• Tony Bosworth

If it’s good enough for Bilpin…Macdonald Valley wants Mayor to step in for them too on poor comms

St Albans residents would like Hawkesbury Mayor Patrick Conolly to step in for them too after the Mayor directly appealed to Telstra CEO Andrew Penn asking for a meeting between Council and Bilpin residents to try and work out a solution to what locals see as fragile emergency communications in the Bilpin region.

Mr Penn snubbed the Mayor, refusing to organise a meeting, effectively saying Telstra had done all they believed needed to be achieved at the Bilpin communications tower site, after they fitted a back-up battery.

Bilpin Region Advancement Group want a back-up generator at the tower.

President of the Macdonald Valley Association, Jane Blacker, is now speaking out too and says St Albans also deserves a good communications system.

“The Hawkesbury Mayor Patrick Connolly is keen to assist Bilpin, so St Albans would like to be included in that consultation,” Ms Blacker said.

Jane Blacker, St Albans resident and President of the Macdonald Valley Association

“St Albans has been trying for many years to get mobile coverage, in fact 20 years, which is as long as I have been involved with the MacDonald Valley Association Committee”

Ms Blacker said she was speaking out about the “lack of action for our communications. It affects all those who work from home here, and the community as a whole in case of flood, fire or accident”.

“Of paramount importance are our emergency services’ need for mobile reception which would be of assistance when their communication network is impacted by difficult terrain, smoke, fire and flood,” Ms Blacker told the Post.

“A classic recent example is a motor cyclist who failed to negotiate a bend and was catapulted into the bush, with his motorcycle down a steep bank on the side of the MacDonald River.

“He had one bar of reception on his mobile and called 000 to report his accident, but if he had had no reception who knows how long it would have been before he was found.

“Are we to wait until somebody actually dies because of lack of communication before we get action?

There's a bridge under there...St Albans area in the flood emergency. Pic: Jane Blacker

The Mayor contacted Telstra in mid-March to ask the company to engage with, “Council and the Bilpin community on vital telecommunications that are currently not being provided in Bilpin”, he said at the time.

Interestingly, at a full Council meeting two months ago, Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett put up a motion to ask for a meeting between Bilpin residents, Council and Telstra. This was defeated on the casting vote of the Mayor and with the support of Liberal and Labor councillors. Their amendment was to ask for a meeting with Telstra to discuss Hawkesbury (not specifically Bilpin) telecoms issues. That was passed with a majority, again on the casting vote of the Mayor.

So, at that stage, all Hawkesbury areas would have been part of any face-to-face discussion with Telstra about communications – if Telstra had agreed to a meeting.

Sometime later - at one of the new committee meetings which only Liberal and Labor councillors sit on - it seems this was changed from Hawkesbury to Bilpin residents to meet with Telstra and Hawkesbury Council - the exact same motion that was voted down by the Mayor and Liberal and Labor councillors only two months ago.

While all that is interesting, Ms Blacker says St Albans really needs help now to get better communications for the area.

In St Albans, Ms Blacker told us the flooding started on March 20, quickly leading to a complete loss of power and communications.

There is effectively no mobile communications in the Macdonald Valley, even on a good day.

“We lost our power, then land lines and internet,” Ms Blacker said.

“So we have been relying on the good will of neighbours who can get to each other for help.

“Helicopters have been doing food and fuel drops organised by the SES, and helicopters have taken some people out of the valley as well as bringing in Telstra technicians to get some communication back.

“In the middle of all this one of our residents was airlifted to hospital for an emergency operation.

“So all of this is a very strong case for mobile coverage in our valley.”

By March 27, most landline phones and internet had been restored in the Macdonald Valley, but the lack of any useful mobile coverage in the valley is something Ms Blacker says needs urgent attention and if the Mayor can help she hopes he will go into bat for St Albans as well as Bilpin.

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