Two decades of advocacy finally pays off

Construction of the small cell base station began earlier this month and was finally switched-on last Friday.

After more than two decades of advocacy, a Goobarragandra Valley resident is finally seeing his efforts bear fruit as a mobile phone station is constructed in the valley.

Valley resident Tane Keremelevski has spent 25 years pressuring the government to provide mobile coverage to the notorious black spot. Construction on a satellite small cell base station, which provides a 3-kilometre radius coverage, began on Monday, December 7, and was finally switched-on last Friday.

“It shouldn’t have been (such a long journey), but it was,” Mr Keremelevski said on Friday, reflecting on the process that brought the mobile tower from an idea to reality.

Mr Keremelevski first began lobbying politicians, authorities and various departments in the mid-1990’s, describing to them the lack of coverage in the area and how this would affect resident’s safety in the one-road-in, one-road-out area, especially in the event of emergency and natural disaster.

His aim was to get a full coverage mobile tower that would reach the entire valley.

“Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough sustained long-term community support and push,” Mr Keremelevski said.

“It should have been a full coverage tower, but a small cell base station to start with is better than nothing.”

When Malcolm Turnbull was the Communications Minister, a meeting was organised at the former Tumut Shire Council building by Mr Keremelevski to outline the issue to the government. This meeting was also attended by Mr Turnbull’s then-secretary, Paul Fletcher, and local member at the time, Michael McCormack.

Mr Keremelevski said that while he laid all of the groundwork for the mobile tower, Mr McCormack took a personal interest in the project and became a “driving force” for its creation in the political sphere.

In late 2014, the government introduced the Mobile Black Spot Program with the aim of extending mobile phone coverage and competition in regional Australia.

From the first round of funding, Mr Keremelevski began submitting applications.

“I lodged 30-page submissions during the whole initiation of the Mobile Black Spot funding,” he said.

“The first couple of years I lodged the application and I got a few supporting letters from the RFS, SES, Ambulance Service station John Larter, the Goodes bus company, the Hume and Hovell camping ground trust, and the submission was put in. 

“Council, at that time, unfortunately didn’t offer any assistance with finance or to incentivise the carriers, so I pursued the process on my own.”

Mr Keremelevski said that after the meeting took place at Council, some councillors began to show an interest in the cause.

“Unfortunately, shortly after the town meeting, everything just died down,” he said. 

“The euphoria and the level of commitment from everyone concerned that is required to sustain a campaign such as this faded away, but I never relented.”

Goobarragandra Valley resident Tane Keremelevski with neighbour Lindsay Buckley.

After his Mobile Black Spot application was unsuccessful for the third year in a row, Mr Keremelevski invited Mr McCormack back to the region to tour the Goobarragandra Valley.

“He came to the valley, he met Lindsay Buckley (a farmer whose family has been in the region since the 1850s), he had a look up and down the valley and reaffirmed the need for a mobile signal and then we just pushed and pushed,” Mr Keremelevski said.

“Behind the real Mobile Black Spot funding program there was an opportunity to create areas of priority, in other words, [areas that] don’t qualify for the commercial viability from the main broadcasters, the main suppliers.”

Finally in 2018, under the Priority Locations program, Mr Keremelevski’s submission was successful. He received a letter from Deputy Prime Minister Mr McCormack to tell him the good news.

“[Mr McCormack] knows how many years I’ve been trying against all odds,” Mr Keremelevski said.

“Through the creation of the Priority Locations program, it’s the only reason we’ve actually got the mobile tower here; because of people really caring and pushing, because the commercial providers– they would never have put a tower here of any kind.

“It’s commercially unviable.”

After funding was announced, construction still took another two and a half years to begin.

“Telstra was originally going to put the small cell base station in Tumut, but there’s already coverage in Tumut, so we and the Mobile Black Spot department had to correct them,” Mr Keremelevski explained.

“They then nominated the indicative site at the end of the Goobarragandra Valley.”

According to Mr Keremelevski, Telstra realised that this location would only provide minimal coverage and create a huge 8km black spot in the valley in between where the current signal that comes from Tumut ends and where the new tower would be placed.

“I wasn’t going to accept the fact that after 25 years they were going to put a mobile tower somewhere just to tick it off,” he said.

“The people here deserve better; this is a great area. The Tumut region is amazing, the Goobarragandra Valley is beautiful and if this is going to be the only and the last mobile tower this area ever gets, it can’t just be put somewhere because it’s the most convenient.”

Eventually a site was chosen for the base station at the Sandy Waterfall Creek travelling stock reserve.

Across the road from the base station is a de-facto emergency meeting point for the valley, where emergency vehicles of all sorts can gather. It is also the only place along the road where a school bus can safely stop, and a group of vehicles can congregate.

The completed small cell base station in Goobarragandra.

Placed at the beginning of the valley, it is also expected that from this location the station will be able to reach more houses.

Mr Keremelevski is very pleased with the outcome.

“It’s the ultimate spot,” he said.

“At the moment, no one gets mobile signal in the Goobarragandra. Now, there could be 20, 30, 40 properties.”

Mr Keremelevski himself already has an antenna at his home with a reliable connection, and explained that his continued advocacy has been for the broader community at large.

“Everything I’ve ever done hasn’t been about just me, it’s been about the good of the residents, the good of the tourists, the good for everybody,” he said.

“This isn’t about ‘oh, we need to go and load movies’ and things like that, but this is about life and death.

“Whether it’s an accident or fire or flood, or people just genuinely wanting to call someone in an emergency situation, at least they can go around in the vicinity of the Sandy Waterfall travelling stock reserve and they know at least they’re going to get a mobile signal.”

Mr Keremelevski is planning to hold an official opening of the base station in the new year, with Mr McCormack and representatives from the Black Spot Program expressing interest in attending.

“The manager of the Mobile Black Spot program has taken a personal interest in this as well because he can see there is a genuine need here,” Mr Keremelevski said.

He also assured that this is not the end of his campaign; if the community gets behind him with continual and sustained support, he will consider applying through the Priority Locations program to hopefully establish more base stations throughout the valley and extend mobile coverage.

“I don’t think we should take no for an answer, because we didn’t before.”