AA – Owning Land in the Shire of Dardanup & Subsequent Treatment by Government Agencies.

I get the distinct feeling that they are instilled with a sense of omniscience, but lacking a moral compass ?

In mid 2001 my then partner Dr Alan McGregor (Vet) and I purchased a nearly twelve acre property between Picton and Dardanup township. The property was and is to this day, a beautifully maintained small hobby farm.

Advertised for sale through Barr & Standley, the agent, Sport Buswell, was a good friend of Alan’s. Sport and Robin Malatesta, the then vendor, walked us around the property explaining that we had use of  the land up to the road (opposite Koppers) which was subject of debate over it’s status as a river reserve. Apparently the river had been rerouted at some point in it’s history, so it was not deemed a natural river course through the property, but man made, therefore legally not eligible to be vested as a river reserve. If we wanted ultimate clarification on that issue it would need to be through the courts. We were told that even as it stood, since 1989 Malatesta’s had the use of the land on either side of the river and it was developed and fenced to reflect that as being the case.

The property was zoned General Farming and being more than ten acres we could apply to build a second residence.

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Prior to purchase we did our due diligence. We both attended at the Dardanup Shire offices with a copy of the then current “Bunbury 2030 Plan”. In this publication it showed the future proposed land use for the Shire. The property we were hoping to buy, we were told by the two Shire representatives we saw that day, would be remaining General Farming with a remote possibility that it may become deferred industrial at some point in the distant future. They considered that to be an unlikely outcome, as the parcel of land was sandwiched between the river and the railway reserve with two large lakes in the middle which had been excavated in 1990 by the then owners Robin and Maxine Malatesta.

With all these details established and on this understanding, we proceeded with the purchase of the property now known as “LochWind”and around July 2001 took possession.

At the rear boundary of our property was a roughly 35 acre dairy farm situated on Martin Pelusey Road. We had an abundance of wildlife. The two lakes were fully stocked, one with Marron and the smaller lake with fish which I think were Silver Perch. From 2001 to around 2010 I/we had peaceful enjoyment of our home. At the end of 2005 my partner moved out to live with a younger woman. Alan kept our two businesses and their premises in Blair Street that I had invested in when I sold up my racing stable in 1996. I kept LochWind.

In or around 2010 I  received a letter notifying me that I was likely to be rezoned industrial and that an EPA assessment was being carried out to see if the area was inhabited by ringtail possums. If possums were not present then the area would all be re zoned. As I knew there were an abundance of ring tailed possums on our property, thus demonstrably resident in this area, I believed I would not be re zoned. After a considerable period of time I received a notification with a booklet from the EPA saying NO ring tailed possums to be found, so the industrial re zoning had been given EPA approval. That was clearly a total fabrication as there was then and is now in 2017, still ring tailed possums on my property.

A few years after there was a fire along the river banks on the roadside where my power pole was situated. The power pole exploded causing the bushfire. The fire brigade cut the fence to gain access. I then had to claim from Western Power to get the fence replaced. The result of an inquiry by Western Power was that a ring tailed possum had climbed the pole causing it to burst into flames cremating the possum. Funny that could happen really as there are no ring tailed possums in this area according to the EPA. So I had to pay for the fence to be replaced. At that time I believed that land to be part of my property and maintained it as such with regard to firebreaks, fencing and weed control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I did not wish to be re zoned to Industrial from General Farming. I contacted Nola Marino and went to see her in her office at the time situated in Eaton. I explained that I wanted to be able to build a second house for my aging infirm mother who lived alone in NSW. That I was frightened of being rated at Industrial rates and having to give up my home due to not being able to afford the outgoings that came with the re zoning.

I also had John Gardiner and another councillor Keith ? (who died that year) attend my property to discuss my concerns. John Gardiner was always a very honourable and trustworthy man, who bent over backwards to help where he could. John assured me that I would continue to be rated at General Farming rates as previously, until such time as I elected to develop the land or the land was sold. This promise held good until John died. The following year my zoning was changed to Industrial from General Farming, re valued and rates substantially increased.

I was advised that the “Bunbury 2030 Plan”, the only document available in 2001, for us to base a decision on to purchase this property, no longer existed as it had now been replaced by  “The Greater Bunbury Regional Scheme”. So the goal posts had been shifted after I purchased the property. Once the property was re zoned Industrial, living on the property is no longer an approved use. Running a dog kennel and cattery is no longer an approved use. Certainly I had the right of pre existing use to continue my current business, BUT I cannot sell it as a family home and going concern, because once sold the right of pre existing use is defunct. If my home burns down I cannot get a permit to rebuild it. So this has had a dramatic impact on my life and investment in building my business from 2001 to 2013/14. It made my continuing to build the business pointless, so I have basically closed down since 2012/13 as there was little point in putting the effort into building up an asset you cannot sell.

In 2014 my rates increased from 2013/14 $1609.28 to 2014/15 $2599.54 and now in 2017 they are $3286.89. For these rates that I pay, I receive nothing tangible, I do not even have any street lighting. My property is no more developed now than it was in 2006. Land values have fallen since the GFC yet the valuation of my property has risen from an unimproved land value in 2014 of $281,000  to being valued at $553,000 in 2017 and rated accordingly. When I questioned the shire about this in 2014 they gave me John Benson’s phone number and said to ask him why. That they had not increased the rates, the land value had risen! I then spoke to John Benson the Valuer General. John said he was sick of the shire “setting landholders onto him” when he advised me that the Dardanup Shire had specifically requested that he re value  around ten properties near mine. He said in his opinion it was a blatant money grab by the shire. I asked why he did not go to the press about it and he said that would cost him his job.

Once zoned Industrial I was expected to slash all my feed to comply with the industrial zoning. The Shire did eventually agree that I just continue to install firebreaks as I had done under General Farming regulations. But that issue caused stress at the time as I was not having feed for my horses the year I was obliged to do that.

Once the development of the industrial estate by APH was underway, life at LochWind changed dramatically. The land behind me was cleared of 35 acres of trees and then levelled. What had once been a gradual hill down to the river with good run off of rain, that was now flattened with minimal run off. During the development process the river was dammed and the water used on the work site. My lake water level dropped dramatically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This meant that I was now living on a foul smelling mud hole for half the year, instead of a pretty lake. Hundreds of fully mature marron that Robin Malatesta had grown and protected for years had just walked off or died. Similarly the fish he had stocked the second lake with all died. That meant thousands of dollars of losses for me. From 2001 to 2011 the level in that lake had been constant. In summer I maybe pumped for 24 hours into the lake over an entire summer. I had a shire representative  (Neil Nicholson, I think.) come out to see the damage. I was informed  the water table had dropped in the area. I asked how Morrisey Homestead’s lake could remain full yet was only a few kilometres away, but mine was suddenly ten foot lower that ever before. That it must be to do with the industrial estate re routing, damming then putting an industrial spillway on the river. The official Shire response was “No, nothing to do with the Industrial Estate. My lake is low because I am on a different aquifer to Morrisey”. When I accessed CSIRO and other maps that I gained access to, I am on the same aquifer as I always suspected.

The result is I had to spend over $3000 to be able to run water from a bore into the lake and also pay huge ongoing power bills to run the pump in summer. I still cannot keep this lake full as it was for many years, prior to the industrial estate being developed by APH. Did the shire care about me or my loss of assets and amenity? Not a chance, they were simply focussed on 39 new industrial blocks that could all pay rates to the shire. Their duty of care to me as a rate  payer was pretty much non existent.

Add to that I lived for over a year with sandstorms that filled my home with sand and dirt. Ruined my carpets, curtains, pool pump and my air conditioner. Filled my home and business with dirt every single day and night for months. A well over 6 foot Irish man from APH told me in front of two shire representatives, I needed to learn to co operate and turn off my air conditioner, even if it was 40 degrees.

 

 

 

 

 

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Then when the Shire finally made APH send round the cleaners, they sent he cheapest they could find who just about wrecked my home in the process !

Life just started to regain some semblance of normality when the Bunbury Outer Ring Road project started.

A chap whose name I think was Les Hunt lived next door to me at that time. When Main Roads wanted land for the construction of the Bunbury Outer Ring Road (BORR) they purchased an acre and a half of land from Les for around $265,000 (the figure Les told me). Then had the temerity to offer me $60,000 for an acre ! Sorry, not interested. I don’t want to sell. Over a few months they were getting pushy and I wasn’t budging. I was getting very angry they wanted to “steal” my land. I suggested they find me another acre in Dardanup and I would swap them for that. Yeah right, of course you can’t get an acre in Dardanup for $60,000 can you ? I eventually asked Noel Jones from Elders to handle it all for me. The final offer they made was $75,000 and I was not keen at all to take it. I assume the Shire and Main Roads work hand in hand, because I was told by the Shire that if I did not sell the acre to Main Roads I would never get planning permission for that land so it was useless to me. I was only running two horses on the land, but that grazing was and still is important to me, although today there is only about half the area due to the road. At 11 am on the 13th April 2012 Brett Belstead and Gerry Zoetelief from Main Roads sat in my house in front of a witness who was here visiting me. All four of us discussed the potential land sale and these two men promised that no one would touch my land until a price was agreed on. At 2pm that afternoon when the witness was still here either Fulton Hogan or Main Roads put the machines through my fences, knocked over all the trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I was then told I may as well sell now because now I have no fences, no trees and no feed. Main Roads blamed Fulton Hogan and Fulton Hogan said Main Roads told them to do it. THAT is criminal behaviour, but they won and they always knew they would. I sold for $75,000. To soften the blow they told me that when the road was finished they would re fence and I could have continued use of those paddocks as I had done since 2001.

That all changed in October 2017 when I was told to remove the horses for management reasons. Many of the small holdings along this road include river reserve, yet are still running stock on the reserve, no management issue there. Why am I being singled out to remove my stock after 17 years of use ?

Under my stewardship until 2012 when Main Roads told me the land was no longer mine I kept it slashed, weed free and installed firebreaks. Yet since 2012 when under the Shire’s control it has never once had a firebreak installed, it is now rampant with westonia which have encroached on to my property and is infested with rabbits. I have for years now asked the Shire to control their vermin on the river reserve now in their control. This is the damage I am confronted with every morning. If The Shire does not control rabbits on land under it’s control it does not matter how much time, effort or money I spend I have no chance at all. Recently Leschanault Biosecurity Group helped to get the shire to do something about the rabbits and then all of a sudden David Mort tells me to remove my horses. Clearly a pay back ? Non of the neighbours who run stock on the reserve have been asked to remove their livestock.

 

 

 

 

 

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The blackberry which I had eradicated up till 2012 is now ballistic under the care of the government/Shire.

Since 2001 no one has wanted access to this land, yet this week I am told the Shire may need to access the land for management purposes. That it may be an issue in future  “if” they cannot get hold of me to move the horses when they want to get in for management reasons.

Really !

I am meant to believe this is the end game. I doubt it, they are up to something that will prove detrimental to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos above are when I cared for the land up to the time the new road went through.

The photos below are when the land was cared for by the Shire. Zero maintenance, no weed control and no firebreaks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Some of the other lies they told to get what they wanted. They would re plant all the trees along the road that they had destroyed as they had to provide green credits as compensation for the road. The trees substantially dulled the traffic noise in my home, although Main Roads told me that was not true. Once removed you could not even hear the TV for traffic noise and at night sleeping was near on impossible. I asked that they double glaze the front of my home facing the road, but they would not pay for that. Thicker glass to my bedroom was all they would pay for. I had to pay the rest along the front. They have never re planted even one shrub let alone a tree along the road to dull the noise and it is now 5 years.

So now the size of the land I can use has probably reduced by a third since 2001 yet my rates and unimproved land value continue to soar annually totally unchecked.

Christmas 2013 – The next contentious or should I say down right sneaky Shire related issue, was when there was an application to build a Mosque in Bunbury. Ratepayers in Bunbury were less than impressed. Bunbury decided it was not in their best interests to proceed. Then an application was lodged with the Dardanup Shire. I may not be a 100% accurate with all the facts but this is very close. The Shire notified one block owner each side of the proposed Mosque location, which was basically just off the corner of Martin Pelusey Road and Harris Road. Then as per the law they had to advertise this fact and they wanted it to slide through as a “Fait Accompli”. So they advertised it over the Xmas New Year period when everyone was on holiday, hoping no one would notice.  One of the two notified people rallied the troops and a disgruntled group thankfully turned up at the next Shire meeting. One person who attended told me that Mick Bennet told them they could not comment and it was already a “done deal”. No one was having any of that and a larger group was notified and pushed back against the Mosque which did not come to fruition. Had  Bennett and the Shire had it’s way we would probably now have a Mosque less than half a kilometre from my home. No Thanks. That was devious sneaky and underhand in the extreme and was in no way caring for your current ratepayers interests. No one was impressed and no one has or will forget what you tried to do behind our backs.

Back to issues that directly impact me and my property. When John Gardiner was Shire President I never heard a bad word spoken about the Shire and I think I am on record once or twice writing to thank the Shire for being always helpful and constructive even if the result was not exactly what you hoped for, you never felt walked over, unheard or used and abused.

Since 2001 I have had a dog kennel and cattery at LochWind. I always had a good relationship with the Ranger of the day. Initially David Stewart then Daniel Gunston. You could not have asked for two better people, who would always go the extra mile to be of service or help in a very positive manner to overcome any issues. Daniel Gunston was dismissed after over 11 years and a friend of one of the executives was “given” the job. We ended up with a new Ranger who had been dismissed from Harvey and frozen out of Bunbury. This person on his first visit caused chaos here. Told me by mail after his inspection that my cattery was not licensed and neither was the building. A building that was here when the property was purchased in 2001. From 2001 when I was granted a kennel permit for 30 dogs, until Daniel Gunston left, I paid $50 a year for my licences. All of a sudden  the Shire splits the Kennel and Cattery in to two entities and now charges me $50 for a Cattery Permit, $50 as a registered Cattery operator. $50 for my Kennel permit and $50 as a Kennel operator. A total of $200 a year from $50 a year. The Rangers have tried to tell me my own dogs also need to be individually registered on top of my kennel licence fees. Initially I applied for a permit to breed my own dogs. It was only in 2005/6 I applied for a 30 dog boarding kennel licence. My own dogs were always included in the kennel permit. More recently I have been asked to supply all microchip numbers which I have done voluntarily along with their Australian National Kennel Council registration numbers. Then the bar was raised, I was asked to supply information on travel details of dogs. My dogs are show dogs and may fly in for a weekend showing as they did in March this year or they may be in WA one week, SA the next and Victoria the week after that. When the bitches have whelped in SA and the litter is weaned they come home for a well earned rest and may stay for anything from 3 months to a year. This year I had a bitch go to NSW for six weeks then come home. The most practical thing is they are covered under the umbrella of my kennel licence which is what has always happened. More recently there has been a push for all that to change.

To add insult to injury I was told to pay $147 planning permission for the shed that is now the cattery, which was until 2006 my Collie Kennel. I contacted each Councillor as well as the Shire President Mick Bennett. The ONLY one who acknowledged my correspondence was Carmel Boyce who kindly took it on herself to seek out my initial application in 2001 for the permit and proved the shed had already been granted planning permission when the property was in Malatesta’s ownership. I was asked by Carmel at the meeting I attended if I wanted the $147 refunded. My answer was “clearly the Shire is more desperate for money than me, keep it”.

Up until that time, I had a letter with the Shire stating that Daniel Gunston and prior to that David Stewart could enter my property at any time even if no one was home and look at any aspect they wished. That is respect for the person doing their job. With the new Rangers I wrote rescinding that permission. That says it all. I try very hard to comply with the rules and be helpful but I feel pushed at every step since the departure of John Gardiner and Daniel Gunston. It is just a money hunt now and looking for every opportunity to “grub you”. Not impressed at all. Like begets like.

August 2011. Floods and responsibility for maintaining the river – My insurance company would no longer cover me for flooding after this and told me it was the Shire’s responsibility to keep the river free flowing and without obstructions. The Shire said responsibility for this laid with Main Roads. Main Roads sooled me onto Waters and Rivers who in turn redirected me to The Shire. The usual methodology, run people around in circles for long enough and they give up and go away ! NOT GOOD ENOUGH !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am now left wondering just what is coming next.

I am being, like many ratepayers unfairly rated out of existence.

My land parcel has shrunk, I am entitled to the Seniors Discount yet I pay a more.

Where does this end ?

 

THESE ARE MY RATE INCREASES BY YEAR

My rates… have now risen around 150% in 8 years. 

2010/11 $1295.93

2011/12 $1447.73

2012/13 $1479.81

2013/14 $1609.28

2014/15 $2599.54

2015/16 $2895.58

2016/17 $2981.84

2017/18 $3286.89

My unimproved land value has risen nearly 100% in four years bucking the local trend.

$281,000 in 2013/14

$494,000 in 2014/15

$553,000 in 2017/18 

 

 

 

 

 

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