Gazette journalist REBECCA SKILTON says she has been haunted by the quarry threat for half of her life.
“We felt we had been played for fools. We would have never have bought if we knew the true identity of our neighbours”
When I was six, I was afraid of the monsters under the bed.
They were the unknown. They were talked about, but never seen. It was your room, your safe place, but they infiltrated it. You could call to them, but they would never answer.
But they were there, watching, waiting. And there was nothing you could do.
I’m now 22 and I still have to face the monsters; only they’re no longer under my bed.
They’re next door.
My family purchased our Garfield North property in 2006. It was by chance my father was driving by when he found the perfect land block, nestled comfortably at the base of the picturesque Mount Cannibal. Surrounded by a tranquil farming community, my parents instantly fell in love with the 22 acres which we would soon call home.
The property was in a green wedge zone with an environmental significance overlay, seemingly safe from subdivision and development.
We were five minutes away from the Tonimbuk Equestrian Centre, Cannibal Creek Reserve and surrounded by a number of wineries to take the family to when they came and visited.
On top of all that, we were minutes away from schools, shops, towns and sporting facilities.
A few kilometres north of us was the Bunyip State Park, and an hour to the west was Melbourne’s CBD.
We had found the perfect life.
Or so we thought.
Two months prior to purchase of our family home, it had been common knowledge among locals that the 300 acres next door had been sold to a pastoral company.
Nobody had any qualms with this JRH Pastoral group, as a pastoral company would fit neatly into the farming surrounds.
Yet no more than three years later, word got out that one of Australia’s largest quarrying companies, Hanson – a division of one of the world’s largest building materials companies, Heidelberg Cement – had an interest in the land, and rumours sparked about a super quarry entering our neighbourhood.
Only they weren’t just rumours.
By February 2011, according to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, JRH Pastoral was a deregistered company.
Hanson now owns roughly 691 acres of our community.
Whether anticipated or not, the way this was achieved hurt our community. It still does. Regardless of JRH Pastoral’s initial intentions, residents of the Bunyip, Garfield and Tonimbuk regions felt betrayed.
We felt we had been played for fools and, needless to say, Hanson had not begun its Bunyip North Quarry campaign well.
Interestingly, a quick scan of Hanson’s website claims that it knows “that when (they) engage proactively with community stakeholders to garner wider community support, (they) minimise disruption for everyone”.
Additionally, stated in a community engagement report for Hanson’s Wolffdene quarry, it is said that “ensuring good community relations with (the quarry’s) neighbours, surrounding residents and the wider community has been an ongoing focus for (Hanson) and the quarry”.
While we may not be the Wolffdene quarry, in some respect, Hanson has engaged with the wider community.
It has been a sponsor of the Garfield and Bunyip football clubs, and has even worked with the Bunyip-Garfield Rotary Club.
There’s just one issue, though. These groups, for the majority, aren’t going to be directly affected by the quarry. They’re over the opposite side of the highway, partially removed from a company intending to blow up a portion of the northern hills, shattering the lives of those who chose to live on the opposite side of the road.
Of course one could argue that Hanson has done its part with the purchasing of the Tonimbuk Equestrian Centre.
Yes, it is leased to a committee that runs events. Yes, there are some events that are held throughout the year. However, Hanson has already explored its options to use the property as access to the quarry while simultaneously looking at using the land as an offset.
If used as an offset, one of the purposes of the Tonimbuk Equestrian Centre will be to counteract the effects of the neighbouring quarry.
But even this benefit could be both fleeting and illusory.
In November 2014, Hanson commissioned Ecology and Heritage Partners Pty Ltd “to provide advice pertaining to the native vegetation credits which can be generated through the protection and enhanced management of remnant vegetation” on the Tonimbuk Equestrian Centre.
After a lengthy inquiry, Ecology and Heritage partners states in its conclusion that “it should be noted that any agriculture and equestrian activities in patches protected and secured for the purposes of meeting the offset target would be required to cease”.
Hanson has been applauded for its generosity and hand in the equestrian centre.
Yet I can’t help but wonder if people will be surprised when it is faced with the possibility of the centre closing or being made smaller to meet such targets. What would the Tonimbuk Horse Trials be without half, or any of its cross-country course?
It goes without saying that the impact produced by a quarry this large will be colossal.
We are facing silica dust in our airways, our water tables are in danger of being irreversibly damaged, and our roads are set to take up to 500 trucks a day.
With Mount Cannibal sitting under 400 metres from the site and the Bunyip State Park so close, our flora and fauna are facing a dismal future. And as for our pockets? Any chance of profiting from the sale of our homes blew up the moment Hanson moved in.
In a survey conducted by the Mount Cannibal and District Preservation Group in 2008 there was only one resident who abstained from voting against the proposed quarry. The rest, about 200 people, said ‘no’. Hanson has not, and has never been given a social licence to operate by its neighbours who pre-date any possibility of their existence or a super quarry.
My family purchased our home in order to make it exactly that – our home. Now? My parents are hesitant to put any money into making it everything they dreamed.
We can’t move without risking losing money on our property, and we would have never have bought if we knew the true identity of our neighbours.
In the almost 11 years that my family has been living in a suspended limbo, Hanson has called a community meeting once.
There have been letters over the years reminding us of who we are living with, but on Thursday 23 March 2017, roughly 3901 days after JRH Pastoral entered our community, we were finally able to put a face to the people whose proposal had already taken so much from us.
But with little to no new information given to the community, Hanson’s meeting will never change the fact that for 11 years we have been living with the unknown. For 11 years, Hanson has been talked about but rarely seen. For 11 years, they have been infiltrating our community. For 11 years, we have asked for answers and voiced our opinion, yet we never seem to be heard.
But unlike the monster under my bed that I grew to accept was not real, the threat proposed by Hanson is extremely real, and this monster will never be accepted as a part of my home.