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(AUSTRALIA) Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Report: Managed by Parklands Albury Wodonga: And one woman’s struggle to remain living on a property she calls her “little patch of paradise” has put the spotlight on the complexities of Crown land #AceNewsDesk report

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#AceNewsReport – May.28: Fenced off to the public, Ms Gibson’s “paradise” sits directly next to the High Country Rail Trail, an 80-kilometre cycling route along the lake’s shoreline:

VICTORIA: Lake Hume resident Deborah Gibson faces eviction from home on Crown land in Victoria’s high country: Wherever I look, it reminds me of my late partner,” Deborah Gibson said of her beloved home at Huon Reserve, a slice of nature by the banks of Lake Hume the north.

Deborah Gibson and her dog on the steps of her Huon Reserve home.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Anna Chisholm )

On the opposite side of the trail are the remains of Huon train station, and Lake Hume glistens through a screen of trees. 

Accompanied by a sleepy Labrador and a pecking brood of chickens, Ms Gibson appears right at home in the place where she has lived for 13 years.

But she’s on uncertain turf, as the privately owned home is on public land.

A house with no land

The former station master’s house is currently owned by her late partner’s mother Marie Cadman, who lives elsewhere.

“Debbie can live there as long as she likes,” Ms Cadman said.

But it’s not that simple. 

The house is on Crown land owned by Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and managed by Parklands Albury Wodonga.

The house itself was bought by the family of Ms Gibson’s late partner, Gary Cadman, in the early 1970s along with rights to a well, and the land was offered to the family under a lease.

In the past two decades the lease was converted to a licence. 

This is significant because, as barrister Alexander Di Stefano, a University of Melbourne law lecturer explains, a lease provides exclusive possession of an area while a licence is just a “right to use”.

Ms Gibson tends to the garden on the property, which backs onto Lake Hume.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Anna Chisholm)

‘An unofficial caretaker’

Ms Gibson said her late partner had been an unofficial caretaker of the reserve, doing the mowing and clearing rubbish left by visitors. 

It is because of this, Ms Gibson said, that Mr Cadman stopped paying the annual licence fee in protest in 2015.

“He was doing a lot of the work that Parklands [Albury Wodonga] were supposed to do on the public reserve,” Ms Gibson said.

“[He] had been doing it for many years, before he decided paying the fee was ridiculous given the work he was doing.” 

Mr Cadman died of bowel cancer in August 2019.

In February last year, Ms Gibson was issued with an eviction notice from Parklands Albury Wodonga. 

The notice cited the unpaid licence fees, the storage of vehicles and other equipment (contrary to the licence) and the property being needed for public purposes.

Ms Gibson, who has not vacated the property, said she was confused by why the eviction notice was issued years after her partner had stopped paying the licence fees. 

She has been unable to arrange a licence in her own name.

‘Comfortable with our decision’

Parklands Albury Wodonga’s chairman Daryl Betteridge said he wasn’t aware of any work Mr Cadman had done.

“He may well have done some,” Mr Betteridge said.

“As a board we didn’t think it was appropriate to action anything to a man who had serious health issues, and — as it turned out — terminal health issues.

“We as a board are comfortable with our decision because we placed the wellbeing of a very ill man in front of what we possibly could have done in a purely legal sense.”

Mr Betteridge said the organisation had received legal advice and was in contact with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) regarding future action. 

John Downs, DELWP’s Hume Land and Built Environment regional manager, said the department was working with Parklands Albury Wodonga to resolve the matter.

“DELWP’s priority is the safety of the occupant, the community, and to support Parklands Albury Wodonga as the land manager,” he said. 

No squatters’ rights

Mr Di Stefano said the situation definitely wasn’t common.

Barrister Alexander Di Stefano says the land manager’s and occupier’s responsibilities “would depend entirely on the terms of the agreement”.(Supplied: Alexander Di Stefano )

“If what you’re buying is not a freehold title of the land itself, then you have the property in the legal sense in the house, but you do not have the title on which the house sits,” he said.

“It’s a very technical area of law and relies on what seem to be very fine distinctions.

“There is no adverse possession against title held by the Crown,” said Mr Di Stefano, meaning that “squatters’ rights” did not apply and a long history of residency — such as the Cadmans’ — was inconsequential.

Public access vs private residency 

Mr Betteridge said the land was located on the High Country Rail Trail, a cycling route and “tourism driver” in the area.

“Crown land should provide access and usability to the broader community,” he said.

The remains of Huon’s former railway station on the High Country Rail Trail from Wodonga to Shelley.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Anna Chisholm )

Parklands Albury Wodonga community ranger Ant Packer said that “generally [licences were] only used as a land management tool, as an interim [measure]”, and were not intended as a means of offering unending occupation. 

She said grazing licences covering nearly half of the land managed by Parklands Albury Wodonga had not been renewed because they [Parklands Albury Wodonga] had instead “fenced and planted trees and improved the environmental condition of that land and established some passive recreational access”. 

For Ms Gibson, the past couple of years have taken an emotional and financial toll.

Her late partner’s dream was to open a museum of memorabilia at the property, and Ms Gibson said she was “determined” to see that out.

“I just want to stay here,” she said.

#AceNewsDesk report …….Published: May.28: 2021:

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