Stack of Tablets
This stack of tablets is revolutionising the way the team at Cockburn gets the job done.


We don’t often look back over our shoulder at our working pasts, but when we do, we’re often surprised. As time flies, the arena we operate within shifts and we tend to take it in stride without paying much attention. If you’re not convinced this happens, try explaining faxes or beepers to the newest person on your team and watch their reaction.

Alison Waters’ career in horticulture is a good example, though it should be said up front that she is someone who clearly welcomes change where she can see the benefits. “If you work smarter then you work better.” She’s just recently walked onto the team at WA’s City of Cockburn, as Parks Operations Co-ordinator. But the first taste she had of this sort of role was back in 2009, three councils ago, and about 900 kilometres north of Perth.

Since finishing her honours year at Curtin University, Alison had been working for a biotech company; working on bushland species and their potential for producing saleable products: medicines, flavour enhancers and the like. But payment in shares wasn’t practical so she applied for the job at the Shire of Carnarvon, and got it. "I was twenty-three, I had eight staff and together we were in charge of the usual as well as the airport, the sewerage ponds, the cemetery, the tip and the pound. It was a great place to cut your teeth: you quickly got to know everyone in town."

Working remotely, improvising is the tool you use when you don’t have the resources you need for each situation. "We had to add a bag of Copper Sulphate to treat an outbreak of blue-green algae, so instead of heading out onto the water in the dingy I decided to use our fire engine, mix it in the tank and apply it with the cannon." Being resourceful also meant getting what you need for the job and with only two hardware shops in town, "I did what every young person does, I went looking through online catalogues." This was before shopping carts, so the actual purchase involved a phone call, but it was the beginning of how a lot of procurement transpires today.

In the years since, after Carnarvon, Alison worked for the City of Belmont a few kilometres east of Perth City, then until a month or so ago, the City of Melville near Fremantle. Being back in the well-supplied and serviced metro area for some years now, purchasing has followed more defined paths. Tenders and quotes are standard with assistance from the Western Australian Local Government Association’s bible, the Preferred Suppliers Directory

Cilantro Park
Cilantro Park, part of the very new Calleya Estate in Banjup – a great example of a caliber of project achieved by the team from the City of Cockburn.
New Cilantro Park

This means everyone’s buying from the same pool of resources, but it gets interesting when you look at the story behind the purchase order. Four white hard hats delivered to Alison are necessary if she and her colleagues are to be able to inspect a submersible irrigation pump that’s being crane lifted out of the bore column at Port Coogee. The initiator tablets – a fertiliser and insecticidal combo – are being trialled on an Agonis flexuosa which a resident flagged with Council as suffering from borer. The traffic cones are for the crews which are up and about clearing tree branches while it’s still dark in the early mornings and another nice piece of kit is the clinometer with its laser rangefinder and height metre. “We know exactly how tall a tree is when specifying an elevated work platform for the arborists and the irrigation crew can also use it to measure distances.” Some of these items were ordered from Greenway and also from other WALGA suppliers. The Smartpen is an impressive gizmo that has Alison’s respect: “I can write notes and a digital copy can be sent to my email or desktop.” Or the LED rechargeable beacons that Alison and the team spotted at the recent Safety in Action show.

But perhaps the most impressive purchase – and an indication of what a progressive council Cockburn is - is the City’s introduction of smart tablets to staff. Don’t sweat the detail, but imagine if you could touch a screen and instantly be able to access real time data – the sort of information you would love to have to make good decisions, fast. “It lets me see everything – payroll, finance, assets, human resources, work scheduling, aerial maps, everything.” This is possible because everyone is out there doing their scheduled maintenance, logging things as they go, while the tablets constantly update the information through WIFI. For example, assets that need attention are noted, the work is scheduled and when completed, the request is closed. If a resident brings an item to the attention of the team, the system generates an email to let them know it has been actioned and completed. All of this is possible and so much more - Alison is clearly thrilled to be going about her working day with the tablet-based integrated system.

Looking back, she looks very fondly at her now somewhat traditional career beginnings in Carnarvon, but she’s equally happy to be working in what she describes as “a very upbeat council with a modern approach”.

All Days Work
All in a days work - inspecting a submersible pump as it’s lifted out of the bore column at Port Coogee.