused of a hit-and-run road rage attack that left a cyclist paralysed, leaves Geraldton Magistrate's Court.
Camera IconPaul Meadowcroft, accused of a hit-and-run road rage attack that left a cyclist paralysed, leaves Geraldton Magistrates Court. Credit: Liam Beatty/The Geraldton Guardi/The Geraldton Guardi

A silver lining to the ordeal was Mr Zimmermann’s fiancee Leela Klein’s steadfast support.

The German couple were travelling Australia and had settled in Geraldton, planning to marry on the city’s foreshore a month after the fateful incident.

But the pair stayed true to their wedding date, tying the knot at Fiona Stanley Hospital in Perth.

Celebrant Brid Hutchinson marries Steve Zimmermann and Leela Klein at Fiona Stanley Hospital.
Camera IconCelebrant Brid Hutchinson marries Steve Zimmermann and Leela Klein at Fiona Stanley Hospital. Credit: Supplied

Meanwhile, Mr Meadowcroft has pleaded not guilty to charges over the alleged road rage hit-and-run and will stand trial in May next year.

Justin Crudeli and defence lawyer Malcolm Ayoub leave court after Crudeli was found not guilty
Camera IconJustin Crudeli and defence lawyer Malcolm Ayoub leave court after Crudeli was found not guilty Credit: Edward Scown/The West Australian

14. CRUDELI TRIAL (picCrudeli001)

What constitutes consent? This was the question a jury was forced to consider when former Geraldton youth boxing coach and GNFL player Justin James Crudeli was on trial for sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl in his backyard hot tub.

The community response to the allegations after his arrest last year arrest was widespread — Mr Crudeli was stood down from his role at Geraldton PCYC and the Rovers Football Club temporarily barred him from playing.

Geraldton Magistrates Court was in September told Mr Crudeli, the 16-year-old girl and her friend went surfing at Back Beach on July 8, 2020 before heading back to the 37-year-old’s house to jump in the spa.

It was here Mr Crudeli was accused of twice digitally penetrating the teenager, who told the trial she was too shocked to protest at the time.

Mr Crudeli admitted to touching the girl — something he told the court he regretted — but denied he did so without the teen’s consent.

He was ultimately acquitted of the charges, with his defence counsel later claiming the jury took just minutes to settle on their verdict.

Jackson Howson was bitten on the leg by a shark while out on a  boat of the Coral Coast. Pictured is  Jackson at Hollywood Hospital in Nedlands. Picture - Justin Benson-Cooper / The West Australian
Camera IconJackson Howson at the hospital after he was bitten on the leg by a shark while out on a boat of the Coral Coast. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

13. CLOSE CALLS WITH PREDATOR (Pics: sharkJBC008, sharksks010 and sharkvic3)

Jackson Howson, Alex Dodds and Jackson Bartlett are all survivors of the shark attack club.

Membership is not sought-after and the entry criteria is painful, but once you’re in, you are regarded as among the lucky ones.

This trio escaped the jaws of a predator in Mid West Gascoyne waters in separate attacks in 2021.

First was Mr Howson, who was spearfishing off Coral Bay in March when a 2m-long shark mauled his leg. He recalled punching the shark and hitting it with his spear gun to escape. His cool-headed girlfriend, an apprentice paramedic who was in the water with him, applied first aid and then navigated the boat 35km to shore. “You don’t feel the pain as much when it’s happening,” Howson told 7NEWS. “But then when you look at your leg and realise there is calf hanging everywhere, then you’re probably in a bit of trouble.”

Jackson Bartlett in PCH with a bandaged foot where a shark bit him.

Picture: Simon Santi The West Australian
Camera IconJackson Bartlett in PCH with a bandaged foot where a shark bit him. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

Ten-year-old Jackson Bartlett was on a family holiday around Australia when he went snorkelling with his father near Coral Bay in June. A 2m bronze whaler attacked without warning and bit his foot twice. “I was bleeding. At the moment, I thought I was going to die because it was really scary,” he said. But the boy received quick treatment and lived to tell his tale, defiantly vowing to get back into the ocean as soon as he could.

Alex Dodds, 25, was attacked by a shark while spearfishing off Leeman
Camera IconAlex Dodds, 25, was attacked by a shark while spearfishing off Leeman. Credit: 7NEWS/7NEWS

Mr Dodds was spearfishing with a friend off Leeman in June when he was attacked by a 4m great white shark, suffering a 20cm gash to his leg. His friend Brodie Paino managed to help him back into their boat and brought him to shore, where he was flown to Perth for urgent treatment. In an eerie twist, Mr Dodds’ first time back in the ocean was at Fremantle’s Port Beach on November 6 — which put him at the scene when swimmer Paul Millachip was fatally attacked by a shark.

Russian wingsuiter Dimitri Didenko died while competiting in the 2021 Virtual Australian Skydiving Championships in Jurien Bay, WA. (photo 2020).
Camera IconRussian wingsuiter Dimitri Didenko died while competing in the 2021 Virtual Australian Skydiving Championships in Jurien Bay. Credit: @supersoviet

12. SKYDIVER FALLS TO DEATH (pic: mwtskydiver023 OR 001)

Jurien Bay has had a tough year with road deaths, marine tragedies and fatal accidents, the first of which occurred when an experienced skydiver plunged to his death in March.

Russian-Italian man Dimitri Didenko had been competing at the Virtual Australian Skydiving Championships in Jurien Bay when his parachute failed to deploy correctly and he fell to the ground.

Despite the best efforts of paramedics, Mr Didenko died at the scene. The accident left the quiet country town and the skydiving community in shock, with many in disbelief over how this could have happened to a man who had jumped thousands of times before.

An inquiry into Mr Didenko’s death offered little answers, with the Australian Parachute Federation concluding equipment failure did not cause the tragedy.

The APF has delivered its report to the coroner, who has yet to deliver their findings.

Harvest at Chapman Valley.
Camera IconHarvest at Chapman Valley. Credit: Travis Petford/Travis Petford

11. BUMPER HARVEST (Pics Christmaspic001 and harvest002)

It’s proven to be a golden year for most Mid West farmers, thanks to the weather gods. Even though harvest records have tumbled, it doesn’t mean 2021 was without its challenges for our agricultural community.

In the face of strict border rules and failed deals to source overseas labour, grain farmers were forced to think outside the box — hiring inexperienced hands and grey nomads included — to find enough workers for this year’s harvest. April’s cyclone Seroja devastated many Mid West farming properties, but our resilient farmers were forced to put clean ups and repairs on hold while they seeded their paddocks.

Throw in ongoing power issues for farmers in and around Northampton and Perenjori and it’s safe to say this season has not been perfect.

But it has yielded bumper results. Last week, CBH’s Geraldton Zone broke its all-time tonnage record of 3.55 million tonnes. Last year’s total was 2.82mt.

Yields from this season’s crops are up more than 25 per cent on the previous year.

CBH Geraldton zone general manager Duncan Gray said about 90 per cent of Mid West grain growers would be “overwhelmed” by this season’s fortunes, while “5-10 per cent probably didn’t do as well as last year”.

WA farmers are expected to deliver the biggest harvest in Australian history — tipped to be more than 22mt which would better last year’s result by 17 per cent — in an $8 billion windfall for the State economy.

PART 2: TUESDAY, JANUARY 4

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