REVEALED: The ten most influential people in the Clarence

10. Dr Russell Pridgeon

SINCE his startling arrest in a Grafton carpark, Dr Russell Pridgeon has been making waves in Grafton and beyond.

A team of Australian Federal Police officers arrested Dr Pridgeon in October 2018 after a lengthy investigation.

Dr Pridgeon was accused of being the ring leader of an elaborate child-snatching ring that assisted mothers to take children from their fathers and claimed the men were sexually abusing the children. Police said these claims were baseless.

Despite the charges and subsequent court case, the doctor attracted plenty of sympathy in the community from people who knew him as a GP who had treated their families well.

There was also sympathy in the region and outside for the activities he and his group were carrying out.

A former Grafton City councillor, Laurie Van de Velde, who fled the Nazis in Europe in the 1940s, said there were similarities in the arrest and treatment of Dr Pridgeon and the way the Germans treated people during the war.

Queensland-based child safety advocate Hetty Johnston threw her support behind him.

Ms Johnston said Dr Pridgeon and his co-accused believed they were trying to help children.

She said the child stealing charges the group faced sounded "horrible" but she would do the same thing if she thought the courts were not protecting her children.

Dr Pridgeon is due back in court in Queensland this week where he faces three child stealing charges, conspiracy to defeat justice and dealing with proceeds of crime over $100,000.

In September, the court dropped a charge of stalking. Dr Pridgeon also founded the Antipaedophile Party in 2016.

9. Kevin Hogan

A YEAR is an eternity in politics, as this year's No. 9 in The Daily Examiner Power 30, Federal MP for Page Kevin Hogan, can testify.

At the beginning of the year, Mr Hogan was sitting on the crossbenches after leaving the government in protest of the leadership changes tearing the Federal Government apart.

There were thoughts he might even not survive the electoral tsunami expected to sweep the government from office.
Mr Hogan can take some credit for the government's miraculous escape. As happened in 2016 when the government was returned with a one-seat majority, Mr Hogan's success in persuading voters to support him and the government continued to keep Page a bellwether seat.

While on the crossbenches, Mr Hogan began a process he hoped would lead to a royal commission into petrol pricing and the behaviour of major supermarkets.

As a rural MP, Mr Hogan said the market domination of the three largest supermarkets, which control 76 per cent of the industry, and pricing practices of petroleum distributors were big issues for his constituents. And he said getting to the bottom of petrol pricing was of vital importance to the community.

"No one can explain how petrol prices can vary so wildly between the metropolitan areas and the country," he said.

"Not even ACCC chairman Rod Sims was able to give me a satisfactory explanation."

He said the behaviour of supermarkets towards their suppliers had been the subject of more than one inquiry in the past decade, but they had not appeared to change their behaviour, making a royal commission a necessity.

Mr Hogan's push got lost in the election campaign, but the issues he raised continue to be important for rural people.

8. Wendy Gordon

HAVING the power to attract more than 3000 people and 800 caravans to your backyard is nothing short of astonishing, and Wendy Gordon's ability to do those kinds of numbers every October is worthy of a Top 10 spot in the Power 30.

The driving force behind the Clarence Valley Country Muster, Wendy has championed the event that began on her Calliope property with her ex-husband Terry Gordon and a few of his mates singing in a paddock in 2012 to give back to the community after devastating floods that year.

Today the event has become one of the most popular country music meets on the annual calendar.

The Clarence's own version of the famous Gympie and Tamworth gatherings, Wendy's ability to assemble and host a stellar line-up of artists each October is faultless.

She has welcomed a long list of country music A-listers to her place in the past six years, including Adam Harvey, Beccy Cole, Tania Kernaghan and daughter of the legendary Hank Williams, Jett.

Along with the big names, she also encourages performers of all backgrounds to come along and share their passion for the genre on the muster stage.

A master of organisation, Wendy already has next year's line-up locked in, including the legendary showman Jade Hurley. 

7. The Deadly Examiner

THE Daily Examiner created history this year when it became the first mainstream masthead to devote an entire issue to the First Nations people of its region.

Renamed The Deadly Examiner for the day, the content became an all-indigenous affair, with every story and regular inclusion in the 160-year-old masthead dedicated to the oldest surviving culture on the planet and the people from the three nations of the Clarence Valley - Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl.

A collaborative effort between the Clarence Valley Healing Centre and The Daily Examiner to mark Reconciliation Week, the project was driven by centre staff Janelle Brown, Dean Loadsman and Jo Randall and DEX features editor Lesley Apps. The final result was embraced by the indigenous and wider community.

Content touched on the full gamut of indigenous issues, from its bloody history and traumatic family stories to the people who paved the way for the next generation and those achieving in their chosen fields today.

The edition was a cultural education to many and a celebration of the unique convergence of the Clarence's three nations.

While print editions of newspapers are in decline, The Deadly Examiner managed to buck the trend, selling out in many of the newsagencies that day, while other regions looked to the Clarence and wondered whether they could do the same. The Deadly Examiner 2020 awaits. 

6. Dr Greg Jenks

SINCE arriving in the Clarence Valley at the end of 2017 to take on the role of the eighth Dean of Grafton, Rev Canon Dr Greg Jenks has shown leadership that travels well beyond the Christ Church Cathedral's walls.

Despite operating in areas traditionally considered to be conservative environments, Dr Jenks doesn't hold back when it comes to confronting and navigating difficult situations and challenging entrenched mindsets.

When the city of Grafton was reeling with panic after it was thrust into the international spotlight when its connection with the Christchurch massacre came to light, rather than the comfortable option of defensiveness, Dr Jenks reached straight out to the Muslim community to offer the city's support organising a community prayer vigil for people of all walks to come and pay their respects.

The Northern Rivers native's strong commitment to fostering a more inclusive Clarence Valley is evidenced in his strong stands against homophobia, sexism and racism, and he does not mince his words whether he is addressing the national media or his own congregation.

He is also passionate about addressing the impacts of climate change and the devastation of the planet if it continues to go unchecked.

The Doctor of Philosophy and author holds multiple degrees and masters and is a big fan of the technological landscape, introducing a social media strategy to the Grafton Anglican Diocese, including livestreamed presentations, an online blog and Wi-Fi in the cathedral.

5. Scott Monaghan

BUNDJALUNG man Scott Monaghan could reasonably expect inclusion in The Daily Examiner's Power 30 list on the strength of his 16 years with Bulgarr Ngaru Medical Aboriginal Corporation in Grafton.

But his influence in the community - both Aboriginal and general - extends well beyond those boundaries.

Bulgarr Ngaru is a founding member of the Many Rivers Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance.

It is within this context that Scott has built strong communication, community consultation and negotiating skills within Aboriginal communities in the Local Health District boundaries.

Scott was a member of the transitional board for North Coast NSW Medicare Local and has nine years experience as a board member of a community controlled organisation.

He  has also been a champion for Aboriginal causes. He grew up in Baryulgil and when a university investigation of the town cemetery revealed 30 previously unknown grave sites, recognised their importance of the find.

As the chairman of the Baryulgil Local Aboriginal Land Council he ensured government funding was available to make these sites secure for his people.

"To be able to determine the location of burial sites, after grave markers have long been moved or destroyed, is incredibly important to our community as we identify and protect the resting places our old people," he said.

With almost seven years experience as CEO of the medical corporation, Scott's selection as the chairman of the new Clarence Valley Country University Centre came as no surprise.

Just as he identified significant events for his people, Scott saw the arrival of an avenue for tertiary education in the Clarence Valley as valuable for the whole community.

4. Susan Howland

OUR Clarence Valley Citizen of the Year, Susan Howland, is a community maverick, a knowledgeable voice able to rise above the knockers to make her community a better place.

Susan has dedicated her life to improving the mental health services and the empowerment of women in the Clarence Valley, her leadership and dedication in these fields a shining example of what can be achieved with clear vision and fortitude.

A rock star in the volunteering landscape, Susan is a member of numerous organisations and involved in implementing many programs, including Our Healthy Clarence, Northern NSW Local Health District, Mental Health Forum, Light Up the Darkness, Local Health District Community Engagement Council, CWA Maclean and is a founding member of Clarence Valley Women's Inc.

For decades Susan has worked tirelessly, generally quietly behind the scenes, to improve the lives of others in the Clarence community, all while raising a family of her own and continuing to juggle family commitments as a grandmother.

She is not afraid to stand up in the face of adversity, challenge people's perceptions in the public arena and fight for the justices of people who may not be in a position to do so themselves.

After accepting her Citizen of the Year award, Susan took the opportunity to express her beliefs about how changing the date of Australia Day was a crucial part of the reconciliation process with Australia's indigenous people, not an easy task among the boos and hisses being generated from the audience.

But as the opening paragraph of this Power 30 entry will attest, Susan once again rose to the occasion.

3. Grafton and Harwood Bridges

THE people of Grafton gave a graphic description of just how important bridges are to the community when they were asked for input into the position of the new Grafton bridge.

When the designers came up with the locations the community suggested, the result looked a lot like a bowl of noodle soup with the Clarence River running through it.

From Susan Island to Clarenza there was hardly a section of riverbank someone thought could not accommodate a bridge approach.

It was a graphic realisation of how important bridges become to a community, and the passion with which each choice was defended only amplified this.

Bizarrely, bridges don't provide great value for money. They're costly: the Grafton Bridge has set taxpayers back $240 million and we are told the Harwood bridge chews up a good chunk of the $4.36 billion highway upgrade budget. And their maintenance isn't cheap.

Even charging a toll to cross - such as what happened with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in the same year as Grafton's old bridge - is not great economics.

The value of bridges comes not from their structures but what they allow.

Prior to 1932, Grafton and South Grafton were two largely separate entities. Crossing by ferry would have made the daily peak-hour delays we complain about now seem trivial.
Vitally, they would have impeded the growth of Grafton, which unsurprisingly grew rapidly as road and rail transport improved overnight.

The new Harwood bridge fulfils a similar role. As a focal point of the Pacific Highway upgrade, which has brought both Sydney and the southeast of Queensland within easy reach of the Valley, it is the new gateway to the Clarence Coast.

The construction of both bridges has also made a huge contribution to the Clarence Valley since the projects were announced in 2016.

The Acciona Ferrovial joint venture's successful tender for the Harwood Bridge was announced in April 2016 and a month later the RMS revealed Fulton Hogan would design and build Grafton's second river crossing.

For the local community it became a race between the two bridges to see which would open first.

The community marvelled at the speed at which the massive pylons supporting the Harwood bridge went up.

Local maritime company Harwood Marine was able to speed up the process even further, providing marine facilities which enabled the massive cranes to manoeuvre pylons and bridge sections into position to be ferried virtually on site.

In Grafton it was almost anticlimactic as one stubborn bridge pylon seemed to halt progress for weeks.

But work on both bridges has now come to a point where traffic is flowing over the river at Harwood as of Thursday this week and tomorrow the public will have access to Grafton's second bridge for the first time. 

2. Mark Blackadder

IN LESS than a year Mark Blackadder has sent the Jacaranda Festival into a new stratosphere.

The newly appointed festival manager has completely transformed the 85-year-old event to see it sit comfortably among the upper echelon of regional festivals around Australia.

While he would be the first to say he certainly didn't do it alone, the energy and passion he exuded was contagious, firing up the team of talented committee members and volunteers, and attracting a bunch of new faces into the fold,  

With a background in the corporate sector and luxury brands, Mark took the reins armed with a big vision for Jacaranda and wasn't going to compromise during the intensive process of achieving that.

A complete rebranding of the festival, stronger online presence, new merchandise and crowns, revamped events, a giant kewpie doll and a big top in Market Square were all rolled out in a few short months and the results spoke for themselves.

There were more visitors, more queen candidates and more locals taking part than the city has seen for many years.

As his professional background professed, Mark also brought a swag of new corporate sponsors along for the ride, and aside from turning the Grafton Jacaranda Festival into an international event and destination, his other vision was to make the event the most inclusive in its history.

The 85th festival was the first time the three First Nations groups had their own event included in the official program and the arrival of the world class all-male burlesque troupe was also a first for the festival's entertainment bill.

The local disability sector also had a starring role this year at the gala ball when Caringa came on as major sponsors.
To top off an outstanding year the Jacaranda Festival took home its first award, a bronze at the North Coast Regional Tourism Awards for Festival and Events.

1. Clarence Valley Rural Fire Service

"VALLEY on red alert", the headline from The Daily Examiner screamed over a map showing bushfire locations at Rappville, Lanitza, Whiteman Creek and Pillar Valley.

It would have been a terrifying prospect at the height of the fire season, but the dateline on that newspaper was Monday, August 12.

The "real" fire season was supposedly still months away.

Within another two weeks more fires were burning and before the end of the month the first of the Rural Fire Service brigades had arrived to battle our fire emergency.

Officially, the end of winter was days away, but we had already experienced our first fire emergency.

That's why, four months later and with the Clarence Valley shrouded in smoke for a month, The Daily Examiner Power 30 judges unanimously put the RFS at the top of the pile for 2019.

Instead of backburning and making the normal preparation for what promised to be a difficult fire season, RFS volunteers were fighting flames back from homes and properties, all the while earning the undying gratitude of property owners.

And, of course, the stories of heroism emerged.

Under the headline "I'm not a hero", we learnt about the Copmanhurst RFS captain Edwin Newbery.

The year had been tough for the JR Richards and Son garbage collector.

A family tragedy at the start of the year could have sent a lot of people off the rails.

But not Edwin Newbery, the brigade captain who doubles as the treasurer during brigade meetings.

As fire threatened Whiteman Creek, north of Grafton, he should have been enjoying day off work.
Instead he was driving a truck.

"I was meant to have today off but there was no one else to drive the truck," he said.
Just a week earlier he attended the Rotary NSW Emergency Services Community Awards where he was named the NSW Rural Fire Service Officer of the Year.

"I don't accept the award for myself, but on behalf of all volunteers that go to fires," he said.

"I don't do it to be a hero. I like the satisfaction of being able to help somebody else."

Rural Fire Service brigades, the town firefighters, National Parks and Wildlife, State Forests, Local Land Services, SES: the list is long and all deserve recognition for totally selfless service to their community.
The August fires were not an aberration, but a start to something many suspect might become a new norm for our area.

As winter rolled to spring, September to October, October to November, each week seemed to bring a new fire and more heroic tales.

When the Shark Creek fire threatened residents, RFS brigades hurled themselves between the fires and the homes.
Residents marvelled at the way fireys were able create a bubble around their homes while the fire front swept past.
They successfully defended the Wooloweyah and Angourie without losing a single house despite fire  bearing down on both villages.

Students at Maclean High School showed their appreciation with a Fiver for a Firey fundraiser.

The Valley's luck ran out on November 8 at Nymboida. As smoke from the Liberty Trail fire turned daytime into night, an apocalyptic wall of flame tore through the village.

The RFS performed miracles that night, but as Nymboida fire captain Paul Johnston said of that blaze, "100 fire trucks could not have stopped it".

A month later residents are still counting the houses lost to the fire, but the village has already begun to rebuild.
Meanwhile, RFS volunteers have also moved on to their next battle.

As you read this and look outside at the smoke filled sky, we encourage you to give thanks to those volunteers, who bravely put the community before themselves. 

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