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Australia Shire of Dundas explores online crowdfunding in bid to raise $4.4m for Eucla airstrip upgrade

09:31  29 july  2022
09:31  29 july  2022 Source:   abc.net.au

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The council wants to construct an all-weather airstrip at Eucla. (Supplied: Shire of Dundas) © Provided by ABC NEWS The council wants to construct an all-weather airstrip at Eucla. (Supplied: Shire of Dundas)

A council in regional Western Australia is set to take a "unique" step out of "desperation" by resorting to online crowdfunding to upgrade a remote airstrip on the Nullarbor.

The Shire of Dundas spans 92,886 square kilometres, which is significantly larger than the state of Tasmania, but has a population of only 677 according to the census.

At Eucla, near WA's border with South Australia, the population was just 53 with 175 travellers passing through the town on census night.

The steady flow of motorists along the 1,664-kilometre-long Eyre Highway prompted the shire to dedicate several years of campaigning to upgrade the flood-prone airstrip at Eucla.

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Eucla is 500km from the nearest hospital at Ceduna in South Australia, 700km from Norseman and 900km from Kalgoorlie Regional Health Campus.

The shire has been frustrated by several failed applications for government funding to cover the estimated $4.47 million needed to seal the 1,200 metre-long runway.

In a report to council, chief executive Peter Fitchat said since 2018, the shire had made three unsuccessful applications for funds through the WA government's Regional Airport Development Scheme and the Commonwealth's Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program.

'We found it quite frustrating'

Shire president Laurene Bonza described the council's unanimous decision this week to pursue crowdfunding as an "innovative approach" spurred out of "desperation".

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She said the council would first seek legal advice about proceeding with a GoFundMe campaign.

"This is pretty critical infrastructure so I think that people would be behind that," Ms Bonza said.

"If it was something like a playground or something like that, I don't think that you'd get too much buy in, but I think this is pretty important."

In August 2020, the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) was forced to make a dramatic landing on the Eyre Highway to evacuate a critically ill patient because the Eucla airstrip was considered too dangerous after 10 millimetres of rain.

She said the total cost of the project was well beyond the means of the small council with an annual budget of about $6 million.

"We've found it quite frustrating," she said.

"We've approached the state and the federal government and they don't really want to play ball, so we've come up with an alternative plan.

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"It started out as a bit of a joke and then we thought, maybe we should look at this and see what we can do.

"Ultimately the idea behind it is to upgrade it so that we've got a more reliable medical evacuation piece of infrastructure because you're a long way from help out there and time is critical."

'Quite a unique case'

GoFundMe Australia's regional director Nicola Britton said the shire's plan was "unique".

"We have seen councils use GoFundMe in the past," Ms Britton said.

"The more traditional route is in moments of crisis, helping their community rebuild after a natural disaster and taking charge on leading those recovery efforts and plugging the gap where government funding might fall short.

"From an infrastructure perspective, I have to say it's quite a unique case and not something we have seen before.

"But that said, the stories on our platform bring to life the brilliantly diverse nation that we live in, so it doesn't surprise me at all."

One of the biggest responses to a GoFundMe campaign was $2.7 million, from more than 32,000 donors, to support recovery efforts after bushfires decimated the koala population on Kangaroo Island in 2020.

That same year, a GoFundMe campaign set up to install a so-called "big peanut" in the rural Queensland town of Kingaroy drew 150 donations and $6,301.

In 2019, more than $550,000 flooded in for the family of WA FIFO worker Luke Toki, who had competed on the reality television show Survivor hoping to win big prizemoney for his two sons with autism and a daughter with cystic fibrosis.

Ms Britton said the platform was a way for residents to get involved in causes close to a community's heart.

"The rise of crowdfunding has certainly broken down barriers in asking for help," she said.

"I would say with an ambitious target like that ($4.4 million for the Eucla airstrip upgrade), it's not going to happen overnight."

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This is interesting!