A Community Divided

Laura Beavis interviews Bohdi McSweeney for the ABC news Meander School

A Community Divided

AUGUST 2016 | Marguerite McNeill

MEANDER VALLEY Council’s decision to allow the establishment of a rehabilitation centre for women and children using the old school site at Meander has resulted in a surge of anger and disbelief for a large number of community members.

Council’s apparent apathy to numerous concerns relating to the development has astounded many locals who believe that their rights as ratepayers have been ignored.

Twice, in as many months, the Council has averted its gaze from the results of a survey where 64% of Meander residents and land owners indicated they felt that a rehabilitation centre would bring no benefit to the community.

Last month more than 40 locals and property owners braved the elements to discuss the issue and to pose for a photo in front of the old school.

The overriding concern was that the establishment of a rehabilitation facility right in the middle of the small village would not benefit the community but had the potential to cause an avalanche of problems.

The proposed development by global Christian organisation Teen Challenge is for the old Meander School to be used as a live-in rehabilitation centre for women and their children whose lives have been disrupted by family violence and/or other issues including drugs.

Concerns have been raised about the lack of transparency as to the whole agreement with Council and the lack of a risk assessment covering both the personal and property safety of those who live in and around Meander.

Those sorts of problems are uppermost in the minds of one local family who lived in New South Wales not far from Bingie where a similar facility was set up.

The family is appalled that the same sort of centre has been accepted for Meander.

“There was no end of problems,” one said.

“Violence, bashings, drugs, break and enter, it was mayhem.”

Eventually the problems became so great in Bingie that community pressure forced authorities to close the institution down.

Meander resident Ken Philpott lives quite close to the old school and is totally against plans for its use as a rehabilitation centre. He has found the whole campaign run by Teen Challenge unacceptable. “I don’t like their attitude. They will break the community in half,” he said.

“We don’t need city problems in the country,” one person said.

Meander Valley Mayor Craig Perkins said that he had no qualms at all about the establishment of a rehabilitation centre in Meander.

He said that results of the survey had been well considered by Council before the Teen Challenge proposal was accepted. Mayor Perkins didn’t believe that the centre would impact on property values and nor could he envisage any major problems that might follow its establishment in the centre of Meander.

Protesters against the planned rehabilitation centre have vowed not to let the matter sink and will keep campaigning to impede its development. The Meander School dispute has now caught the attention of several other media outlets.

Mike Moores