The Communicators - Swing past... The Shire of Kellerberrin, as Whispir chats with Natasha Giles

See how communication is being done better in the West Australian Wheatbelt
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West Australia (WA) is a big place. It’s bigger than Germany and France combined, twice. It’s a land of sunsets and long horizons, roads that drive off into the distance. It’s one of the biggest, emptiest places this side of the southern hemisphere. WA, in part due to the fact that it’s vast, has a quite wildly varied way of throwing nature at you. Whether that’s far up in the north, with lashings of cyclonic weather or cook-an-egg-hot sun, or down in the south along the Indian Ocean’s eastern and southern coasts.

In a state with as many deserts as WA, whether that’s the Great Victoria or Gibson, serious flooding up and down the east coast may come as a surprise.

But that’s exactly what’s been happening recently out that way. Perth, the state’s capital, copped 114 millimeters in 24 hours on February 11 2017. To put that in perspective, that’s the second wettest day ever in Perth; while Karratha, in the tropical north, where it’s the wet season, the wettest of all the seasons, there was 200mm of rain.

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The state’s southern reaches, particularly areas like the WA Wheatbelt which covers more square kilometers than Greece or Bulgaria, were particularly visited by the most recent rain. The Shire of Kellerberrin, founded in 1908 as part of the expansion and clearing of the West Australian south east, is one of several shires that make up the broader Wheatbelt area. The Wheatbelt - hence the name - is the source of nearly two thirds of all of WA’s wheat; WA being the biggest producer of wheat in all Australia. And while those numbers might not sound too hot, it’s a good thing to remember that wheat is one of the building blocks of the western diet, from bread to beer, breakfast cereal to many great Australian treats.

Where the Rainbow Birds are Found

With a relatively modest 1852 square kilometers under their stewardship, the Shire is the one of the smaller in the state’s rural domains, compared to the Shire of East Pilbara, bigger than Germany at 372,301 square kilometers.

The Shire of Kellerberrin traces its story from its namesake town, which in turn takes its name from its nearby namesake hill, thought to take its name from the local aboriginal word for “camping place near where the rainbow birds are found”.

Natasha Giles, who’s worked with the Shire for three years, first as a Community Development Officer and now also as personal assistant to the CEO of the Shire, spoke to Whispir about what it’s like to live and work in the West Australian Wheatbelt.

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She says that one of the major issues they’ve had to deal with in the past has been fires on farms, fields and paddocks and scrub that runs the breadth of the Shire. They use the Whispir messaging service to contact almost 400 locals and contractors in the area when there’s a harvest ban in force.

Harvest bans are aimed at keeping harvesters and other machinery out of fields on days when there’s a serious risk they might start a fire. Combine harvesters, with the spinning metal, hot exhausts, electric circuits intermingling with flying dust, dry straw, oil and leaking flammables, are a big hot fire risk.

But Natasha says with all the rain they’ve had, that it’s all “quite green at the moment”. In fact, it’s been so wet, that salt lakes like Lake Baandee, which dot the outskirts of the town, are so full they’re being used for water skiing. This is all in the Wheatbelt, an area known for its dearth of water filled lakes.

But Whispir isn’t used just for fire bans in the Shire. They use it for several things, whether it’s to let people know when the local gym is closed or notify council staff when their leave has been approved. Communications for the Christmas Street party, the local show, the agricultural show, and even the local council newsletter, they’re all handled through Whispir.

Then and Now

Natasha says Whispir is “the best way to keep everyone informed, it’s a reliable and easy method for us to use. It’s user friendly, we never get any complaints from people who receive the messages. We’re probably keeping the shire more informed than we ever have.”

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Contractors who work out in the WA Wheatbelt have also cottoned on to tech savvy councils. Several of the state’s major utilities now tell their workers going out to work in the Kellerberrin area to sign up to the council’s messaging service to keep them aware of weather and safety warnings.

The council has been a quick adopter of technology, whether it’s using Whispir to message people or flying drones as part of a WA state government program to track and destroy invasive cactus. Natasha says the drones are helping council not only keep track of the spread of pesky cactus, but also keep a watchful eye on roads around town. The very same roads that go off, into the horizon.

“We’re probably keeping the shire more informed than we ever have” - Natasha Giles, Community Development Officer

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