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One of the Northern Territory’s biggest production nurseries says it will be taking the NT Government to court, claiming the business has been crippled after the Government reneged on promises of compensation.
Tropiculture Australia claims the NT Government reneged on compensation for losses incurred by its citrus canker eradication program
Nursery owner Chris Nathanael says the canker eradication program, which began in 2018, has cost his business $200,000
The Department of Primary Industry says it has appointed an independent assessor to evaluate claims
Owner Chris Nathanael, who has been involved with NT horticulture for more than 40 years, claims he was given assurances by government staff on several occasions that his business would receive a compensation package.
However the money never eventuated.
“While canker has never existed on our property, because of the outbreak [which began on another nursery in the Top End] about 35 to 40 per cent of our business has been wiped out,” he told ABC Rural.
“We were told to apply for compensation, the Department of Primary Industry even sent staff here to instruct us on how to apply and what to do, and the promises [of compensation] continued on until late 2019.
“You can’t have senior public servants come here, write promises, and then renege on them.”
Mr Nathanael said his initial compensation claim was “quite low”, but because of the delays and because he continued to operate the nursery in good faith while compensation was pending “the crippling effect of all of this has now gone beyond $200,000”.
When citrus canker was first detected in the Northern Territory, the Department of Primary Industry immediately sought advice from Mr Nathanael — a veteran of the NT’s horticultural industry and former chairman of the NT Citrus Growers Association.
“We freely gave technical information to Government employees, had the [citrus canker] inspection teams on site for their training, and also helped the Government with the formulation of the lists of known citrus plants in the Northern Territory,” he said.
“We participated in every aspect of the canker eradication program, with promises of compensation all along, but unfortunately when the crunch came compensation was denied.”
Why has Tropiculture Australia not received compensation?
The Department of Primary Industry declined ABC Rural’s request for an interview, but in a statement said affected producers may be eligible for “owner reimbursement costs”.
“There are national processes for assessing claims through the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed,” it said.
“The Department of Primary Industry and Resources has appointed an independent assessor to undertake a valuation of the costs and losses incurred by owners of eligible businesses applying for owner reimbursement costs under the National Citrus Canker Response Plan 2018.
“The assessment process will commence this month. The department has encouraged all eligible businesses to apply to have their claims independently assessed under the scheme.”
Mr Nathanael said the department’s statement was old, and that he already lodged a claim in late 2018 for ‘Owner Reimbursement Costs’, but was advised his nursery business was not eligible under the national scheme.
“Which is why since 2018 we have sought compensation from the biosecurity section of the NT’s Department of Primary Industry,” he said.
“We were promised compensation, we took people for their word. We don’t want to close the business, so we have no choice but to proceed with court action.”
Hidden behind the Australia’s volcanic risk Blue Lake In South Australia’s Mount Gambier and shrouded by its own canopy is a submerged oasis overgrown with towering pines, picnic lawns and weeping willows.
Named for its animal-like shape, the little-known Leg of Mutton Lake in South Australia’s south-east has lived many lives since forming as a volcanic crater thousands of years ago.
Between 1889 and 1926 thousands of introduced species were tested there from a stone botanical nursery cottage.
Families would flock to the spot during the summers to fish and socialise from the lake’s edge.
But 135 years later the lake has disappeared, the nursery is long-gone and the once vibrant recreational area has become lifeless.
Ask a local though and they would be happy to direct you to the old “carriage drive” down one of the two goat tracks to the crater floor.
The founding of the nursery
While appreciated for its beauty now, the town repelled the decision to clear the crater for forestry purposes in 1870.
An 1878 edition of Mount Gambier’s newspaper, The Borderwatch, said the Forestry Board had “set itself to destroy the natural beauty of the Reserve”.
“It was, we believe, a mistake to include our Lakes among the Forest Reserves; but it will be greater still if damage is done that will take many years to undo,” the reporter said.
The nursery was established at the northern end in 1879 but was not opened to the public until several years later.
Locals could visit the nursery during daylight hours, children had to be with their parents and smoking was not allowed between January and April.
“A carriage drive has been made down the slope to the lake side, and footpaths, with seats at occasional distances, have been formed around the water’s edge,” The Borderwatch said.
“It is, therefore, a great resort of pleasure seekers.
“The Mount Gambier forest nursery, the most successful in the colony, is situated at one end of this lake.”
Mr Charles Beale, the nurseryman
Charles Beale, a horticulturist from England, was the first and longest-serving nurseryman at Leg of Mutton.
Despite early instructions from the Mayor “not to destroy any more of the shrubs till he had fresh instructions”, Mr Beale seemed to win the town’s favour in the end.
The “determined, but kindly nature[d]” horticulturalist was celebrated in his obituary in 1929.
“Mr Beale’s love for trees and plant life was the soul of his existence,” The Borderwatch said.
Mr Beale took just six weeks’ holiday during his 28-year posting.
He retired at the age of 71 in 1905 with “but a short leave of absence and no compensation”.
Growing anything and everything
Among the first 73,557 trees planted in the nursery’s opening year were 14,000 South Australian red gums, 112 Cypress trees, 2,000 kaffir thorns, 498 Spanish chestnuts and 85 English wild cherries.
In the 46 years to follow, the nursery housed everything from bunya bunya pine, hakea eucalypt and Indian pine, through to white mulberry, butternut and red mahogany.
Local Ben Deering knows a bit about the nursery as caretaker of Centenary Tower, the 115-year-old tower overlooking the lakes district.
“A lot of the stuff wasn’t even planted in there, it was made to be able to transfer out … once they were big enough to become a tree they were propagated.”
As to whether any species were introduced to Australia through the nursery is uncertain, although likely.
“They didn’t care about [documenting] non-native species and things like that back then so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that were the case,” Mr Deering said.
Pests, disease and a fluctuating water table
Not all trees planted made it out of the nursery.
Strong winds, a grasshopper plague and severe hailstorms ripped through the colony at different times.
The crater’s varying water levels threatened the nursery on multiple occasions.
In 1896 The Borderwatch reported on a distressed Mr Beale who expected plants, including his bamboo, to die.
“A splendid horse chestnut tree, a large cork oak, and a fine specimen of rue’s sumach, which were last year high and dry, are now standing in several inches of water, and, unless it retires soon, they are bound to go off.”
The water level was still rising in 1925 when the nursery was finally closed.
While it is possible that the water table influenced the decision to close, the only official reason given was that the nursery was not commercially viable after the Woods and Forests Department switched from distributing trees freely to selling them.
Mr Deering said Mr Beale and the nursery were instrumental in founding the region’s trademark forestry industry.
“They were like, ‘What will grow fast? What will grow straight?’ and the radiata pine was the one which won out,” Mr Deering said.
“Our pine forest would [now] fill Oahu; every square centimetre of it.”