A local service that gave away clothes, books and other items to the community has been evicted from its Brunswick Heads home by the same contentious state government-owned corporation that is pushing for camping next to degraded and protected cypress pines at the Terrace Reserve holiday park.
Dennis Stevenson had operated the informal giveaway stall known as the ‘Bruns Store’ out of an old shed in Banner Park next to the Brunswick River since the beginning of the year.
Having begun with a few boxes of books and kids’ clothes, the stall grew into a community hub where people would pop in to pick up everything from kids’ toys to televisions or borrow a surf ski for a quick splash in the river.
‘There were a lot of great stories of people getting something they really needed like a pram or a free jacket, and a lot of people who just popped in to browse and then stayed for a chat,’ Mr Stevenson said.
But on May 9, Mr Stevenson was told by the regional manager of Reflections Holiday Parks (RHP) – the state government-owned land trust responsible for much of the Brunswick Heads foreshore – that he had to be out within two days.
RHP was formerly known as North Coast Holiday Parks and was recently rebranded.
Manager Jennifer Scott allegedly told Mr Stevenson there had been a number of complaints about the stall taking up too many tables that would otherwise have been used by local picnickers.
She also told Mr Stevenson that he could not operate in the shed without being given permission following a formal application.
Five days later, with Mr Stevenson questioning RHP’s authority to move him on, staff from RHP came to the shed and removed all of the items stored there, effectively evicting the service.
‘On Monday morning I had it all looking perfect, then I got a text saying: “I have been instructed to move your belongings to storage… Please email or ring Reflections Holiday Parks, attention Jennifer Scott, to arrange pick-up.”
‘Along with the text they’d sent me a picture of the empty shed.
‘I know he [the staff member] was just doing what he was told. Basically, without any due process, someone had ordered him to remove everything from the shed.’
Mr Stevenson said that, far from receiving complaints from locals about using tables, most had complimented him on what he was doing.
This included the work he and other volunteers did each week to keep the shed and the surrounding park clean.
‘It was pretty hilarious that someone claimed to have authority over the shed considering that when we first got there you could tell it hadn’t been cleaned for years,’ Mr Stevenson said.
‘When I started, there was a pile of mud in the corner and the tables were filthy. We cleaned the whole thing top to bottom.’
As news of the eviction spread, dozens of Brunswick Heads locals including Jennifer Davies expressed their dismay, both in person and via social media.
‘I think that with rising rents and the cost of living we should have more stalls like this, not fewer,’ Ms Davies said.
‘Okay, perhaps he went a little bit larger than life with the stall; however, he always kept it really clean and tidy,’ Ms Davies said.
‘I really think that an agreement could have been negotiated so that the stall could stay with it perhaps taking up a bit less space.’
However, a spokesperson for RHP said that Mr Stevenson was asked to fill out an application that could have allowed him to continue operating but he declined to do so.
‘These reserves are for the benefit of everyone and Mr Stevenson was encouraged to take a few moments to complete an online form,’ the spokesperson said in a statement to The Echo.
‘There is no cost associated with this, but it is a mandatory requirement for members of the public seeking to conduct an event on one of the Crown Land public reserves managed by Reflections [RHP].
‘Unfortunately, Mr Stevenson declined to apply for this approval and did not have permission to run his stall in Banner Park.
‘If Mr Stevenson makes an application to gain a licence of authority, stating dates he would like to operate the stall within Banner Park, this will be reviewed.
‘Activities or stalls, using the Housie Shed space for example, need to be reasonably balanced with public access [to] and use of that area and the Reserve.’
Mr Stevenson said he was in the process of writing a formal letter to Ms Scott asking her to prove that any complaints had been made, and to demonstrate that RHP had authority over activities on the site, when she ordered the store to be cleared.
‘Jennifer Scott said that IF the store were granted permission, it would be for a maximum of two days a week at best,’ Mr Stevenson said.
‘I invest my time in helping people, not in making applications, registering, paying fees… I am a supporter of freedom and community, not undue and ineffective control.’