Newdegate’s ‘can-do’ attitude and community spirit a stand-out

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Adam PoulsenCountryman
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Lake Grace Shire president Len Armstrong.
Camera IconLake Grace Shire president Len Armstrong. Credit: Picture: Shannon Verhagen

For Lake Grace Shire president Len Armstrong, there is one characteristic of the Newdegate community that stands out above all else.

It is a quality that embodies not just the people who call Newdegate home, but the town itself.

“The reason that I love this place is they’ve got a ‘can-do’ attitude,” Mr Armstrong said.

It’s a very small town that can drag in 15 to 16,000 people to a field days each year, and they’ve been doing that for close on 50 years now. That says something about the community.

Len Armstrong

It was this can-do attitude coupled with the volunteering spirit of the locals that struck Mr Armstrong when he moved to Newdegate about 14 years ago.

Before he could even think about putting his feet up, he was being put to work.

“I arrived, and having a ute load of tools, the first thing they did was tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘well listen, you can carry out the maintenance on the buildings and make sure the toilets are flushing on the field days’,” he recalled.

“That’s been my responsibility ever since I’ve been here.

“If you arrive in town at field days time, you won’t even ask, you’ll be put on a roster and that’s it.

“If you want to be taken off that roster, you’ve got to have a good excuse because it’s all in or none in — they don’t put up with people that shirk their responsibility because they need those volunteers.”

Indeed, the efforts of those volunteers in the lead-up to and during the Newdegate Machinery Field Days will be largely responsible for keeping local community organisations running.

Instead of collecting a pay cheque for their work, volunteers will donate the funds to a local organisation of their choosing.

And with the population steadily diminishing, those organisations are as important as ever.

“Even before COVID-19, population dwindle in rural areas has been drastic,” Mr Armstrong said.

The population of Newdegate for instance — the town site and immediate vicinities, and the whole of the Shire of Lake Grace — has decreased by 50 per cent in the last 10 years.

Len Armstrong

“So we’re full on trying to make sure that we keep our community vibrant.”

Lake Grace Shire president Len Armstrong.
Camera IconLake Grace Shire president Len Armstrong.

Raised in the Kellerberrin area, Mr Armstrong served in the Vietnam War and later spent decades living in Albany, where he worked in the building industry and served as a City councillor.

About 12 years ago he became a Shire of Lake Grace councillor before stepping up as Shire president two years ago.

The satisfaction of representing his community is the biggest reward for Mr Armstrong, and his practical experience has certainly come in handy.

“That can-do attitude gets us in strife occasionally because people have a thought bubble and all of a sudden things get done,” he explained.

“An airfield was once built here on crown land and the State Government didn’t even know about it; a swimming pool was built here years ago on (Department of) Education land and they didn’t know about it.

That’s what I like about the community: if they think they can do something themselves, they get in and do it.

Len Armstrong

“But then you’ve got to think, ‘what about all the bloody consequences — where was the building application? Where was the approval?’

“So if anything, as president I can bring that information to the community to say ‘right, I agree 100 per cent with wherever you are going with this, but we need to follow a process. That’s what I absolutely love about it.”

Read the full Newdegate Machinery Field Days program here.

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