2021 was supposed to make up for the stressful 2020, better than the last, but once again thanks to COVID-19 survival mode continued. Horror crashes were just some of the grenades thrown at the Capes region last year. And just as it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse, so came the bushfire season — marked by a deliberately lit blaze which ripped through the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park in December. Despite the bout of bad luck however, the region had plenty of moments to celebrate. Calls to lower speeds on the tourist-heavy Caves Road were finally heard, hemp dreams became a reality as the State Government funnelled thousands into plans to bolster the sustainable environmental source and Fearn Avenue was officially closed to vehicles allowing the pedestrian mall to prosper. Here’s what made headlines during the first half of the year: JANUARY The year started bold with the Margaret River Chamber of Commerce and Industry launching plans to develop a business hub in the heart of town to be a one-stop-shop for businesses in the Capes. Election promises began to trickle in — Nationals WA called for the $1b surplus to be directed into the South West, Liberals promised more than $7m to Capes schools and Labor vowed to pour $3m into the wine industry. Within a week of the new year calls began to grow to keep Fearn Avenue festival precinct closed permanently to traffic. The calls were ultimately successful, with Fearn Avenue remaining a pedestrian mall the remainder of the year. The first contingent of international fruit pickers arrived on South West farms to ease the pressure of the State’s crippling labour shortage. The first life was lost on Margaret River roads for 2021 when a 23-year-old man was killed in a single car crash at notorious black spot along Caves Road sparking urgency for the long-touted, as-yet funded upgrade to the tourism route. The first of many 2021 delays to the direct flights from the Busselton-Margaret River Airport occurred thanks to the return of WA’s hard border, landing a devastating blow to the local tourism industry leaning heavily on the revenue brought in from the flights. The age-old debate on how to best manage sharks to avoid attacks was reignited after a spate of sightings, with one shark detected more than 15 times in nine days as it stalked Meelup Beach. FEBRUARY Businesses labelled the lockdown “heavy-handed” and warned millions of dollars would be lost if they continued throughout the year, having crippled the local economy, tourism and hospitality industries thanks to a week of cancellations with no Government warning or support. The Preserve Gnarabup protection group vowed to continue their fight against developer Luke Saraceni’s resort plans after the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River declined to support either side of the debate. Parking and traffic arrangements were once again a concern after the Shire of Augusta Margaret River reluctantly approved plans for a new supermarket in Cowaramup. The grisly details of Margaret River surfing veteran Antony Hardy’s vicious murder of David Graves came to light in the Supreme Court of WA for the first time since the 2018 murder. The court heard Hardy murdered his ex-wife’s husband, the owner of Witchcliffe Farm Service for 40 years, by striking him in the neck with a painter’s extension pole after an argument about parking his car. The trial was postponed for May. Capes leading realtor Joe White predicted the region’s housing crisis was set to worsen, claiming house values would jump 10 per cent and rentals 20 per cent. A prediction proved correct. The rental crisis saw backpacker numbers down at least 30 per cent, causing more headaches for the wineries being forced to promise higher pay rates to lure workers to the region. The Augusta-Margaret River region was declared a high-risk zone for the debilitating Ross River virus, due to a trebling of numbers in recent years. MARCH Rapids Landing issues dealt another blow to the local community as the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River conceded it was unable to force the developer to build a second access road. The calls had gained traction as long traffic lines snaked the road twice a day due to the high number of road users caused by the development. Leading winery Vasse Felix upped its stake in the region with the purchase of Margaret River Hotel. In a shock result, Warren-Blackwood’s former MP Terry Redman was ousted from Parliament with newcomer Labor candidate Jane Kelsbie snatching his long-held seat from him. She joined the 52 other Labor seats in the State Election landslide win, with Vasse MP Libby Mettam the only Opposition member left standing in the region. Nature Conservation Margaret River region came under scrutiny thanks to its decision to channel long sought-after grant money into a new chief executive role rather than on-the-ground projects. A video campaign was released to entice visitors to Margaret River, showcasing the enviable attractions and products of the region. Augusta-Margaret River Clean Community Energy continued to beaver away at plans for a hybrid renewable energy plant and signed a deal with a commercial clean energy entity Clear Energy to deliver financial and carbon savings across the Shire. APRIL “Complete and utter confusion” were the words sung across the region’s tourism and hospitality sector as Perth and Peel locals were able to swarm into the South West in a bid to avoid lockdown regulations, and cancellations poured in for long weekend activities. Flights connecting Singapore travellers directly with Busselton Margaret River Airport were floated by local tourism leaders as a way for the region to bounce back from the COVID-19 impact. Four sections of Caves Road had the speed limit dropped to 80km/h after years of lobbying to create safer roads in the tourist region. Councillors and members of the Preserve Gnarabup protest group were given an early glimpse of the final designs of the massive Westin Margaret River Resort and Spa development. Aussie icon Kylie Minogue was spotted in Margaret River as she shot a promo for her first Australian wine, a collaboration with Howard Park. Airbnb and short-stay accommodation was targeted by the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River when they proposed changes to police and local planning laws and encouraged landlords and accommodation providers to free up capacity for residents struggling to find a home. Land broke on Cowaramup’s long-promised tavern with news West Winds Gin would begin development. The WA Country Health Service and St John Ambulance refused to discuss the effects of a huge jump in ambulance call-outs in the region, as doctors raise serious concerns about issues at the Margaret River Hospital. MAY The region’s business community was bypassed for State Government lockdown compensation, despite the massive losses experienced in the latest three-day pandemic snap shutdown of Perth and Peel. The full extent of the labour crisis was laid bare at Vasse Felix when head chefs and business owners called an emergency summit revealing they were being forced to trade at 50 per cent capacity and shell out thousands of dollars in recruitment ads. The hotly criticised SMART drumline trial to deter shark attacks was scrapped, sparking criticism of the trial’s running over the past two years where blame of its lack of success was pinned on mismanagement. The 53-year-old Margaret River man, Francesco Bonanno, who sparked a 12-hour siege in Bunbury by taking a shotgun and barricading himself in his bedroom, escaped prison time when his three-year sentence was suspended thanks to a guilty plea. Aaron Cockman, the father of four children murdered by their grandfather in an Osmington murder suicide three years ago, renewed calls for an inquiry into the “expensive and emotionally draining court proceedings” which he believed played a significant role in the death of his family. Timed parking was back on the agenda for the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River which sparked fury from the community. The motion was eventually shelved months later to be revisited in the future. JUNE Almost $400,000 was poured into an innovative new material based on hemp in Margaret River, making plans for a hemp-based, concrete-like material dream a reality for Margaret River Hemp Co.’s Gary Rogers. Shock waves rippled through the small Cowaramup community at the loss of Dylan Winfield who tragically died in a car accident, leaving behind his high school sweetheart and two children. Fines for illegal campers surged to more than six times their pre-pandemic levels as Shire rangers reported Perth visitors were camping rough on the sly either to flout accommodation rates or lack of planning for their trips down south. Councillors rejected moves to tighten up approvals for Airbnb’s and short-stay accommodations in the CBD, siding with developers and local investors who fiercely contested the plans. Margaret River music teacher Hugh Vincent Veldon admitted to uploading child abuse material to Facebook and Yahoo. Homicide detectives ruled out foul play after 39-year-old woman Rachel Jewell was found dead beside a walking trail next to Bussell Highway by a couple in their 50’s.