Marlborough’s military minefield
Landholders in the firing line of the proposed expansion of the defence department’s Shoalwater Bay military training ground in central Queensland say they are not much wiser following one-on-one appointments with officials last week.
According to the federal member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, the government was progressing with plans for the Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and the accompanying expansion of the training ground along with troop numbers.
“It’s a long term process, but defence is keen to be open as possible, so that local property owners are fully aware of future plans for the area and have the opportunity to ask questions,” she said.
Barb and Rick Bowman own the 4046ha Lorna Vale property on the northern edge of the defence facility and say the session was “pretty vague” and left them unsure of timelines.
“I can’t see anything happening for a couple of years, what with community impact assessments, but it still leaves the Marlborough community without much future,” Barbara said.
“Michelle Landry says it’s bringing money to Rockhampton but it takes people like us, with three generations on the property, out of the economy.
“The Singapore army is only going to be here for 18 weeks a year, and I assume they’ll buy in bulk, whereas we support small business here.
“The post office is going to lose a mail run, and I’m sure the Singapore army aren’t going to have kids in pony club. We’re losing a community here.”
Barb said that despite an active bush telegraph, they were still stunned when they received their defence department letter, to realise the extent of the land that was wanted, and the amount of cattle that would be taken out of the equation.
“I heard (state member for Rockhampton) Bill Byrne explaining that the military wanted open country because most wars these days are fought on that sort of terrain.
“It’s ironic that we’ve had to fight the government to clear our land, and now people want it because it’s cleared.”
A spokesman for Mr Byrne, who is currently on leave, said while he was supportive of the expansion of Shoalwater Bay, he was concerned at the loss of productive agricultural land, and would be speaking with AgForce on the matter.
He said Mr Byrne wasn’t consulted prior to the announcement of the military expansion, and so it was hard to know at this stage whether it was a good plan or not.
Barb said that good plan or not, her family couldn’t see the defence department being stopped.
In addition to Lorna Vale, Barb and Rick operate Waratah, closer to Marlborough, growing heifers out there before shifting them to their seaside home.
“Without one, the other is no good,” Barb said. “There’s no dams on the other block, and we can’t use it if there’s no-one checking it every couple of days.”
She and Rick were also dubious about what the exodus of more than 20 families from the area, all looking for more land, would do to the property market they’d be operating in.
“Our coastal country is under tropical influences. If we’re forced to look inland, I doubt we’ll find land that’s as safe, rainfall-wise.
“And here, we’ve got Gracemere for sales, abattoirs at Rockhampton and Mackay, and molasses from Mackay.
“It’s all hard to replace, no matter how much money they give us.”
One of those irreplaceable items is the ashes of a former owner of the property, and a monument to them, that family members are currently able to access.
“I can’t imagine they’d be allowed to visit if the army owned the land,” Barb said.
The pair, along with dozens of others in the Rockhampton and Charters Towers region, are now in a limbo of not wanting to spend any more on property maintenance, as they await news of their fate.
Barb is not sure what help is available to them, apart from AgForce, who organised a meeting last week, with a solicitor and land valuer, as well as north Queensland grazier, Don Heatley, who spoke about his own resumption experience.
“He talked to us about what we should do to ready ourselves,” Barb said.
“We don’t really know what the answer is, we’re just trying to make the best of it.
“We’ve never had to do this before. We’re winging it.”