Year in Review: The story of Roma in 2020
It has been one of the most unique, stressful, but life-changing years in living memory for most people in the Maranoa.
The lives of many of our community members were completely different at the start of 2020 compared to what they are now.
But through the strength and resilience of the community, Roma and the surrounding Maranoa Region made it through this trying year and has created many memories along the way.
The year started off with announcements of a brand new supermarket in Roma that would rival the existing Woolworths store.
Maranoa Regional Council approved the Cornett's IGA redevelopment on November 11, 2019 with the store expecting to open in March 2021.
The development was poised to cost between $4.5 to $5 million will include a bakery, butchery, deli, and full produce section.
By mid-January, bushfires and dust storms had ravaged Queensland.
The visibility was reduced to 50 per cent as dust and dirt from the west was carried all the way into the Darling Downs by strong winds on January 11.
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Rosa Hoff told the Western Times that these storms were caused by heavy shower activity and multiple troughs moving across the outback.
But the rain came pouring down shortly afterwards with over 100mm being recorded across the Maranoa in February.
In fact, many parts of the region received more rain during this short period than all of 2019 combined.
As autumn kicked in and the natural disasters started to peter out, Queenslanders headed to the polls to decide who would represent them on a local government level for the next four years.
It was a fierce mayoral race between the three candidates David Schefe, Tyson Golder, and Rob Loughnan.
It was a decisive win for Cr Golder with over 67.07 per cent of the official first preference count going towards him.
All four other members of his group ticket Unity Maranoa made it into the council, including John Birkett, Mark Edwards, Julie Guthrie, and George Ladbrook.
But some of the most experienced councillors decided not to throw their hats in the ring, citing red tape, bullying, and public attacks for leaving their beloved positions.
There ended up being six fresh faces in the new council and they pursued an agenda of radical reform, which would play out over the course of the year.
A controversial new budget was introduced, portfolios were abolished, and now the council is on the cusp of making a major change to their organisational structure.
And while this was happening, the coronavirus reached the shores of Australia.
Many people were baffled that a disease that once was confined to China could wreak so much havoc on Southwest Queensland.
But the consequences were extremely significant for the Maranoa Region and threw us on the path to a new future.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison banned all events and gatherings over 500 people from March this year in response to the deadly disease spreading from person to person in Australia.
This meant that Maranoa residents had to cancel their holiday plans, and yearly gatherings once considered sacred, like the Roma and Mitchell shows, had to be cancelled.
Flights were significantly reduced (and since haven't returned to pre-COVID frequencies) and residents were forced to stay inside their homes.
Despite the struggle, residents kept their spirits high and found new ways to do the things they loved, with one couple even tying the knot in a unique ceremony.
Many non-essential businesses were forced to close, but most soldiered on through the tough times until the restrictions were relaxed later in the year.
The community was in mourning when two young boys lost their lives in a tragic rollover on a Mount Abundance property on May 24.
Four people were travelling along a dirt track in a Toyota wagon when it hit a ditch and rolled.
Tragically, 10-year-old Roma boy Jack Cameron and 16-year-old Brisbane boy Archie Gouldson died at the scene.
The talented Carnarvon Cubs player was described as a 'true gentleman', 'affectionate', and 'talented'.
Within a week, the Roma community raised over $200,000 for Jack's Last Gift, a fundraiser established by his family to raise money for epilepsy.
This year's season of The Voice featured one of the most talented young musicians to come out of Roma.
The then-15-year-old Maddy Thomas headed down to Sydney to perform in the blind audition, with three of the four judges turning their seats to see the face of the angelic singer.
Supported by her family in the wings, Miss Thomas stunned the audience with her performance of Mark Ronson's Nothing Beats Like a Heart.
While she was eliminated in June 22, the Roma community is still immensely proud of their homegrown songstress, who has continued to play in venues across Southwest Queensland.
By May, restrictions started to ease and Outback Queenslanders were given more freedom to travel and attend local venues compared to their non-Outback counterparts on the Darling Downs and along the coast.
But during this time, a major decision was made that would change Regional Queensland communities forever.
News Corp Australia announced that the press would stop on 112 regional newspapers, with 76 going online-only and 36 shutting altogether, including St George's beloved Balonne Beacon.
The press stopped for the final time on the Western Star when it printed its last edition on June 26, after 145 years in print.
And while we're still here delivering important news to Southwest Queensland, some residents were disappointed about the change.
But moving forward, many residents are still keen on reading their local news, with Australia's oldest resident Dexter Kruger, who turned 110 in 2020, buying his digital subscription to the Western Star.
Early in 2020, young Roma girl Bailey Hockey was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that has sent her and her family on an emotional rollercoaster.
Having to travel back and forward from Brisbane to Roma, and losing part of her hand due to the Epithelioid Sarcoma, Bailey kept her spirits high.
The community rallied to support her, with the local Bear and Luca cafe raising $1000 to help.
Our communities have demonstrated their generosity and heroism as we face unprecedented challenges.
When a Mitchell family lost almost everything in a devastating house fire on July 19, the community was quick to spring to action, helping them find a new home and giving them generous supplies.
The family of six - Jamie Dunn-Haldane, Mariah Drover, their one-year-old son, and three of Jamie's siblings, escaped the horrific inferno, but it's Mr Dunn-Haldane's heroism that has been remembered after he rushed back into the burning building to save the 15-year-old and bring him to safety.
After five years in the making, Roma's new state of the art hospital was completed this year and all services have been transferred to the new building.
The three-level building cost $116 million to construct and features telehealth services, a rehabilitation centre, allied health treatment areas, emergency department, inpatient unit, a cafe, among many other facilities.
With the Queensland Election rolling around in October, the electorate of Warrego had to vote on who would represent the safe LNP seat.
Incumbent MP Ann Leahy faced Charleville cattle farmer Rick Gurnett (Katter's Australian Party), Dalby solicitor Mark Stone, former Murweh Shire mayor Mark O'Brien (Australian Labor Party), among other candidates, in the race for the outback seat.
And during the campaign, a major announcement with mixed community reception was made.
The state Labor government planned on building a new highway from Mungindi to Charters Towers, via Roma and St George, as a new inland freight route.
Dubbed the 'second Bruce Highway', this proposal aimed to remove up to 49 per cent of heavy vehicles from the existing Bruce.
With Labor being returned to government, we now only have to wait and see how this ambitious proposal will play out.
As the year drew to a close, the king of football himself Wally Lewis came along to the Commonwealth Hotel to meet the Roma locals and sign their new copies of his autobiography in December.
Joined by his biographer Steve Haddan, their appearance attracted hundreds of people of all ages to the pub.
Wally shared his fondest memories of Roma great Artie Beetson to the Western Star and avid fans of NRL during his visit.
In fact, this year has been tremendous for Southwest Queensland's young talent with former Mitchell Magpie Michael Purcell doing preselection for Melbourne Storm, and Wallumbilla Red Bull Ben Condon playing for the Penrith Panthers.
And now we come to the end of a turbulent, yet unique year in the Maranoa's history.
As 2021 rolls around, we can only wait and see what challenges and triumphs will face our communities in the future.