Farlows fight RTA for family farm
EXCLUSIVE by TOBY WALKER
ATOP a small hill on a corner of James Creek Road, an old house looks over green pastures and out to the highest points of the Harwood Bridge beyond.
The house belongs to Noel Farlow.
No-one's really sure when it was first built, but Noel's 84-year-old uncle Harold recalls an even older house that stood in its place when he was still a boy.
Then Harold shares another story from his boyhood.
He points to a small patch of marshland as the very spot he was given the fright of his life by a large black swallow after he had quietly slipped through a fence with every intention of stealing its eggs.
The shriek he let out was so loud, he remembers his dad galloping over on horseback to check he hadn't been bitten by a snake.
After everyone's had a laugh at the story, Noel's 41-year-old son Bevan shares his childhood memories spent among the cane fields and grazing land on the 121-hectare (300-acre) property.
As three generations of the Farlow family reminisce, it's easy to see what the old house and the property it sits on means to the Farlows ? a family dynasty that stretches back to the earliest settlers on the Lower Clarence.
But that view up the hill to the old house could soon be changed forever as the prospect of a dual carriageway snaking through the property becomes a very real possibility.
According to Noel, the Green and Red options for the new Pacific Highway route proposed by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) would plough straight through the hill, cutting his property in half and bringing B-doubles within metres of the home's front steps.
Luckily, it's not Mr Farlow's only house.
He rents out the threatened homestead while living up the road in another home of similar vintage.
The loss of the house is at first the most disappointing outcome for the Farlows.
Mr Farlow and his wife Daphne had turned down offers to purchase the place because they had considered refurbishing it and retiring there.
With two teenage sons of his own, Bevan had also looked forward to spending time there in the coming years. There's no doubt either option proposed by the RTA would force Mr Farlow to change the way he managed his property.
Cattle would have to be herded under a highway overpass to reach the closest source of water and new fencing would have to go up. Mr Farlow is also waiting to find out how the RTA determines his property's value, should they want to buy it.
The area's proximity to the existing highway and the differing sizes of neighbouring lots have created a unique area for valuers to assess potential worth.
Living so close to the Pacific Highway, Mr Farlow has always expected the RTA to come knocking again, seeking the use of his land. But he can't see the sense of future plans for the highway as more and more people move to the coast for a better lifestyle.
A supporter of Ballina MP Don Page's suggested inland highway route along the Summerland Way, Mr Farlow believed longer-term planning strategies needed consideration.
He would be within his rights to be angry with the proposed plans, but Mr Farlow's is a calm demeanour, like a boxer studying his opponent from the corner of the ring before the first bell sounds.
He's been happy with how the RTA and consultants Sinclair Knight Merz have responded to his questions so far, but when it comes to his property, there's no question ? he'll fight to save every last blade of grass.
"We knew something would happen," he said.
"(The highway) is going to be upgraded all the time and that's fair enough, but we never imagined that (the hill) would come into their plans.
"If they take the land, then they take it, there's not much you can do. But we want to be fairly compensated.
"As far as the RTA's current plans, of course we're objecting to them, we're not budging."
The Farlow family's plight is replicated throughout the Clarence Valley as residents come to terms with the RTA's proposals, something Noel is keenly aware of when being singled out for this article.
"There are people behind my property in the James Creek Estate and out to Gulmarrad who have put money into new houses out there," he said.
"There's young families with children just starting off who have put all their savings into a block of land and built a nice big house that would have turned into a really good investment. They're the ones I feel sorry for."