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The year that was 2018 in the Upper Hunter

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2018 has been a huge year for news in the Upper Hunter. 

The drought continues to devastate the region, Muswellbrook shook from five consecutive earthquakes, the 2019 State Election is shaping up to feel like déjà vu and loads more.

Take a listen to the local news wrap of 2018.

LISTEN:

Image credit: Grant Broadcasters

The biggest local news stories of 2018 in the Upper Hunter

February

A proposed 24-hour service station in Singleton saw Council stand off with Cardiff Holdings. There are concerns the service station would create traffic headaches, not only that it’s proposed to built on a potential floodway.

Mach Energy’s Mount Pleasant operation near Muswellbrook was anticipated to have coal shovelled out, onto trains and off to buyers by mid-this year.

The first coal was loaded on to an Aurizon train in late December 2018.

February kicked off a year of carnage on the Upper Hunter’s roads. Three vehicles collided on the New England Highway at Aberdeen killing a 20-year-old man.

Seven more lives would be lost on the Upper Hunter’s in 2018.

A 34-year-old man was killed in Merriwa later that month.

Drought

The biggest story of all this year though is the crippling drought that continues to devastate the Upper Hunter.

In February Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair visited the region noting access to water was one of the biggest issues.

Aussie Helpers and Rural Aid made their way across the Upper Hunter right throughout the year helping drought-stricken farmers with everything from bales of hay to someone to chat and have a cuppa with.

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February…

The casualisation of the Upper Hunter’s mining workforce was a reoccurring story throughout 2018.

A bushfire in Putty burnt through thousands of hectares of land in the Wollomi National Park. During firefighting efforts a firefighter having to be winched out of the fire ground and flown to hospital after a tree branch fell on him.

100 haul truck operator jobs were cut at the Mount Arthur mine. In March Yancoal confirmed they were removing a roster that kept 46 workers in a job, the same reason why workers were put off at Mount Arthur.

New England MP Barnaby Joyce stepped down as the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia but stayed on as the Member for New England. It came after a scandal arose from his relationship with a staffer.

Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals candidate for the New England heading into the 2019 election and says he is very happy with partner Vicki Campion and their son Sebastian.  

March

The $7 million upgrade to Singleton Hospital was completed in March. In May it was announced the Muswellbrook Hospital redevelopment should be complete by mid-2019.

Renewable energy was one of the hottest topics of 2018 and Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen has been pushing all year for the NSW Government, or even the Federal Government to build a High Energy Low Emissions power station to make up for the power that will be lost when AGL closes the doors on their Liddell Coal-Fired Power Station in 2022 and eventually the Bayswater Power Station as well.

There was talk of a wind farm to be built by Epuron at McCully’s Gap. The plan is still in the pipeline.

Doctors and environmental groups called for urgent action on the deteriorating air quality in the Upper Hunter. There was a 28.6 per cent increase in emergency admissions in just one year at Singleton Hospital which correlated to a deteriorating level of PM10 levels in the area.

Warbirds Over Scone brought 10,000 spectators to Scone Regional Airport for a weekend of action-packed family fun.

Export prices for thermal coal were up throughout the year and the projected need for coal over the next five years is set to increase, particularly on the export market.

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April

A Connected Learning Centre started construction in April this year, Daracon was awarded the job of constructing the Scone Bypass which is now in full swing to be completed by 2020.

31 properties related to the Finks and Nomads bikie gangs across the Hunter region were raided. Police are determined to put a stop to the bikie gang activity in the region.

Meningococcal struck down a number of people across the Hunter New England Health region including an elderly woman and was fatal for one man in the Hunter and another in the New England region.

The Upper Hunter desperately needs policemen and women on the ground; the Police Association of NSW is calling for thousands across the state, the Hunter Valley Police District received less than five probationary constables in 2018.

Horror struck Scone Saleyards with a dozen cattle found dead.

Big companies and organisations across the region reached out to drought-stricken farmers including Glencore, Ausgrid and Coolmore just to name a few giving money to Rural Aid’s Buy A Bale campaign to help farmers in the Upper Hunter.

The debate continued on AGL’s coal fired power station with many including Deputy Premier John Barilaro saying that the government should acquire the station perhaps by using its powers to do so.

The new and improved Middlebrook Bridge opened in Scone.

Gresford Bullrider Cliff Richardson took out the Singleton Rodeo and instead of taking the winnings for himself, he donated the $5,000 bounty to the McGrath Foundation.

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May

Muswellbrook Shire Council came under fire in May after criticism erupted on social media over the alleged unnecessary euthanasia of a dog at the Animal Facility.

A 78-year-old man was killed on the New England Highway at Muswellbrook when he collided with a vehicle towing a horse trailer.

Muswellbrook started to cement its name as a leading innovator with the announcement of a pilot biorefinery in the Shire.

More than $6 million was announced for the Scone Regional Airport tourist hub.

A number of workers went on strike in 2018 including workers at JBS Australia in Scone.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) only approved Muswellbrook Shire Council’s application for a Special Rate Variation for 12 months. Council will be reapplying next year for the continuation of the rate variation in a bid to ensure they can go ahead with major projects in the area.

IPART rejected Upper Hunter Shire Council’s application.

Bloomfield announced a proposal to extend the life of their Rix’s Creek mine to 2038. In September the Independent Planning Commission found the project had merit if they could make further improvements.

In May Muswellbrook Shire Council called for expressions of interest to build a pumped hydro storage facility in the Shire. In December they signed a deal with energy giant AGL to undertake further studies on the project.

AGL says they are still looking into and considering a number of options for where a pumped hydro facility could go that included talks with Muswellbrook Coal to acquire two of their pits to use for the facility.

The Muswellbrook, Singleton and Scone bypasses were brought up a number of times throughout the year.

With the Scone bypass underway, Labor called for the neglect to stop on Singleton and for construction to start on the project.

Wild dogs that have been causing carnage across the Upper Hunter have been dealt with by Hunter Local Land Services. Thousands of deer and wild pigs have also been culled through a number of programs in a bid to help farmers already struggling on the land.

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June

A driver said a microsleep caused his foot to slip while operating a truck at a mine in the Hunter. The driver was stuck for more than three hours when the truck tipped.

July

In July Murrurundi was put on to level six water restrictions – at this point, the town had received only 170ml all year and the dam was only at 36 per cent capacity.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro paid the Upper Hunter a visit this year, in Muswellbrook he announced the Shire had received $10 million for roads across the area and money towards Denman’s revitalisation works.

Merriwa farmer Cassandra McLaren kickstarted the One Day Closer to Rain Facebook page which now boasts more than 31,000 members from across Australia.

Around 430 Downer EDI workers went on strike in July for a number of weeks in a bid to get better pay.

Sheep raced down the main street of Merriwa in the showery rain for the annual Festival of the Fleeces.

Scone’s Bill Howey received a Medal of the Order of Australia for his contribution to veterinary science.

The NSW Budget saw $99 million flow into the Upper Hunter.

Len Kelman is a true blue Australian and has thrown his heart and soul into helping farmers in his backyard.

Meantime the emergency water bore is now operational in Murrurundi and as of December is supplying 70 per cent of the town’s water supply.

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August

100 per cent of NSW is now suffering from drought. Right now according to the Department of the Hunter region is more than 14 per cent in intense drought, 30 per cent is in drought and more than half of the region is affected by the drought.

Meantime New England MP Barnaby Joyce is given the role of Special Envoy for Drought Assistance under a new Morrison Government.

Scone dominated the finals of the Hunter Valley Group 21 competition - The Scone Thoroughbreds knocked off defending premiers the Aberdeen Tigers; Scone also defeated their competition in the Reserve Grade, the U-18’s and in the Ladies League Tag.

September

September was the month Muswellbrook not only shook but went without water.

The Muswellbrook Shire experienced five earthquakes in a matter of days – the largest measuring a magnitude of 3.4, the biggest recorded since 2014.

Experts believed the earthquakes weren’t related to any mining activity.

The earthquakes left problems in their wake, contributing to a pipe that broke on Muswellbrook Golf Course leaving much of town without any water supply.

The road carnage continued with two men killed in a dual fatality on the New England Highway at Muswellbrook. One was killed at the scene and another died a day later in hospital.

The drought broke for a Singleton farmer who won $200,000 in the lotto.

While Murrurundi is on level six water restrictions, Muswellbrook and Singleton Councils did their bit to help to put voluntary water restrictions in place for residents in a bid to save some water for a rainy day.

A man was killed in a hit and run incident in Singleton.

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October

Works on the 7.9 kilometre stretch of the Merriwa to Willow Tree Road are speeding along. The works are expected to be complete by August 2019.

The Hunter Valley Police District’s Rural Crime Investigators warned farmers to be aware or rural crime and report it.

November

The mining community was rocked when a man was killed at Bengalla mine near Muswellbrook. Quintin Moore tragically lost his life when an earthmoving tyre fell on him at the site.

A woman was seriously injured at Mount Arthur mine later that month after a machine punctured a pipeline shattering the window throwing rock, glass and material into the cabin seriously injuring her.

We LIVE Here cards launched in the Muswellbrook and Upper Hunter Shire Council area pushing money back into the drought stricken communities.

Incumbent Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen was endorsed as the Nationals candidate heading into the 2019 state election. There will be a sense of déjà vu in the race with Country Labor candidate Martin Rush and Shooters Fishers Farmers candidate Lee Watts in the running just as they were at the last election.

Hunter bullriders represented at the PBR Australia finals in Tamworth – Singleton’s Cody Heffernan and Gresford’s Cliff Richardson didn’t bring home a win, but they’re in good stead for the 2019 season.

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December

Rounding out 2018 millions of dollars was poured into all three Councils through the NSW Governments Stronger Country Communities Fund meaning a number of local projects could get off the ground.

A man from Newcastle was killed on the New England Highway at Wingen after a collision with a truck.

Around 150 brumbies on Singleton Army Base dominated local headlines after news came out the Department of Defence would be conducting an aerial shoot at the base to cull the animals.

Despite community uproar, the cull went ahead.

The Independent Planning Commission cancelled a public hearing into the Wambo United Open Cut Coal Mine at Singleton just two hours before it was due to begin.

A man was charged with murder after he killed a man in his home at Scone.

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Image credit: Jessica Rouse, Upper Hunter Shire Council, Hunter Local Land Services and the Hunter Valley Brumby Association