A Western Australian man is facing a $20,000 fine and possible jail time over a law he had no idea he broke when he constructed his new driveway and creek crossing.
Tony Maddox has lived at his property in Toodyay, 85km north-east of Perth, for the past nine years and said he was shocked after a neighbour’s complaint lead to criminal charges being pressed against him.
"It's knocked the stuffing out of me," he told ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt. "I can't believe I'm charged with a criminal offence for [an Act] that I know nothing about. I just find that extraordinary.”
Mr Maddox’s new driveway and culvert over Boyagerring Brook is allegedly in breach of WA’s Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, with investigators from the state’s Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage visiting the property to inform him of the illegal move.
According to the prosecution, the site was "significantly altered and damaged” by the works, which also included large amounts of silt being removed, bore water being pumped into the brook and the construction of an artificial lake and fountain, ABC reported.
"If this goes through it will affect every single farmer in Western Australia," Mr Maddox, a real estate agent, said.
"Every farmer crosses creeks in their daily activities. There's going to be an awful lot of permission-seeking going on.
"I've got a duty of care to comply with the Act. Why haven't they got a duty of care to tell me the Act exists?"
Crossing needed to access house in wet weather
Mr Maddox told radio station 6PR there had previously been a gravel creek crossing on the property before he moved in, but wet weather would wash the gravel away and leave him unable to access his house and sheds.
He said he laid concrete over the bitumen almost a year ago, allowing them to have an “all-weather crossing”.
"I love my property," he said, saying animals have now returned to the brook and he has a little "sanctuary".
Boyagerring Brook is an important part of the local Aboriginal mythology, and is said to be one of the waterways around Perth that is the home to the Wagyl, or the Rainbow Serpent.
A previous Depart of Water and Environmental Regulation report found Boyagerring Brook to be home to fish, crayfish, south-western snake-necked turtles and frogs.
Mr Madden will front court on March 20. If he’s found guilty, he could be sentenced to up to nine months' jail. A conviction on his record would also see him lose his real estate licence, which he says is "beyond his comprehension".
"I'm broken," he said.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.