Former Tumut Shire Councillor Margaret Isselmann has decided her work on council isn’t quite done yet – she’s nominated again for this September’s election, this time for the newly formed Snowy Valleys shire.
The Tumut Council was dissolved before she’d even finished her first term, and she has no intention of bowing out before she’s completed at least two.
“I enjoyed it immensely,” she said.
“It was a lot of work, but I really appreciated the fact that the community came to me with questions and I did my very best to answer the questions and get back to them. Sometimes I could help and sometimes I’d pass it on.”
She’s certainly well credentialled. Margaret is the President of the Rotary Club of Batlow and also runs the youth group Interact. She’s facilitated opportunities for young people from the region to travel to Seoul, Korea, and to participate in an intensive week-long citizenship program at Parliament House during budget week.
She’s also got almost all the stamps on her Snowy Valleys passport: born in Batlow, with a childhood spent in Kunama, Grahamstown, and Tumut, before meeting her husband in high school and moving to Canberra to work, retiring back to Batlow, and frequently visiting her daughter living in Tumbarumba.
Perhaps it’s her first-hand experience of the opportunities of Canberra, but for Margaret, the most important project for council to put their heads together on is clear.
With an upgraded Brindabella Road, that 350,000 people strong population centre would be only an hour away.
“Nothing – tourism, infrastructure – can happen unless we’ve got really strong economic development,” she said.
“There’s no other way we’re going to get economic development in this whole area unless we get a bigger population. Tourism will bring it to some extent, but it won’t bring in the economic development like Visy or Forestry or the apple industry or whatever, it needs to be really significant. If we opened up Brindabella Road then this whole area right from Khancoban to Brungle would just grow.”
Margaret believes tapping into the human resources of Canberra would provide a vital lifeblood for the Snowy Valleys, and also open up the opportunities for what sorts of industry would be viable here.
“We aren’t supporting our young people to be able to stay in the community, and get employment and training here,” she said.
“So many of them have to leave to get training, and if we had that sort of economic development then the opportunities for young people and young families could be here, and that would be superb. I also believe with the Brindabella Road upgraded, there’s the possibility for a strong aged care industry that we could get going here.
“People say things like ‘oh, the Brindabella Road, they’ve been talking about that since 1905’, but significant things have improved and right now there’s only about 20 kilometres that really needs upgrading.
“If that was made up to be a country road like the Wondalga Road then that would give access. It doesn’t have to be a four lane highway straight away, it just needs to be fit for purpose so that people can travel between here and Canberra in a sedan. It would make a big difference to this whole region, a really big difference.”
She’s a woman who understands the importance of roads, and the potential that easy access brings.
“Another one would be the road between Batlow and Talbingo being made fit for purpose, that would be a really great thing for tourism,” she added.
“Right now you have to go up one way and come back and then go up another way and come back, but it’s only 15 kilometres between them. There’s a forestry road that goes across but it’s not fit for purpose.”
Her other areas of interest include developing Batlow, with a cold climate botanical garden – a rarity in Australia – and a four star caravan park.
However, she’s looking forward to continuing to learn and represent the community no matter what the specific project may be. She’s also not put off by the merger drama.
“You’ve still got to do the same projects and get the same documents ready and work together as a team and get it done, regardless of what’s happening out in the community with the disharmony about it, particularly with the Tumbarumba people,” she said.
“I admire them for standing up for themselves, I think that’s a good thing. We live in a democracy with freedom of speech and if people are prepared to stand up and believe in something and make a difference then that’s what I’m about, that’s why I’m on council.
“The big thing is, I think, that when you get into that Council Chamber and there’s a debate on you come fully informed, fully researched, and prepared to listen to the debate and make a decision as a team.”