Chapter 32 ......Brockson's Talley
Nestled in the foothills of the Gold Coast hinterland is the sleepy hollow of Tallebudgeera. Roads wind round the natural curvature of the terrain, allowing motorists the opportunity to take in the tranquillity of the area. It is a haven for ‘hobby farmers’ and gives rise to roadside craft stalls. Scattered among the pockets of the valley are hamlets of new homes, that afford a temporary respite to those who seek a quieter lifestyle. To some who have spent a lifetime in the area, even this is an unwanted intrusion. From time to time drifters wander in to this environment to live with friends or settle with a job in town or a dole cheque.
Slowly enterprise has reared its ‘ugly’ head in these parts, creating something of a ‘them and us ‘ mentality.‘ Them’ being those with long hair, unshaven appearances, bare feet and sloppy looking women dragging along a kid or two. Now and again, they will be seen riding in some beaten up old rust bucket that was king in the era of Bill Halley and the Comets. The new breed, the ‘us’ factor, saw opportunities in the valley, purchased land and set up leisure outlets for those, who could afford the time to fulfil their chosen bent and at the same time enjoyed the tranquillity; a tranquillity that embraces the senses of all men. Today, some of those entrepreneurs, roll up to their business ventures sporting ritzy cars and their ubiquitous mobile telephones; the signature of the new fashion ‘yuppie’. Perched on a rise, overlooking a natural basin that acted as a natural water sink, that retained sufficient moisture to create a swamp, and home to a multitude of insects that have a tendency to bite, was a caravan park. In its heyday it probably boasted a higher standard, than it did in its death-throes. In November 1990, it was ‘home’ to some three hundred people. I say ‘home’ because here was a enclave of Australians from all walks of life, who had come to the autumn of their lives and through dint of some sort of adversity, had found themselves living close to the breadline. Many had been there for years, attracting younger folk; some friends, some relatives. To those who spend their lives in more familiar surroundings, a caravan park may seem a last resort to live in, yet it remains to thousands of Australians a fact of life. Given their meagre resources, they retain a degree of independence along with an acceptable tolerance of dignity. In this cloistered environment, friendships can be cemented or inversely, tensions can boil over. It requires a special sort of person to cope with these variables and if they cannot settle in to the life, then there are ways to bring about change.
Tally Valley Caravan Park, was more a home for permanent resident, than itinerants. For all it provided a sanctuary; a piece of land where they could set down their modest abode and rest easily.
Now all that had changed. They were out in the open; alone, vulnerable and at the mercy of men, whose only interest was making money.
I drove down into the valley one day, because one of the tenants had rung me and asked me for help. It would have been easy to have fobbed her off and said “look here, this is a matter for your local councillor, or the parliamentary representative. I can’t do anything and anyway, that is what you pay them for”, but in the event I said I would see what I could do. Anxious to test public opinion on their reaction I button-holed a fellow who pulled up outside the nine-hole golf course in his sporty little Honda. It seemed he was the proprietor, who had worked ‘bloody hard’ to build up his business. His reaction to my sentiment about the plight of three hundred Australians, about to be pushed of ‘their’ land, to make way for another Japanese golf course, was short and to the point.
“Give me the bulldozer and I’ll get rid of the bunch of bloody no-hopers for them”. No sentimentality here, no compassion. “These useless bastards had the same opportunity as the rest of us; if they had worked as hard as he had they would not be living there. No mate I’ve got no time for any of them. I’m grateful that the Japanese have come”.
It was a pragmatic approach, stripped of all the hypocrisy of sweet talk, yet I could not help but feel that it was a sentiment held by many Australians. ‘Bugger you George, I’m all right.’ As it turned out, my friend was perfectly correct. The camp dwellers were there, not so much because of misfortune, but by the misfortune that the had help create.. A dozen or so had crowded into the small comfortable caravan that Shirley called home. They were a motley lot, by and large and quite candidly when they started to speak out, I could only marvel at the plight that they were in and yet quite unprepared to want to fight back. The attitude ‘but what can we do, was in fact a reflection of the wider malaise within the community. Three hundred people resided in that close knit community and if they had had the steel to stand together, they could have provided the catalyst for change. All they wanted was someone to help them find a way out of their dilemma, someone to hand feed them and wipe their chins. In the end, those who were powerless to do it themselves were helped on their way by the proprietors son. He towed them away to any park that would have them. So why did I ever get involved?
Some months previous, word began to spread that the area was going to be developed on a massive scale. Stories began to emerge that the caravan park not part of the original plan was to be sold. Speculation had it that the ‘Japanese’, were going to build another golf course. In the days when the Albert Shire rubber-stamped just about any proposal that smacked at a Japanese golf course, this was a pretty safe assertion. As one who was openly slamming the wholesale sell-out of Australian land, I had to be very sure that if I pursued any line at all my facts had to be sound. One of the great difficulties in establishing what the Japanese owned was caused by their propensity for giving their companies English names. This was no accident and whilst I recognise that there are ways and means of establishing who owns what, unless there is someone sympathetic to your cause behind the counter, it can be a costly process. It was never my lot to find out specifically who owned what, but rather, establish whether there was Japanese participation in the project or site.
The Albert Shire were certainly not going to ‘confirm or deny’. I could go through the proper channel and even that I was told would not always reveal that sort of information I sought. I went to the council armed with the name Brockson. I came away completely unenlightened feeling that I had encroached upon sacred ground.
Standing on the main road that sweeps behind the caravan park, it became painfully evident that the property could not remain as a caravan park. It was to all appearances nothing more than an eyesore which would do nothing to enhance the project that was envisaged. To me it had to be for sale. After a little detective work, the threads of ownership of the caravan park began to come together. Yes it had been sold, about 12 months prior to my enquiries . The previous owner as far as I could glean was liked by the majority of tenants and most were disappointed that he had sold out. If my information was correct, then he had been approached by Japanese interests to sell, but had declined. Why had he declined when anyone it seemed who had property to sell prayed secretly for a Japanese purchaser. The story I was told, does not square with the norm, but if it was true then he simply could not bring himself to do so. Apparently he has personal reasons and these were greater than his desire to sell to the Japanese. If this is true, then he was a man among few.
When the property did pass out of his hands, it was bought by a company registered in New South Wales. The owner a man in his 70’s lived in Tweed Heads, was not prepared to speak about the deal. It was this information given to a local editor of a newspaper that led to inquires being made over the border that revealed that Brocksons were in fact a Japanese company. Of the five million shares, all but two were owned by ........Hishiki, the others were held by local corporate lawyers. Whatever was going on behind the scenes, the people in the caravan park were uneasy. And why shouldn’t they be, for they knew not from one day to another whether there peace was going to be shattered. One person who knew more than he was prepared to let on was the park manager, who was son-in-law to the present interim owner. By the time the people within the park received there notices to vacate, most of what I had gleaned was obtained because of the stand and interest I had taken. To that point I had no reason to become involved in this matter. As a bystander it angered me to think that caring Australians could stand aside whilst these people were being pushed out of their homes to make way for resorts. Perhaps it is a peculiarity in the Australian psyche, that will see people lie down in front of bulldozers, because a few trees are to be felled or that some developer is ruining the habitat of a few koalas. They not only risk life and limb, but run the gauntlet of law enforcement agencies, just doing their job.
With these notices in their hand and at the request of Shirley, the distressed tenant, I asked that they all band together to highlight this matter. It was my opinion that if a concerted stand was made, then these three hundred souls could illustrate to the rest of Australia the down side to the much sought after foreign investment. In essence it appeared to me as though a Japanese investor was prepared to push 300 Australians off what was rightfully their own land. It had the potential to galvanise public opinion and effect the change that we had been seeking and that was namely that only Australians have freehold title to land. Unfortunately the plan was over the heads of those assembled. They wanted to stay put or be given a new site. In essence they wanted as I have said before, be spoon-fed. Effort was no part of their plan, confrontation much less. My plan would not have solved their immediate discomfort other than to prolong the agony of removal, but from the wider perspective it may well have provided a catalyst for greater public action. It was a lack-lustre group that I left, but they agreed to me contacting the media, with a view to highlighting the issue. Hardly had I arrived home than word came to me that they were not going to be given time to go. As from that day it was all out. When I returned a day or so later the park only had about eighty tenants left and these were being ‘assisted’ by the park manager. Not only were these people angry, but they were frightened. To angry to speak out or stand up, yet terrified that if they were seen to be part of an action against what was happening, then a worst fate would befall them. It was in this state that they opted to come back after they had been delivered to their new address and make their protest. Oh yes they would come back and parade outside the complex and make their anger known. How many would be prepared to make the effort? We reckoned on 100 and made it known to the media, that the protest would take place at a given time.
On the morning in question, the media turned up, five of our group took time off to help and six passers by joined the gathering. Of the park tenants two, yes two’ out of three hundred cared enough to bother. Caught in a moment of utter confusion the park manager admitted that the complex had been sold to a Japanese developer. There was no mistaking that he was not at all amused with my involvement in the unfolding saga and when one of his employees endeavoured to run me down with a truck returning from towing yet another van off the site, an incident that was graphically caught and shown by NRTV, it became evident that the matter had probably got out of hand. At that particular moment, I could also feel for him and his father-in-law. We were told that the park was costing money and that they had no option, but to sell.
I wondered after it was all over, if this man had simply been a go between buyer. A buyer who would have no qualms about selling to the Japanese. Did the former owner, sell to him after a deal was made with the ultimate purchaser, to finance an interim buyer? If this was the case and I am not suggesting it was, then was the finance for that arrangement made available by the developer. Whatever transpired the property changed hands for two million dollars and I don’t believe that the old chap in Tweed made a penny.
We had our protest, we slammed the council for pouring lavish praise on the ‘environmentally sensitive’ developer that councillor Merv Craig had called him. We opposed the eviction of people from their land, but in the end we were dismissed as irrelevant. Today, the land lies desecrated, much in the manner of another scheme that was given the seal of approval by the Albert Shire council, Sapphire Lakes.
Nobody listened to the 'racist', 'xenophob' the 'zealot'. All they heard was the sound of all that beautiful Japanese money. The people we listened to are the leaders of this country. And they will be forever safe in the knowledge that when it comes to standing up and being counted, those they lord over lack the spine to fight back.