Highs and lows in a year of drought, loss and healing

Albany Advertiser
The Advertiser team has looked back at the highs, lows and defining issues of 2019.
Camera IconThe Advertiser team has looked back at the highs, lows and defining issues of 2019.


Searches end in tragedy

A mother, a father and a young couple in love — all lost in the rugged country around Albany.

In the space of six months, three gruelling searches ended in tragedy.

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Mandurah mother Lorjie Bautista was found in thick bush at the bottom of a steep incline at Bluff Knoll in May.

Fremantle father and photographer Matthew Dwyer was found at the bottom of the main peak at Bluff Knoll in October.

Northam couple Geoffrey Bignell, 20, and Victoria McCloy, 22, went missing on a rock fishing trip near Bluff Knoll last month.

Ms McCloy’s body has not been recovered.

In each case, our stretched volunteers were left fatigued and disheartened by the result.

The deaths prompted emergency services leaders to explore the possibility of a dedicated search and rescue unit in the Great Southern.

They prompted the Advertiser to run a month-long campaign honouring our volunteers and encouraging readers to sign up.

Don’t suffer in silence

Something very important happened in Albany in 2019 — something which featured on the front page of this newspaper several times.

A community broke its silence and started breaking down the stigma around suicide.

Three families have shared their story with the Advertiser in recent months, most recently the family of late Narrikup man Greg Steel.

All of them wanted to pay tribute to their lost loved one, but they also wanted to send a message: Don’t suffer in silence.

At Albany’s first suicide vigil in September, headspace manager Andrew Wenzel said it was time to challenge the myth that talking about suicide was a bad idea.

If the community was more open about mental health, people who were struggling would feel more comfortable speaking out or seeking help, he said.

It could also help those in mourning feel less isolated.

“We know that for people bereaved by suicide, there’s a whole stack of difficult emotions that we have to process — shame, sadness, anger, blame, including blaming ourselves,” Mr Wenzel said.

“When we remain silent, these emotions are all the more difficult for us to make sense of.”

A drying climate

The year started with the news Albany’s official weather station had recorded its lowest ever annual rainfall since it was established in 1963.

At 589.8mm, the 2018 total was almost 20mm short of the previous low water mark at the Albany Regional Airport site.

At the townsite weather station, where records date back to 1877 and give a more accurate picture of weather in the city, the 2018 rainfall total finished at 701.2mm.

So far this year, only 647.7mm has fallen at the townsite station — the fourth-lowest total on record.

The driest year in Albany was 2015 with 620.5mm, followed by 1972 (628.5mm) and 1881 (636.8mm).

In Denmark, the drying climate is causing problems.

The State Government anounced in September water would be carted from Albany to Denmark pending the construction of a $32 million pipeline between the neighbouring towns. Water Minister Dave Kelly warned at the current rate, the town could run of water within a year.

A water deficiency was declared in the northern part of the Shire of Jerramungup last week — the sixth area to be declared water deficient in the south of WA this year.



Albany’s new waterfront hotel gains planning approval. The Hilton Garden Inn is scheduled to open in Spring 2020.


Marcelle Cannon wakes from a coma after suffering cardiac arrest 150m from the finish line of the Rottnest Channel Swim.


Tributes flow for 26-year-old Brody Ford who died after a horrific high-speed crash at Racewars.

Ice Breakers co-founder Jamie Coyne sent to prison for a meth-fuelled assault on a complete stranger.

Firefighter Shaun McHnery receives the Star of Courage for his actions during the fatal Black Cat Creek burnover.


Neil MacPherson, one of Australia’s last Thai-Burma Railways survivors, dies in Albany aged 96.

A 24-year-old Jerramungup shearer remembered as a loving son as his younger brother is charged with his murder.

Albany pays its respects on Anzac Day before the lights go out on Bruce Mundro’s Avenue of Honour: Field of Light.


Mandurah mother Lorjie Bautista found dead at Bluff Knoll after an extensive search.

O’Connor MP Rick Wilson comfortably retains his seat as his party scores resounding wins across the country.


Southern Aboriginal Corporation reveals its plans for a boomerang-shaped cultural centre on the Albany foreshore.


Federal officers carry out a brothel bust in Albany before a local insider lifts the lid on the industry in the Advertiser.


The grieving family of Chris Rees tell their story after the Albany woman’s death on a motorcycle trip in Africa.

Police evacuate children from the scene of an “extremely confronting” alleged murder at a house in Tambellup.

Albany’s disabled community takes a hit as Woolworths scraps a trolley collection contract that employed dozens.


Albany students bring York Street traffic to a halt as part of the Global Climate Strike protest.


Fremantle photographer Matthew Dwyer found dead after another gruelling search at Bluff Knoll.

Dennis Wellington becomes the City of Albany’s longest-serving mayor as two fresh faces are elected to council.


The State Government calls for tender submissions for the final two stages of the Albany Ring Road.

Northam couple Geoffrey Bignell and Victoria McCloy lose their lives during a rock fishing trip in Torndirrup National Park.

Samuel Donald Ford jailed for an assault outside Studio 146 which left his victim with a fractured skull and broken jaw.


Albany prison officer Corey Moysey Dawe avoids jail after choking out a taxi driver while the taxi was moving.

Albany’s two wheelchair taxi drivers reveal they will shut down after Christmas, blaming the government’s industry reforms.

Christine Batchelor says voluntary assisted dying has come too late for her, but she is happy others will have the choice.

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