This month we speak with Ella Winnall, Community Services Co-Ordinator at Berri Barmera Council.
Ella is a recent graduate of both the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) and the Professional Leaders Program (PLP). She also won the Emerging Leader of the Year Award at the LG Professionals, SA 2016 Leadership Excellence awards.
Ella shares her views about tourism in Berri Barmera, her experiences with the LG Professionals, SA Programs and why she enjoys working in the sector.
Hi Ella, thanks for speaking with us.
What’s your current role, and what does it involve?
I am the Community Services Coordinator (Tourism & Transport) for the Berri Barmera Council. I manage our Berri Visitor Information Centre, the Riverland Community Transport and generally all things tourism & transport in the district.
Where were you before? (i.e. what is your work background/career path so far)
I started out at council in 2008 in what was supposed to be a gap year after finishing high school. It was supposed to be a casual tourism officer job doing a few days a week at the visitor information centre. Local government quickly took a hold of me and I moved around the organisation quite a bit until this role came up which has been fantastic for me.
What attracted you to local government, and your current role?
At the time of starting at council I was 16 and really didn’t have much of an idea of what council did. Lucky for me I kind of fell into local government in the way that I did because I actually really love the local government sector as a whole. I love that local government is so connected to the community; you can really see the outcomes and impacts on the community.
What motivates you? -What do you find most interesting or exciting about working in local government?
I love the Riverland and I am truly motivated to make it the best it can be for my friends and family. I am really passionate about regional areas in general and a big advocate for not letting your location hold you back- this is reflected in my work with local businesses. I really enjoy the diversity of local government too, that there are so many teams doing such different work coming together to work for the community.
Speaking about your current role - Community Services Coordinator at the Berri Visitor Information Centre. What’s the outlook for tourism in Berri Barmera? Has the region recovered well from the Lake Bonney water issue a few years back? How did the council assist in that recovery?
Tourism is a great game to be in for South Australia at the moment and the Riverland in particular. Our local tourism operators are really stepping up their game, offering some pretty unique visitor experiences and the visitor numbers are increasing. We’re pretty lucky here to be close enough to Adelaide that it’s a weekender, but far enough away that you feel like you’ve had a decent getaway.
Our tourism industry is so linked to our river system that we are often at the mercy of the river literally ebbing and flowing. This can lead to some interesting scenarios to manage, both in times of low flow as well as high flow.
Throughout the drought, we really struggled with perceptions that the lake & river were empty which was far from the truth. We worked to challenge this in the media and made sure we were providing support to events and infrastructure which was suitable for the lower water levels. These days we are dealing with the other side of the coin, with the high flows spilling out over our creeks & wetlands - we now work on combatting the idea of a ‘flood’.
The Murray is a pretty majestic river system and the changing river level always happens slowly – it’s pretty spectacular to watch actually. The environmental changes mean we can offer different experiences that wouldn’t normally be available. In low flow we get floodplain walks and a sandy beach at Lake Bonney but in high flow we get wetland canoe tours & yabbying.
At risk of a sales pitch, come up & see for yourself, I can show you around!
You’re a glowing example of a highly successful LG Professionals, SA alumni. You were a past participant in the Emerging Leaders Program, a recent graduate of the Professional Leaders Program and you were also named last year’s Emerging Leader of the Year at the 15th Annual Leadership Excellence Awards. How would you say these programs have assisted in your professional development? What are the main benefits you have gained from participation?
The programs together were perfect for where I was at both professionally and personally. The Emerging Leaders Program led to a rewarding mentoring relationship with our CEO, David Beaton which continues to impact my professional direction.
It also led to some close networking bonds with professionals from around the state which I continue to call on every now and then. The Professional Leaders Program was great for fine tuning some of the more technical leadership skills and I was able to make a heap of changes to our little part of the workplace which has made everything run smoother. Together the programs really complemented each other.
How did you feel when you were named Emerging Leader of the Year? What effect did your win have on your council and you personally?
It was a little overwhelming to be honest! It had been a fairly full-on year for me both professionally & personally and I wasn’t expecting something like that to happen. I was extremely thankful for all of the people who had helped me to achieve what I had, as it certainly wasn’t done alone.
The council staff & elected members were really proud and I didn’t realise the extent of the support I had in the community. Part of winning included the opportunity to attend the National Congress which was an opportunity not many regional local government employees get so that was exciting. More than anything the award encouraged me to keep doing good for the community, despite the little battles that come up to challenge us.
You attended the LG Professionals National Congress this year. Would you recommend other rural/regional local government professionals attend this National Congress? Why?
The congress was fantastic – I can’t speak highly enough of the opportunity. Particularly for rural & regional staff, the congress is really eye opening to the ‘other side’ with so many huge councils there. The guest speakers were world class, it’s not often I get the chance to hear from such high calibre speakers in little Berri Barmera. The networking was fantastic because of the diversity of the delegates and I have since had a few opportunities crop up from those connections.
How do you spend your leisure time outside of local government?
What leisure time???
I spend a lot of my time outside of work on volunteer community committees and boards which can sometimes feel like work but is rewarding. Other than that, I love getting on the water after work for a quick wakeboard or kayak trip.
I tend to support the local food & wine industries fairly well on weekends and try to travel as much as I can. It’s a pretty good work-life balance for anyone considering moving to a regional area!