Aussie families fight to stop developer seizing their land: 'Destroys the serenity'

In a scenario similar to iconic movie The Castle, Aussie families are fighting to protect their homes from a major road proposal.

“It’s not a house it’s a home, a man’s home is his castle.”

That declaration from fictional character Darryl Kerrigan in iconic Aussie movie The Castle was said in response to a Victorian government plan to seize his home from an airport expansion. Spoken 25 years ago, it's resonating with many Toowoomba locals this month who face a real Queensland government proposal to build a busy transport corridor through their land.

Left - Sophie and Nathan getting married under trees. Right - them walking through their bush block after getting married.
Sophie and Nathan Oliver were married on their bush block, surrounded by nature. Source: Supplied

It's not just the impact on land values they're concerned about, residents on Leahy Road say the project could tear apart their peaceful community in the northern Toowoomba suburb of Kleinton.

It could also displace an entire colony of koalas and greater gliders locals they love and care for.

“It would destroy the serenity,” one resident grimly noted.

Facebook chat provides clue to road plan

While the plan to secure a 54km stretch for the Toowoomba North-South Transport Corridor has not been finalised, residents are stressed and their lives are on hold.

They won't know for months whether Transport and Main Roads (TMR) will take up an option to seize their property. Some Leah Road residents received letters from the government, while others assume they could be impacted but haven't received official notification.

Most were clumsily alerted to the plan via a neighbourhood online forum. “One of our neighbours saw that TMR had posted about the proposal on Facebook and shared it on our street chat,” 26-year-old resident Sophie Oliver said.

The Kerrigan family in The Castle (background). A map of the road plan (inset)
Like the Kerrigan family in The Castle (pictured), locals in Leah Road are fighting to protect their homes from a development. Source: Village Roadshow/TMR

Sophie contacted Yahoo News Australia after hearing she and her neighbours only had until August 11 to register their feedback. One faced losing her home altogether, while others were set to have their bush gardens bulldozed, and they are far from the only community affected.

Married under the tall gum trees on their block in October, Sophie and her husband Nathan were planning a life on the quiet street. “We all bought out here because it’s so magical, the calibre of the trees is magnificent, the wildlife is beautiful, and the community helps each other out,” she said.

Now instead of enjoying married life to its full potential, Sophie and Nathan are fighting to protect their street and the dozens of species of plants and wildlife that live there.

Left - a hand on the ground next to a roo print. Then two pictures of koalas in trees.
Sophie has made 134 wildlife observations (pictured) since moving her Leahy Road property. Source: Supplied

It's a yucky feeling. You might as well rent if you can just have your land taken off you.Sophie Oliver

Endangered koalas and greater gliders face losing home

The area has been zoned by the state government as endangered koala habitat, meaning anyone wishing to build can't remove trees. When Judi Gray moved to the area over 17 years ago, the government insisted she pay for a flora and fauna survey.

Judi fell in love with her little slice of heaven, and she began caring and rehabilitating injured koalas and greater gliders and releasing them back into the flourishing forest — something she was honoured for during the 2022 Australia Day Awards.

A Leah Road map with green markings showing where the koala habitat is.
Green markings show the areas identified by the Queensland government as koala habitat along Leah Road. Source: Queensland Globe

Because of her connection to the trees, when it came time to move a year ago, she took steps to ensure their protection. “We actually chose to sell to someone for less money because they were the right people who would look after the land,” she said. "I understand we need infrastructure, but where are the koalas supposed to live?"

Can endangered koala habitat be destroyed?

While destruction of koala habitat requires developers to offset land elsewhere, last week the University of Queensland warned the program was failing because there isn't enough habitat left.

Because forests in Toowoomba are slow growing due to the area’s low rainfall, Judi believes it would take 20 years for koala trees to regrow. Greater glider habitat trees would take much longer as they require hollows that form over hundreds of years.

Read more on threats to Queensland koala habitat

Background - Peta and her family. Right - a screenshot of the road and a message from a friend of Bec's about it.
Like many Leah Road residents, Peta (pictured) and her family only became aware of the plan through an online community chat. Source: Supplied

Dad separated from daughter by road plan

Peta Schurmann and her husband bought their block on Leahy Road two years ago after suffering a family tragedy. They had lived beside Peta’s parents, but after her mother died from brain cancer in 2017, she needed a change.

“I just couldn't live there. I’d be looking over at her house knowing she’s not there anymore,” she said.

Peta cared for her mother throughout her illness, so felt guilty about leaving her 80-year-old father behind, and living an hour from her new home “The plan was to be there for Dad, so he agreed to relocate to our property and live in a granny flat. But now the poor old fellow is there on his own.”

It's such a shock. We're all trying to get our heads around it.Peta Schurmann

The choice to accommodate Peta's father on her property is now on hold, because she fears getting approval for a new dwelling will be near impossible until a final decision is made about the transport corridor. Any builds have to be assessed by both TMR and council due to the transport corridor proposal.

Plans to subdivide the front section of her land to provide homes for her daughters are also under a cloud, as the path of the road would likely occupy that portion of the property. “This is affecting everybody,” Peta said.

Left - a kookaburra in a tree. Right - wattle trees. Inset - a proposal for how much land the road will take.
Peta received a letter saying the government was considering developing a large part of her land into a road. Source: Supplied

Government planning for future of suburb

Thousands of new homes have already been added to the Toowoomba region, and this change will put pressure on existing infrastructure.

TMR plans to protect a corridor for future infrastructure investment. It told Yahoo investigations are being conducted years in advance so “all environmental and cultural heritage impacts” can be considered.

While it did not respond directly to a question about the project's impact on koala habitat, it added animals in the state’s southeast priority area will not be impacted.

At this stage it was unable to provide a more detailed map showing exactly where the road would be built if it is approved, or a list of homes that would be affected.

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