Written and posted on-line 10th February 2011
To: Hon Colin Barnett MEc MLA
Premier of Western Australia
24th Floor, Governor Stirling House
197 St Georges Terrace
Perth, WA 6000
I am writing to you to raise my concerns regarding the recent decisions made by the Department for the Environment & Conservation (DEC) in relation to the Mount Hart Wilderness Lodge managed by Mr Taffy Abbots for the past twenty years.
As you may recall, I was the President of the Shire of Derby West Kimberley in the nineteen nineties and during the course of my tenure in this position I represented the Shire in the process and partnership between the State Government (CALM), the Shire and Mr Abbotts, which at that time was part of the then Premier, Richard Courts, “Ibis Aerial Highway” concept. Today, it pleases me to be able to say that this venture has proven to be one of great success stories, particularly the establishment of the Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge component under the stewardship of Mr Abbots. In fact I firmly believe that when CALM management chose Mr Abbotts to be the inaugural manager they could not have made a better choice. His energy, initiative, commitment and sheer hard work and belief in what he was doing has seen this “bare bones” project turn into one of the very best Tourism destinations in the Kimberley, attracting visitors from over the world.
Taffy, as he is known to everyone, has created something almost out of nothing and the people who put him there and assisted him in this momentous task should be congratulated. I do not believe that it would be presumptuous of me to say that the Mount Hart Wilderness Lodge today is 80% Taffy Abbotts and his Partner Kim, and 20% other. I know that there are many people who have enjoyed the Mount Hart experience who would agree with my assessment.
None of what has been achieved by Taffy has come without hard work, commitment and personal financial investment. I know this from my own personal knowledge and the knowledge of people who have assisted Taffy where, and when they could. All of this has been achieved despite the isolation, hot and cold weather, lack of communications and being cut off from anyone during the wet seasons.
It concerns me then to hear that the Department for the Environment & Conservation has decided that they will now tender this wonderful Tourist icon when the lease expires in 2011. Although I can appreciate that this may be necessary for reason of probity and accountability on the part of the Government, it concerns me that from my understanding of the process so far there seems to be little appreciation of the work done by Taffy and Kim by DEC and that what he has done is being devalued and offers little reward for their hard work and financial input. With the changes of staff that occur in any government department it would appear to me that the people who are charged with managing the process have little history based knowledge of what has been done and what personal financial cost has been involved. From the information I have seen there seems to be only one outcome being sought by DEC management in this process and that is to remove Taffy and Kim as leases from Mount Hart as cheaply as possible and then tender it out to the highest bidder who will gain a tourist icon with a worldwide reputation and is a going concern in every aspect.
Although I know from talking to Taffy and Kim that they are now so disillusioned that they just want to move onto doing other things with their lives, it is a sad day for all of us as I doubt that anyone could have done what they have done with Mount Hart. I can only hope that whoever gets the lease in the future will be up to doing half the job they have done.
Premier, I ask only that you take note of what I have said here and that you take a personal interest in the process being conducted by the Department for the Environment & Conservation to ensure that Taffy and Kim are adequately and justly renumerated for their own financial outlay, hard work, assets they have added to Mount Hart Wilderness Lodge and recognised for their long term commitment to making this taxpayer owned asset into what it is today.