Quentin Bryce.
Quentin Bryce.

RAAF attracts controversy

Organisers of the RAAF 70th anniversary celebrations at Evans Head over the long weekend got some good and bad news recently. The good: Governor General Her Excellency Quentin Bryce (pictured) will be attending the event with her husband Michael. The bad: Richmond Valley Council are charging the committee over $1000 a day to rent the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome.

Event convenor Lill Colless from Evans Head Living Museum said the $1000 a day charge, which the committee claims they only heard about 19 days ago, came as a “complete surprise”. A motion by councillor Donella Kinnish to waive the fees was defeated at last Tuesday's meeting and Council instead voted unanimously to advise the committee it did not have to pay the fees upfront and would consider fee assistance after the event.

“We have been negotiating with Council since December last year and at no time has anyone said to us these fees would be imposed,” Mrs Colless said. “We've been doing this event every year at the Aerodrome for 10 years and this is the first time these fees have ever come up, but then this is the first time we've ever involved Council.”

She said Council had provided event funding of $3,800 and about $650 of in-kind support, but questioned what was the point if they had to pay it all back in fees and charges.

“Out of that we have to pay $450 for a toilet for the disabled as well as $380 for a development application to put up tents for the official ceremony on Saturday with the Governor General. We now have to pay $1055 per day over the weekend for the Aerodrome hire plus $1500 for the marquee. Then there's all the cost of the stationery, the insurance, not to mention the thousands of hours of volunteer time that has gone into organising this.

“According to Council's draft Plan of Management for the Aerodrome Council is supposed to be supportive of commemorative events such as Anzac Day and other occasions involving veterans,” Mrs Colless said. “We cannot wait to hear from Council until after the event. We need some surety now. We are a registered charity run entirely by volunteers and cannot afford to wait for support that may not happen.”

However, Council's general manager Brian Wilkinson said he found it hard to believe the committee was not aware that charges applied.

“I dispute there was no awareness of the fees prior to this. I understand members of the committee were aware of the fee structure even though it wasn't specifically talked about with Council staff. The application form they filled out for event funding states that fees may apply,” he said. “There was a representative of the committee who wrote a letter to Council in regard to the fees and charges in June, so I'm at a loss as to why they didn't know there were possible fees and charges.” Mr Wilkinson said fees had to apply to all events.

“Is it expected by the community that Council will provide all its facilities free?” Mr Wilkinson said. “Council advertise fees and charges for its facilities on an annual basis and those fees are applied universally across the community.”

Mrs Colless said the show would go on despite the cost and they were looking forward to welcoming Quentin Bryce to Evans Head.

“I mean what a coup for the veterans to have the Governor General and her husband coming,” Mrs Colless said. “We have over 100 veterans who come to these events and they all think 70 years is a big milestone, so we decided we really must do something special.

“We're now starting a Donations Fund to help pay for the event and we'll have buckets at the gate. If the Council won't pay we'll rally the community together and we'll find the money somehow. But we're very disappointed - it's like charging for Anzac Day.”

The 70th anniversary of the RAAF at Evans Head and Empire Air Training Scheme runs next weekend, October 3-4. Activities include a major model aircraft display, vintage car show, markets, big band concert with World War II era music, a commemorative ceremony with the Governor General, a formal dinner for veterans on Saturday night and a memorial service on the Sunday morning at the Evans Head War Cemetery.

For more information on the event, phone the Evans Head Living Museum on 6682 6410.

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