Fame Cove - Who Cares?


tonyhSun, 30/08/2020 - 9:37pm

Fame Cove then

A question was asked at Saturday’s residents’ meeting as to why NACCAi is involved in the developments at Fame Cove if they really have nothing to do with us and don’t affect us. 

It occurred to me that there are probably quite a lot of people in our village who, for one reason or another, have little or no knowledge about what’s been going on.

Without going into too much detail, I’ll try to clear the air a bit.

Fame Cove is a misnomer for 400 hectares of headland on the eastern side of the Cove. It is privately run by a company called Tea Garden Farms and its billionaire owner who purchased it in 2006. It is considered to be the last piece of pristine and undeveloped bushland in Port Stephens. It is zoned for farming use and the owner can, of course, use the land for agricultural and/or development purposes. All he has to do is comply with the same rules and regulations as as any farmer or developer.

Unfortunately, though, the owner has shown little respect for rules and, right from his earliest days, he started to breach so many regulations that he has found himself in court several times resulting in considerable fines.

So, why did we feel we had to get involved? What was it to do with us, and why did we form the Fame Cove Action Group? Two reasons.

Firstly, we could see our local environment was under threat.

Right from the early days, there were reports of goats from the property being left to die through dehydration, their carcases floating around the oyster leases in Cove waters. Of black swans being shot for food consumption by the employees of the owner. A badly constructed dam on the property breeched its walls and flooded Nanabah Creek with silt which polluted the crtitical Fame Cove sanctuary zone. The owner bulldozed trees into the same creek, blocking it. He has bulldozed tracks all over the property which created sedimentary outflows into North Arm Cove, polluting the Cove waterway. The same tracks cut ugly and very damaging scars into the landscape which are still very visible from our village and Bundabah. Few of the tracks were necessary to support approved developments. Fallen timber was piled up and burnt in a huge bonfire in a time of high fire danger with the potential of ember transmission to our village.

Three years ago, the owner applied to construct and operate a stone quarry where blasting and crushing would have had serious noise, dust and environmental ramifications for the residents in both North Arm Cove and Bundabah. 

We could have turned a blind eye to his behaviour. We could have watched as this man, bit by bit, destroyed our waterway and our peace, with the consequential loss of amenity and decline in property values in the village.

But there was a second issue which worried us.

It became increasingly clear that the controlling authority over development, the then Great Lakes Council, was not functioning in the best interests of our local communities. The Council often didn’t know what was going on, was financially constrained, had serious compliance/enforcement issues, was divided in itself over what actions to take and, consequently, was failing to hold the owner to account.

Two senior members of the Council, one the General Manager, actually left the Council to go straight into the landowner’s employment!

It seemed to us that the owner was using this confusion to pursue his destructive activities. He saw that the payment of a series of ‘small’ fines (up to $200,000!) was just a cost of doing business, and certainly not a disincentive.

So, a group of concerned villagers formed a team with a watching brief to report back to the community on what was going at Fame Cove and to put pressure on the Council to sort him out. It was necessary for this group to become a sub-committee of NACRA (as it was then) because we were trying to represent the interests of all our community. And we needed to work under the banner of an incorporated body in the event that we had to start a fighting fund to support the cause.

The objective was not to stop the owner doing with his land what he was entitled to do. It was to try and get the Council to stop both reckless destruction of sensitive land and inappropriate development.

After years of lobbying by us and many meetings with the Council and government authorities, the owner finally ended up before the Land and Environment Court in 2017. Orders were placed on him to do a massive amount of remediation with a cost estimated to be more than $10m.

The deadline for completion of this work comes on December 20th. Regrettably though, it seems to us that the original impositions on the owner will not be met. Instead we think he is trying to escape his obligations through a flood of development applications designed to circumvent the environmental restoration demands made in the court.

It seems our work still isn’t over.

So, Fame Cove – who cares?

I see this battle as just another in the ongoing things that we as a community have to engage in to protect the beautiful place we live in. In a way, it’s no different to our clean-up days where we collect the rubbish dumped by stupid people in and around our village. Or our battle trying to keep plastic pollution out of our waterways left behind by people who don’t live here. Or the reporting of dumped cars and rubbish in the non-urban areas to Council. Although Fame Cove has been much harder!

I think we have to care and we have to get involved or it would be a sad world and a much less pleasant village to live in.

Hope this helps to explain.

Tony Hann


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