A city is only as strong as those who forge ahead for its best interests despite the many obstacles in the way of progress. Fortunately for Townsville there are many big-picture thinkers we’re proud to call our own. In this series we celebrate some of the doers who’ve helped put Townsville and the North on the map.
Past state Primary Industries Minister and the Member for Burdekin from 1983 to 1998, Mark Stoneman is still hard at work promoting productive land use.
MAN OF THE LAND
Mark and his wife Joan made their move to the coast in 1979 with the aim of better supporting their four children’s move from secondary to tertiary education. After renovating an old homestead that had been moved from Ravenswood in 1922, they set about transforming the old sugar cane farm they bought at Cromarty north of Giru into a small Brahman cattle stud. “I was fortunate to be surrounded by wise uncles, aunts and cousins growing up in the Central Western New South Wales farming region,” Mark says. This background provided the ideal base for the move to north western Queensland in early 1960 where the family had two grazing properties in the Winton district.
At that time the Stonemans lived and worked with the Glasson family. Bill Glasson (later to become a Member of Parliament and Lands Minister) managed the Stoneman’s family properties as well as his own family operations. “Bill and his wife Shirley became not only lifelong friends but also wonderful mentors and exemplifiers of the true bush spirit,” Mark says. “Neighbours became our ‘family’ and supporters in times of sickness, isolation, drought and all of those elements that are part of life on the land,” Mark says. “Joan had to be mother, wife, teacher, housekeeper, nurse and much more. For many years we were dependent on two great institutions of support: The Royal Flying Doctor Service and Distance Education via radio and correspondence for our children through primary schooling years until the three girls went to boarding school in Townsville.”
After moving to Queensland Mark was active in the National Party and in 1983 was elected to the Queensland Legislative Assembly as the member for Burdekin. “I’d have to nominate the development of a central agency of State Government via the North Queensland’s Premier’s office in Townsville to be the highlight of five terms in Parliament,” says Mark, who was recently awarded a Member (AM) in the Order of Australia as part of the Queen’s Birthday honours. “This office brought the pinnacle of government administration to the north in terms of political, administrative and Co-ordinator General access and activity. This provided access that otherwise meant knocking on doors in Brisbane at great cost of time, money and convenience.”
A project Mark is particularly passionate about now is the acquisition and rehabilitation of The Cromarty Wetlands. It has been a significant focus of voluntary involvement for him going back some three decades. “The development of a quite new concept in managing critical habitats has been a challenge and one that could not be hurried,” Mark says. “The Townsville business and community service organisations have been wonderful supporters financially and philosophically along with Townsville City and Burdekin Regional Councils.” A particular focus of the concept is to provide opportunities for locals and visitors of all ages to enjoy and learn more about managing sensitive habitats.
“If northern Australia is to develop to its potential, cities such as Townsville must lead the way… We need to show how development must balance productive use of land, city and sea in sustainable ways through our research bodies coupled with practical experiences.”
The primary stage of initial rehabilitation of the wetlands and attaching areas is now complete as is planning for visitor access and the next stage will be developing infrastructure for access and interpretation. “If northern Australia is to develop to its potential, cities such as Townsville must lead the way,” Mark says. “We need to show how development must balance productive use of land, city and sea in sustainable ways through our research bodies coupled with practical experiences.” While looking at the potential regional impact of the wetland project, Mark has coined the idea of a ‘One Hundred Mile Wonderland’ embracing the wetlands and a range of other largely ‘undiscovered’ attractions.
This ‘Wonderland’ circles Ingham to the north, Bowen to the south and Charters Towers to the west as well as the reef and islands to the east. “In terms of wetlands, the area is larger than the area of Kakadu National Park but is very much more accessible and diverse,” Mark says. “I’ve visited more than 30 counties and have yet to encounter a region of such diversity yet still hidden from plain view!”