For 30 years, Brunswick Buccaneers has been an icon of Brunswick Heads, but now the tourist attraction is under threat from NSW government bureaucrats.
An eviction notice was served ‘without warning’ last Easter by Colin Woodbry from North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP) to operator Ilan Schnitzler, who has for the last 15 years hired boats, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards from his pirate ship on the river opposite the pub.
Additionally, Echonetdaily has learned that NSW Crown Lands area manager Nessbit Hurcum has hand-balled responsibility of the surrounding parks and waterways to the secretive NCHP and is ‘reluctant to go against the recommendations’ of its Trust manager and former Byron Shire Council staff employee, Jim Bolger.
In a startling reply to Echonetdaily enquiries, Mr Bolger refuses to explain his decision to evict Mr Schnitzler and, like NCHP’s financial records, his actions remain cloaked in secrecy.
Mr Bolger said ‘the Trust will not take part in discussing licence or legal issues through the media’.
It’s the latest public relation blunder and take-over bid by the state government-owned and privately-run corporation: three Brunswick Heads caravan parks and foreshore land that were previously managed by Council were controversially taken away in 2006.
An Echonetdaily investigation later revealed that after that take-over, Council are now much worse off financially for it.
Additionally, residents criticised NCHP over the caravan parks’ subsequent encroachment on footpaths, roads and foreshores.
So far, the only state MP to be critical of the lack of transparency with the cost shifting and loss of amenity to locals is NSW MLC Jan Barham, who is also a former Byron Shire mayor.
And like other residents of Brunswick Heads, Mr Schnitzler is putting up a fight.
Eviction reasons vague
Mr Schnitzler says the consent authority of the waterway is Crown Lands, despite being ‘vaguely threatened’ by NCHP about having customers ‘illegally’ use the steps from Banner Park as an embarkation point.
‘I received a letter by NCHP last Easter saying my lease had been terminated because of unpaid rent,’ Mr Schnitzler told The Echo.
‘I was given just four days to leave, and an extension of two weeks if I paid the $300 that was owing. There was no warning. They claimed I did not pay them rent, but I never received those letters. It was a very unprofessional letter.’
He says his tenure with Council to operate on Simpsons Creek rolled over to NCHP after it took control.
This also includes access to Banner Park, where his boat is moored.
But after engaging a solicitor to defend the eviction, Mr Schnitzler says he was advised that Crown Lands have jurisdiction on the creek, ‘as the boat is moored below the mean high water mark and that is where the Banner Park boundary ends’.
However Crown Lands have hand-balled responsibility instead to NCHP.
Mr Schnitzler’s legal representative, Claire Lovejoy, told Echonetdaily that ‘it appears from [Crown Lands area manager] Nessbit Hurcum’s last email that the only reason they are not giving Mr Schnitzler a permit to stay in the Crown Lands creek is because NCHP won’t give him a permit for customers to access the stairs.
‘So while he is moored in Crown Lands jurisdiction, NCHP are involved because customers enter through Banner Park,’ Ms Lovejoy said.
‘I have been verbally advised by Marine Parks, and Ilan has said RMS (Roads and Maritime Services) have said they will also provide their permits once he gets ‘tenure’ to stay.
‘That can only come through Crown Lands, who say they will only provide it if NCHP allow the customers to access the stairs,’ she said.
While Mr Schnitzler says he received no return calls or emails after asking Crown Lands to intervene, Ms Lovejoy says she received an email from Mr Hurcum advising her client that he was ‘reluctant to go against the recommendations’ of the NCHP reserve trust manager and offer a separate tenure.
Instead, Mr Hurcum suggested that as plans of management for the reserves are now on display for comment, ‘it may be an appropriate avenue for you to raise this matter through comment, for discussion and adoption, given the iconic nature of your client’s enterprise’.
The eviction plans by bureaucrats at NCHP and the hand-balling of responsibility by Crown Lands were also kept a secret from NSW minister for north coast, Don Page (Nationals).
It raises the question as to what accountability the NCHP corporation has to the government and suggests Mr Bolger and his bureaucrats are undermining the authority of the politicans, and therefore the public, whom they are supposed to serve.
While Mr Page didn’t answer Echonetdaily’s question as to whether he was happy with Jim Bolger’s performance as NCHP manager, he did say, ‘I do receive briefings from time to time on Crown land issues in Brunswick Heads but I’ve not been briefed on the Brunswick Buccaneers situation’.
As for the lack of transparency by NCHP, Mr Page said he was ‘surprised to hear’ that NCHP is refusing to explain its actions.
‘I believe and the government believes in transparency, so an explanation should be made.’ He added that he will follow up the case this week.
Meanwhile, Mr Schnitzler’s operation remains in limbo as he has no current permit to stay in the creek.
It comes as plans of management for Brunswick Heads caravan parks and foreshores by NCHP were put on public display.
So far, the plans have been slammed by residents for what they say is ‘pursuing maximum profits without regard for social or environmental impacts’.
Additionally, a plan by NCHP to remove an 80-year-old forest redgum (Eucalyptus Tereticornis) in Banner Park recently angered locals who successfully fought to retain it ten years ago after it was also then deemed dangerous.
Byron Shire Council staff instead have recommended the fate of the tree will be left up to councillors at its February 14 meeting.
Both NCHP’s Colin Woodbry and Crown Lands area manager Nessbit Hurcum were contacted but did not reply by the time of going to press.