Defence grab for Moore brothers Queensland farm

Nearly 100 years ago, two scarred young men spurred their horses along the heavily-treed flats of Marlborough Creek in central Queensland.
Brothers John and James Moore were heading deep into what was then largely untouched bushland, perhaps seeking to get as far away as possible from the memories of the last four years.
Both were still dealing with the horrors of World War I, having fought in the trenches in France.
John, 24, had nearly died in a mustard gas attack, an experience that so damaged his lungs he could never bear to sleep indoors again.
James, 22, had been gassed in the same action and hospitalised.
Later John had barely survived a piece of shrapnel slicing through his cheeks when his rest-and-recreation ship was torpedoed and sunk in the Irish Sea. The brothers were among thousands of veterans who were taking up “soldier service blocks” — allotments set aside by state governments for cheap lease or sale to veterans.
The plots they chose provide a legacy for their families who still live on them today.
In a bizarre turn, the Moores’ grazing property, Cooperville, about 100km north of Rockhampton, has been earmarked for acquis­ition by the Australian Defence Force as part of an expansion of the Defence Department’s Shoalwater Bay training area.
The plan, associated with an expanded training agreement with Singapore, has sparked a battle that pits the veterans’ family and another 36 affected land­owners against Defence.
At stake is some 1700 square kilometres of mostly good grazing country that is proposed as a base for training about 14,000 Singaporean troops on rotation.
John Moore’s 85-year-old daughter-in-law Meg Moore, who still lives in the original Cooperville homestead, is incensed.
“Those politicians don’t give a tinker’s cuss about us,’’ she said. “It took (the Moore brothers) nine years to clear it all so they could build this house.
“They did it all by hand. They sweated blood. There were no machines back then. Their shirts were always wet (with sweat).
“The fact that it is the army (taking it) would be devastating.”
The department’s move late last year to inform landowners of the possible compulsory acquisition of their land has sparked strong protests from affected landowners and nervousness at the highest levels of the federal government.
It has also emboldened Labor and other opposing political aspir­ants, including the resurgent One Nation party.
The proposed land grab is in the heart of one of the country’s most marginal federal seats, Capricornia, narrowly held by the ­Nationals’ Michelle Landry with a margin of about 1100 votes at last July’s election.
Defence, which is yet to decide from where land will be taken, has drawn up maps of “likely” and “potential” areas for acquisition and allegedly has told owners that, if necessary, the land could be acquired forcibly.
Dale and Steph Olive only 12 months ago bought their Rocklea property, which is in the “likely” zone, for mixed farming and ­grazing,
“We’ve been left in the dark. We don’t know where to go next,’’ says Mr Olive. “It’s finding somewhere to relocate our business that is the problem.”
The Queensland government has asked Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to say once and for all whether affected graziers will be forced to sell.
Mr Joyce, who yesterday met graziers affected by the Shoalwater expansion, denied any land would be compulsorily acquired.
“I’ve not had one discussion, with one person, who told me that was their intention and I’ve been talking at the highest levels,” he told the ABC.
However, Malcolm Turnbull was more equivocal, saying only that he’d asked Defence not to acquire any more land than required and to try to reach an agreement with the affected landholders. “So compulsory acquisitions are obviously a last resort,” he told Radio 2SM in Sydney. Queensland Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne urged Mr Joyce to end the confusion by specifically ruling out compulsory acquisitions.
“There has been no consistent narrative from the start and now it seems the message is changing by the hour, depending on which senior member of the government is commenting.
“But the landholders know what they have been told and that is that they may lose their properties against their will.”
Mr Joyce has also suggested the government is stuck between a rock and a hard place because businesses around the two sites want the plans to proceed. “This is not cut and dried in one way,” he told the ABC.
Capricornia is vital to the federal government’s continuation, with political insiders claiming the $2 billion Shoalwater expansion could be critical.
The plan announced before the last election involves the Singapore government spending up to $1bn to upgrade defence infrastructure, roads and military hardware. Within the Coalition the handling of the issue is described as a disaster, with landowners told their land would be forcibly acquired even before the Australian Defence Force had worked out what was needed.
“The ADF’s handling of this is a great example of how not to treat people and how not to handle a sensitive issue, particularly in a marginal seat,’’ said one source.

‘Devastating’: Meg Moore, daughter-in-law of John Moore, who with brother James established Cooperville, now threatened with Defence acquisition. 


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