“A long time ago,” says Barcaldine Mayor Rob Chandler, “R.M. Williams told me: ‘You have to make decisions. If you don’t, nothing will happen.'”
Making things happen is part of the job if you’re elected to lead a community. With Rob Chandler, who has been mayor of the Queensland Outback town since 2004, decision-making isn’t just part of the responsibility…it seems to be in his DNA. And he admits it can get him into trouble with some of the town’s more conservative elements.
An expensive skate-boarding park raised a few eyebrows; and the town’s huge, box-like memorial to Barcaldine’s famous Tree of Knowledge, sitting prominently on the main drag next to the railway station, wasn’t universally accepted. Chandler, on reflection, is amused by the fuss it created. “I told the architects I wanted them to create a monstrosity in the main street,” he says. That’s the man: confident, motivated, visionary, humorous.
Chandler, 60, was born in Brisbane into a sheep and cattle grazing family. When he left school he went shearing for 12 years, after which he ran the family station with his mother and father until they retired in 1990. Later, extreme drought and a collapse in wool prices forced a change. “I sold my first 3000 sheep to a publican for a cigarette lighter; the second thousand I shot.”
Chandler started a timber-cutting business and got into farmstay for a while. In the meantime his wife Deb had started teaching, and in 1997 they bought a motel in town on a handshake. The family property was sold in 2000. “I was at a loss as to what to do,’’ Chandler says. “So I got into local government as a councillor and became Mayor in 2004. I’ve been re-elected twice.”
That’s not all. He’s a long-time board member of the Outback Tourism Association, a prime motivator behind charity organisation Angel Flight and its annual Outback Trailblazer event and a big supporter of the Outback Mates volunteer tourism promotion organisation. Tourism, says Chandler, is the future.
“We are still babes in the wood as an industry. What is needed is training, training and more training to make people feel more welcome when they come. People generally are coming out here to meet the locals, the characters. I believe there has to be more interaction.
“The drought is hurting everyone. Making visitors welcome is what it’s about. We have to make them feel they are part of the survival of the bush, which they are.”
Article by John Wright