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Richie Williamson – on life, radio and politics

Richie Williamson has been a familiar household name in the Clarence Valley for many years.

For almost 30 years he has worked at radio 2GF and become the iconic voice of breakfast radio each morning.

The Independent sat down with Richie to find out a bit more about the popular radio announcer, former mayor and current Clarence Valley councillor and to get an insight into his thoughts on local issues.


Richie said that he grew up in the family home at Coutts Crossing.

“I went to Coutts Crossing Public School and was captain back in the day, before attending St Aloysius – now known as Catherine McAuley College,” Richie said.

“I started doing work experience at 2GF on a Saturday night and that grew into some paid work on a Sunday night. In all seriousness (and I think Ron Bell would tell you the same thing), I drove him crazy until I got an apprenticeship.    

“I began full time work there in November 1991 and the rest, as far as the broadcasting career goes, is history.

“It’s a very unique job, talking with people that can’t talk back –but it’s something that I thoroughly enjoy, broadcasting everyday Monday to Friday. It’s something that I’m still passionate about and still love,” he said.


Independent: What led you into local Government?

“I think politics found me; I don’t think that I went looking for it.

“I don’t recall ever trying to become political. My father was mayor of Nymboida Council/Pristine Waters Council and I think he was still mayor in 2004 when the council amalgamation happened, so I guess that kind of sparked some interest,” he said.

On 25 February 2004 the new Clarence Valley Council was established and was run by administrators until the election of the Clarence Valley Councils first councillors, which took place on 5 March 2005.

“Chris Gulaptis and I stood on the same ticket and were elected on to what was the first Clarence Valley Council,” Richie said.

“Chris topped the poll that year and I think I was somewhere around there with him. I guess that was the start of my local government political career.

“The other councillors that were elected on the first Clarence Valley Council (CVC) were: Ian Tiley (mayor), Shirley Adams, Kerry Lloyd, Joy Mathews, Doug MacKenzie, Terry Flanagan and Fred Morgan.

“Ian Tiley was the first CVC mayor and in 2008 I became mayor and was very honoured and privileged to hold that position until 2016. On reflection, it was a job that I greatly cherished. Cr Jim Simmons took over from me as CVC mayor and did a great job throughout the devastating bushfires.”


Independent: The council elections which were cancelled this year due to COVID-19, will now take place next year. What do you plan to do?

“I know that some of my fellow councillors have indicated that they’re not going to stand again, and that’s really a totally personal decision; but I won’t be standing.

“I think I’ve done my bit and I’ll hand over the reins to somebody else.

“Renewal is important I think, and I’ve been there since 2005 and I’d like to hope that I’ve achieved some positive things for the valley. Not everyone will agree with my comment there, but I feel like I have, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time.”


Independent: Over the years you had a go at State politics, tell us a bit about that.

“Yeh, I did. I was still mayor at the time.

“Look who knows what the future might hold. I’ll wait and see what may or may not present itself.

“I’ve been a member of the National Party now for nearly ten years, so who knows what the future holds. I’ve got no solid plans, so we’ll see.

“I’ll keep going at 2GF because 2GF is a part of my life – it’s what I do and what I’ve done. To be a part of someone’s day in that kind of way, is pretty special and I’ve had a lot of very loyal listeners who have turned into friends and for that I am very grateful.”


Independent: Apart from work and politics, what does Ritchie enjoy doing during his down time?

“I’ve got a pretty good vegie patch. It struggled through the drought, but the vegie patch is back!

“I enjoy cooking all kinds of things. I like old school cooking – grabbing out the old cookbooks from back in the day and converting pounds into kilograms and away you go; so, I enjoy that.

Leonie (my wife) and I share the cooking. I probably cook five nights a week because I’m home earlier and she probably does more on the weekend.

“I’m a meat and three veg kind of guy.

“I love my sport. I get to the gym a bit nowadays and try and keep some kind of fitness level up. I’m not terribly talented at that, I have to say, but I struggle my way through a gym session a couple of times a week.

“I still play cricket – third grade for Coutts Crossing – wicket keeper, unless they sack me this year. I started playing cricket with the under 12s although I had a couple of gap years in between, but I’ve played most of my life. I love the game of cricket and have has some memorable times – some pretty bad batting performances and fluky shots. I’ve always enjoyed cricket; I really love it.”


Independent: Just going back to your time as mayor, what was your greatest memory, highlight or challenge during that time?

“I guess the biggest challenge as mayor during that time was the five major floods (on the Clarence) in four years. It pushed council to the limits with regards to recovery and they were very difficult times. It certainly wasn’t one of the most rewarding times, but it was one that definitely stands out in my mind.

“Some of the most rewarding times sometimes aren’t the ones that make the paper. You’re in a privileged position as mayor to be able to help people on day to day issues that matter to them.”


Independent: You were mayor when Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited Grafton during one of those floods. How did you find her?

“She was a great Australian and a wonderful human being.

“We picked her up off the aeroplane (at Grafton Regional Airport) and when she got off the plane, she had to rush inside to take a private telephone call.

“When she finished the call, she came out to us and said, ‘the president of the United States sends his greetings to Grafton. That was Barak Obama on the phone and I told him we were in Grafton because we’ve suffered some bad floods here on the north coast of NSW and the president sends his regards to the people of Grafton.’ So that was pretty special moment.

“While the Prime Minister was here, we visited the SES Headquarters in Induna Street, South Grafton, she did a live interview at radio 2GF and visited Grafton Shoppingworld, where we joined her for a toasted sandwich and a cup of tea, at Coffee Club – much to the angst of her security team.

“So, Julia Gillard in my opinion, was really tops – a great Australian.”



Independent: On the topic of floods, with all the changes to the landscape due to the new highway and bridges, how do you think that will impact on us during the next flood?

“That is literally the million-dollar question.

“The science behind it, says that there will be little or minimal impact to floods and when there is, theoretically those impacts have been catered for.

“No two floods are ever the same and that’s what worries me.

“My greatest fear for the city, is an overtopping of the levee.

“After that 2013 event, one of the State Government hydrologists said, ‘Richie, there’s only two levee systems known to mankind – the one that has overtopped and the one that will.’

“So, Grafton’s levee will overtop at some stage and my fear is that we get a bit complacent as human beings and we put a lot of faith in those levee systems.

“So, the next flood will bring a whole lot of unique challenges for us.

“We will just have to follow the instructions of the SES when that happens, I guess, he said.

Richie said that it should be of great concern to all of us, now that the Clarence Valley’s SES flood management headquarters has been transferred from South Grafton, to Lismore.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m a great supporter of the SES and they do a fantastic job and I know the SES have new plans in place. But I am concerned, and have been concerned for a long time, that that won’t adequately suffice our community, when the pressure is on. And I’ve seen what it’s like when the pressure is on, in the past – and IT IS FULL ON!

“Local knowledge is key, and I would absolutely like to see the SES return the operational management of Clarence River floods, back to the valley.

“But time will tell – it’s a system completely out of my control and councils’ control. I just hope that no ones seriously hurt or injured, or a life lost in a flood – that would be devastating.


Independent: What are your thoughts on the culling of regional newspapers?

“These are tough times and local media is doing it tough.

“It was devastating news for the valley when The Daily Examiner, after 159 years, was no longer going to be printed.

“There’s only one section of the community that misses out there and that’s regional Australia – regional NSW. And with the greatest respect, a front-page par in the Daily Telegraph; it don’t cut it.

“It is what it is. They (The Daily Examiner) are still producing news – just not printed.

“Print (media) is important – print has a job, which is slightly varied to audio.

“With print you can get down to some investigative journalism to tell the story.

“Printed news is very important for us in the Clarence and personally I congratulate the team at the Independent for going back to press.

“COVID has presented a lot of changes for everybody. The community are scared, and I think as far as radio generally across the nation goes, the community has turned to radio to get the news about COVID.

“It has its own range of challenges as we all do. Most recently, radio has been the trusted instant news source for COVID-19.

“Radio’s instant, they can have a story today – it doesn’t need to go to print and I think Australians trust radio, to present that factual news instantly.”


Independent: What do you think about the new independent newspapers that are starting to pop up in regional areas and in particular northern NSW?

“I think in a nutshell I’m a fan of print. I think it’s good, but the key is localism.

“Local people crave local information – and for me that’s the important thing; localism. Being connected to the community.

“If you walk down the street and you’ve done something wrong, the community will let you know.

“And those new papers, will need to prove to the locals that they are local.”


Independent: What do you think of journalism these days, compared to say 20-years ago?

“Oh, well – everyone’s a journalist, aren’t they?

“The key to the news is: it needs to be accurate; it needs to be truthful and it needs to be up to date.

“The fake news-cycle is alive and well, I can tell you; and at times it can be so damaging as well. It’s the world we’re living in.

“We’ve all got our political leanings, but we need to present the news fairly and balanced – that’s the key.

“Being a journalist, I think the important thing is to just present the facts and the news and let people make up their own minds.”


Independent: What are your thoughts regarding the repurposing of the old Grafton Gaol?

“I think that the old section (at the front entry to the gaol) will become a tourist attraction. The bottom section that floods which was used for the agriculture section, could be used by the hospital as it is in desperate need of car parking. The other section up the top (across the road from the hospital) I don’t really know, but I’m sure there will be some good ideas come forward out of the community about what that might look like and who might be able to use the facility there.

“Regarding the hospital; during an interview that I did in May with Premier Gladys Berejiklian, I asked the Premier about the election commitment that was given to upgrade the Grafton Base Hospital and would there be money in this year’s State budget for that upgrade.

“The Premier said that they had promised to keep all of their election commitments and if they said that they we’re upgrading the Grafton Base Hospital, well that’s definitely what they’ll be doing.

“So, it’s a process, and there needs to be money in the State budget and I believe there will be.


Independent: With the massive infrastructure changes that have taken place around the valley (new highway, bridges and gaol), what do you see ahead for the Clarence Valley?

We’ve had it tough: COVID-19 has presented challenges and the bushfires presented challenges, but we’ll come out of this stronger, I believe.

“I believe we are uniquely poised in the Clarence to take every opportunity that presents itself, with that highway.

“The land is zoned and been developed in Yamba, around James Creek and Junction Hill. There’s 187 house lots at Iluka and they’ll be snapped up as quick as anything. There is a lot of employment land here that is serviceable and relatively cheap.

“I believe that there are bright days ahead for the Clarence.

“I think that after COVID there will be people that see regional areas as a safe haven and will be keen to relocate away from the cities.

“It’s our time – this is the Clarence Valley’s time and we’re poised to take advantage of that. The best days are yet to come,” he said.