What’s Next For Kempsey Shire – A Conversation With Mayor Liz Campbell
The connection Councillor Liz Campbell has to the Kempsey Shire can’t be denied. Mayor since 2011, Liz grew up on the banks of the Macleay River in a family committed to the community. Her father was a councillor for many years and also served as Mayor.
“Local government and the things the council did were part of our daily conversations,” she recalls. “I soon began to realise that’s how you make a difference.”
After leaving the region to pursue education and a career in the tourism industry, Liz is once again living by the water in the home she grew up in.
“There’s hardly anything I go to in the Valley that I don’t have some connection with,” she says. “Whether it’s a school event, an opening of some sort, a function at the CWA or the library, there’s a link to my childhood and youth.”
These life-long ties continue to strengthen Liz’s passion for the region. When asked to name some memorable moments from her multiple terms as Mayor, she lists the new cinema complex at Kempsey Central, the recently announced Country Universities Centre and cultural change within the council.
The cinemas opened in November last year and Liz acknowledges the six-year project did attract controversy. The council eventually entered into a Voluntary Planning Agreement with investment company Gowings.
“It took a long time and we had many conversations with many different people in order to come up with a model that would suit,” Liz explains. “But it’s a beautiful cinema and I’m so glad to see it reopen after the COVID-19 closure.”
“Gowings has put a lot of money and effort into Kempsey,” she continues. “Their partnership with us in the cinema is invaluable because it’s given us something that we would never have been able to achieve otherwise.”
A strong believer in the importance of education, Liz is excited to confirm that a Country Universities Centre has been secured for Kempsey. The Centres currently operate in six regional locations and give external university students free access to a dedicated learning and study space equipped with modern technology, high speed internet and general academic support. The aim is to remove the barriers that prevent regional students from enrolling in or completing higher education.
“It’s getting harder and harder for regional students to move away and get a university degree because of the financial burden,” Liz says. “But this Centre will give people from the Macleay Valley a chance to have the full student experience away from official campuses.”
Under the Country Universities model, the facility has to be centrally located, highly visible and accessible to students from 7am until midnight, seven days a week.
“We looked at a lot of different locations and have now settled on Kempsey Central,” Liz confirms.
Well aware of the role visible development and investment play in boosting morale in the community, she hopes that the addition of the Country Universities Centre will signal to local people that they are important, valuable and worth being supported.
While it may not be immediately obvious from the outside, Liz credits a review and restructure of the Kempsey Shire Council’s culture for an improvement in ratepayer satisfaction. She says taking a good, hard look at how the council does business and then making the necessary changes was extremely rewarding.
“We looked at everything we did as an organisation, and pinpointed areas we could improve,” Liz explains. “If you don’t get things right internally, you can’t deliver externally.”
“Not many councils get letters praising the rangers and the people working on the roads, but I’ve received compliments from the community about every department here!” she laughs. “We’re two and a half years down the track and seeing the positive results of that review.”
Looking ahead, Liz admits there’s still a lot of work to be done in the Kempsey Shire. She says she’d like to see plans for South Kempsey move into an implementation stage, more work in Crescent Head (a master plan is currently out on public exhibition) and a strategic plan for the development and support of communities up river, still recovering from fires and floods.
“I’m also working with the Macleay Valley Food Bowl to promote our local agricultural products and primary production,” Liz adds. “It’s not easy to make money from agriculture but we have a lot of productive land here.”
Liz describes the Shire as “Aussie country on the coast” and takes pride in its diversity. She believes the Macleay Valley has it all – country charm mixed with a contemporary coastal lifestyle – and rejects State Government modelling which predicts population decline.
“Their numbers are based on history not on opportunity,” she explains. “We’re going to buck that trend and tell them they’re wrong!”
It’s this kind of optimism and enthusiasm, combined with strong leadership, that will keep the region moving as Liz Campbell and the eight other elected councillors work to create vibrant, innovative and connected communities in the Kempsey Shire.
Planning a visit to the Macleay Valley Coast? Check out our guide here.