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The Sheahans and Mitchell Shire Council - Fire-breakers or law-breakers?

Andrew Bolt's story, "Green rules, black forests" is one of many mainstream media sources to keep alive the legend of the brave Sheehans' fight for justice and safety against their philistine greenie neighbours. But there is even more to that story than the press have so-far published. Read on...

The story so far:

"THEY were labelled law breakers, fined $50,000 and left emotionally and financially drained. But seven years after the Sheahans bulldozed trees to make a fire break — an act that got them dragged before a magistrate and penalised — they feel vindicated. Their house is one of the few in Reedy Creek still standing....

Mr Sheahan is still angry about his prosecution, which cost him $100,000 in fines and legal fees. The council’s planning laws allow trees to be cleared only when they are within six metres of a house. Mr Sheahan cleared trees up to 100 metres away from his house." (Source: Andrew Bolt, "Green rules, black forest"

But the plot thickens...

Apparently NO journalist has contacted the Mitchell Shire Council to investigate its version of the Sheahans' story. However close investigation reveals a much more interesting side to life by the forests and how communities can pull together or apart to preserve or destroy their environment and themselves.

People may read the records for themselves here:

The Council records show that before November 2003 the Sheahans cleared an environmental overlay of 1.2 Ha old growth eucalptus (past their fire-prone growth - as could be demonstrated from their size and age), adjoining State forest. In so-doing the Sheahans also created flat ground for their horses.

The Sheahans apparently fell afoul of the local council because neighbours complained about what they had done, which was against the law. So the Council was acting on complaints from neighbours of the Sheahans.

Far from being 'dragged into court' the Council records seem to show that every attempt was made to keep the matter out of court and to resolve it with the least hassle for all parties.

Victims of their own actions?

The records seem to show that the Sheahans were the ones to cost themselves and the Council time and money.

For instance, in an attempt to settle the matter without great cost, the council sought the Sheahans' agreement to pay $2,500 in council costs and to plant some more vegetation. In 2003, they agreed to pay this $2,500 Council and to repair some of the damage by revegetating.

They then failed to do what they had said they would. The council attempted to renew dialogue.

"Get stuffed!"

In 2004 the Sheahans responded to attempts to communicate further on the issue with a letter telling Council and residents to 'get stuffed'.

In 2004 the court case could no longer be avoided.

The Sheahans attempted to convince the council that their motive for felling the old-growth trees in the environmental overlay had been to remove fire-danger. They had, however, left logs piled up in the area where the healthy old trees had been. There is a 2004 photograph which shows that these logs had later been involved in a fire following a couple of bad fire-risk seasons. .

Although the Sheahans have claimed that they bulldozed logs to create a fire-barrier, this was not the opinion of a fire-hazard inspector, who reckoned they had created a fire-hazard. The Council issued the Sheahans with an order to remove the fire-hazard from the property.

Magistrate also not convinced about the 'fire-break'.

In court, the Magistrate held that the Sheahans' claim of a fire-barrier was not plausible because they had “only sought to consider exemptions under the Mitchell Planning Scheme after the fact”.

Due to the efforts of the council and the CFA the pile of burnt logs was removed from the Sheahan property. The fact that the Sheahans survived the most recent fires may be in part due to the removal of the fire-hazard they had themselves created out of trees which had survived many fires intact.

A sore loser by any other name ...

That would make them ungrateful sore-losers, if placed in a kindly light.

It therefore seems to me - going by these records - that, failing some other well-based explanation, it is fair and reasonable to label the Sheahans 'law breakers'.

It also seems reasonable to label the press in this matter, 'pot-stirrers', or something much worse, perhaps, given the gravity of grief and loss in Victoria - the most cleared state of Australia.

What do you think?

In their coverage of this story the mainstream press seem again to demonstrate that they are the mouthpieces of narrow commercial interest by the opportunistic and unbalanced manner in which this matter has so far been reported. Their silence - ABC and commercial alike - is deafening on the truth, which was that the most 'managed' and back-burned forests burned the hottest, whereas much old-growth survived these and many other fires.

With press like this, who needs enemies - or even 'Green terrorists'?

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