Frank Bertola almost lost his life fighting fires at Bremer Bay six years ago and now he is fighting for his farming life in a Supreme Court dispute with the ANZ Bank.
Mr Bertola was fighting fires again this week as flames swept across a neighbouring property, threatening his crops and the town of Bremer Bay.
He won the latest fire fight but faces an uphill battle to save his two farms in the area as the ANZ tries to recover a debt of about $4 million.
He blames the bank, his injuries from the 2006 fires and summer rain that ruined a bumper wheat crop in 2007 for his financial woes but has vowed not to give up the fight for his farms.
“I’ve worked too hard to let the ANZ Bank knock me over,” he said.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done, I’ve produced for this country.”
The 54-year-old helped clear his land at Bremer Bay as a teenager and has raised 11 children there.
Mr Bertola is representing himself in the legal bid to stop ANZ seizing his farms and has taken the fight to the bank by advertising for other disgruntled farmers to contact him.
Four farming families whose loans with Landmark were taken over by the ANZ in 2010 have written to him.
They accuse the ANZ of failing to support farming and making unreasonable repayment demands based on claims their equity has fallen below the required level.
One family are about to lose their farm near Arthur River with debts of about $2 million and a family, who have been on the land at Cuballing for 60 years, said they were “about to lose everything” after being allowed to borrow $3.2 million four years ago.
Mr Bertola said he had to “beg, borrow and steal” to plant this year’s crop after his finance was cut off.
The ANZ is adding the fees incurred by its lawyers to his loan account, including an amount of $18,500 last month.
Mr Bertola said his troubles began when Landmark encouraged him to borrow $1.2 million to expand his farms operations in 2006. That year, he suffered life-threatening injuries working as a volunteer firefighter.
He bounced back before rain ruined his 2007 crop and believes he would have traded his way out of debt with the support of the ANZ.
“Their legal costs alone in trying to seize the farm have added $50,000 to my loan and I don’t believe they ever intended to back me as a farmer from the time they took over the loan (in 2010),” Mr Bertola said.An ANZ spokesman said the bank would not comment because the matter was before the courts.
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