Community insist that illegal gate on Coopers Island Road be removed immediately to allow access

The Tuross Head community and the Tuross Head Progress Association are asking Council for immediate response to their concerns around the illegal erection of a gate across Coopers Island Road, at Trunketabella, that leads from the highway to the Coopers Island Weir. Coopers Island Road is a PUBLIC road, leading into Coopers Island farm. The road has been, and continues to be, maintained by Council for decades, and as it is a dedicated public road, it is under the control of Council and any erection of a gate can only be permitted under their authority. Council were first made aware of the illegal erection of the gate in mid 2019 and, with no explanation, have not moved to remove the gate. The standard procedure of removal of the gate is to request the owner to do so and if they fail to then Council rangers step in to remove it to a Council depot to be collected by the owner. This has not been carried out though Council are aware of the illegal erection and have been reminded continually for more than eighteen months. The community ask "Is this legal? Can I go in there now?" By the existence of the illegal gate and the adjacent sign most who once enjoyed Bowns Creek, the Weir and accessing Trunketabella Lake now turn away disappointed. The average person is unaware of the legal status of roads and the gate and sign insinuate the PUBLIC road is now PRIVATE.

Above: The gate and the PRIVATE PROPERTY - NO TRESSPASSING sign erected on Coopers Island Road.

Above: How many remember the road with its cattle grid and Council owned road sign before the new gate was erected. Council have been asked to intervene on several occasions by the community to remove the illegal gate. The requests became more urgent in the leadup to the 2020/2021 summer tourist season and has now become an urgent matter for the annual Tuross Head Flathead and Bream Fishing competition that brings fishers to the region every year, many of who enjoy fishing Bowns Creek and Trunketabella Lake. Max Castle, in making a presentation to the last Tuross Head Progress Association meeting drew members attention to the issue advising that Council, to date, had failed to take seriously the acquisition by stealth of this Public Road. Members at the meeting shared anecdotes of being threatened for coming ashore at carpark near the weir with others claiming they were threatened and abused from the shoreline for fishing in the creek. The meeting also heard of threats that resulted in the discharge of a firearm. With such threats permeating the community many are now fearful of going near the property. While Council have done nothing they have acknowledged, in writing, that the new landowner has placed a gate on a public road saying "A public gate can be placed on a roadway if Council approval has been granted under the Roads Act 1993 and appropriate signposting is provided indicating this is a public gate so it is clear that the public can still use it. The landowner has not gained this approval." Council also advise in writing that "The landowner has placed a sign within their own property not far from the gate indicating private property. Understandably this adds to the confusion."

Above: This sign is within Private Property but by its rotation and proximity to the illegal gate it implies the road is also Private Property.

Council acknowledge that the landowner has also fenced across a public road and also understand there is fencing across the causeway constraining public use of the public road reserve and access to the waterway. Council has stated that there is no approval granted for this fencing saying "This remains a public road and the public are entitled to access the waterway from the public road and causeway."

Of interest is the admission by Council that "the landowner has asked Council if they can acquire the road reserve." Eurobodalla Council have been trying for years to divest themselves of their responsibilities in regards to Crown owned Public Roads under their care and control. Coopers Island Road is one of these roads that Council grades and maintains having also built and maintained the Coopers Island Weir. In the 1990's Council were unable to "sell off" the road to the property owners as they had no interest in buying it. On two occasions Council approached previous farmers and asked if they wanted to buy the Public Road, knowing full well it was a traditional access for the many Koorie families who carried out cultural fishing in Bowns Creek, and for the many locals and visitors who enjoyed fishing, prawning, kayaking and boating.

Above: fencing now stops anyone from coming ashore to access the Public Road

Above: With denial of access to the the Public Road that is Coopers Island Road the community stand to lose access to a considerable portion of Tuross Lake

The Tuross Head Progress Association heard of concerns that, should Council allow the present owners to continue their denial of public access to the Public Road, and to the foreshore adjacent to the weir, then the community as a whole will lose access to a considerable section of the backwaters of Tuross Lake transforming that waterway into a potential private lake.

Above: One of the slides presented to the Tuross Head community.

Council have recently (Feb 2021) written to a member of the public saying "We have previously met with a fishing representative from Tuross Head who has explained that the Coopers Island area is well used by local fisher people and they wish to retain access for use by the public, including fisher people. Council advise that they are "compiling the background in preparation to brief Councillors as soon as practicable so Councillors can determine an appropriate way forward." Council adds "In the meantime, the public remain legally entitled to access the causeway and waterway from the public road.