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Kimberley Guide Special Issue: Disturbing News from Mt. Hart
December 08, 2010

8 December 2010, Special Issue

In this issue:
  • Disturbing News from Mt. Hart


I am writing this special issue mainly to reach those readers who have already been to the Kimberley.

Everybody else is of course more than welcome to read it as well!
It's just that this is not the kind of update that you had signed up for, and it is not the kind of newsletter that I usually send out.

I hope that as you read what is currently happening at Mt. Hart, you'll understand and agree with my decision.

Expect issue #29 of your regular newsletter in your inbox some time next week.

So what is the reason for this special issue?

At this point in time it looks as if Mt. Hart may not open for business next season, except, maybe, the campground. However, that's only a small part of the news. The disturbing and hard to believe aspect is WHY Mt. Hart may not open.

If you own Destination Kimberley, have already been along the Gibb River Road, and especially if you have been to Mt. Hart and met Taffy, you can skip the next section and go straight to "What's happening at Mt. Hart now".

For those of you new to this list, let me first tell you a bit about Mt. Hart.

About Mt. Hart

Mt. Hart Wilderness Lodge is an almost one million hectare property, located right in one of the most scenic parts of the whole Kimberley, the King Leopold Ranges. Like all other leases in this part of the world, Mt. Hart was initially established to run cattle on it.

However, this country is as rugged as it gets. It's good country with lots of water and cattle do really well. But Mt. Hart is just too far off the beaten track and far too rugged. The pioneers had no way to get those healthy, fat cows to market!

Different owners struggled from 1914 to 1987 to make the place work, but nobody succeeded. Draughts and floods meant the homestead was shifted several times. (The heritage homestead that accommodates visitors today was built in 1960.)

Eventually Mt. Hart was declassified as a viable cattle station and the DEC--formerly CALM--took over. (The DEC/CALM is the government body that manages all Western Australian national and conservation parks.)

Enter Taffy Abbots.

Twenty years ago Taffy managed to negotiate a service agreement with CALM. He would go out there, look after the place for CALM, and try to make it viable as a tourism business. Obviously his work would greatly improve the value of the property (CALM's property!) so CALM in return would support Taffy by financing any capital investment work.

And make no mistake, there wasn't much left of Mt. Hart when Taffy arrived!

Over the next 20 years Taffy succeeded where all other pioneers had failed. His tenacity and dedication, fuelled by his love for this country, turned things around.

In twenty years of hard work, year round, seven days a week, sunrise to sunset, most of it backbreaking, manual labour, Taffy has built up Mt. Hart into what it is today. (I am not exaggerating for romanticism. This is what life is like for anyone who lives in such a remote place year round.)

Mt. Hart is a treasure in that it is a living piece of history, the real, authentic Kimberley of the pioneer days, that somehow made it into our century. Just like Taffy Abbots is a real, authentic Kimberley pioneer and bushman.

There aren't many left of either of those.

What's happening at Mt. Hart now?

In a region as remote as the Gibb River Road, people interact very differently than they do in more populated areas.

Integrity, honesty and openness are still at the core of everything, and a hand shake is still as good as a written contract.

Or so we like to think.

Unfortunately that doesn't work so well if you are dealing with soulless government bodies.

I don't know all the legal details of what is happening now, but it appears that when Taffy entered into the service agreement with the DEC, he left himself wide open to be taken advantage of.

In short:
  • Taffy just received notification that he is out of there. Yep, kicked out, as of November 2011. (The service agreement will not be renewed.)
  • The DEC/CALM want the property and everything on it (it is legally theirs). They don't want the business, but obviously Taffy also can't take it with him. So he loses his home and his livelihood.
  • CALM gave Taffy a ruin twenty years ago, the DEC is now taking a little jewel off him. According to an independent valuation that Taffy had asked for, the value of the property has increased by 1.9 million dollars in that period.
  • Most of that is Taffy's work and own money.
  • Taffy is being offered $200,000 compensation, but only if he accepts that offer within 28 days, and the money will only be paid AFTER he has vacated the property for seven days and the DEC has inspected it to make sure he left his life's work in mint condition.
  • $200,000 doesn't even allow Taffy to repay the loans he had to take out to do the DEC approved capital investments he's done (like the new campground and ablution block) and that he had assumed he would eventually be compensated for by the DEC, as per the agreement.

There is more, like a formal asset register the DEC was supposed to supply, and that Taffy had repeatedly requested to be drawn up. Eventually a uni student on work experience visited Mt. Hart three years ago and made a list of all things that she thought she saw (a steam roller? a second access road?). The list also included many of Taffy's private possessions.

Taffy says he was reassured that it doesn't matter, that it was just a work experience, and not to worry about it.

Then last year he discovered that somehow this list has become the official asset register he had requested for so long. In other words, even some of his own personal plant, equipment, and tools have somehow become the property of DEC, according to that register. Taffy still has no confirmation that the list has been corrected according to his input.

The more I dug into this, the more it seemed like a very bad joke.

While I am sure that some of these matters could be resolved (the asset register, possibly), I wonder how that can happen within a couple of weeks, just before Christmas.

And the deadline on the DEC offer is December 23.

Now add up all of the above and then work out what this can mean for Taffy and Kim, especially if nothing gets resolved until then. Government bureaucracy is not exactly known to be speedy and efficient!

The two have only just reached out to let people know what's going on. I've only known about it for six days, and as I said, I don't know anything about the legal details. All I know is what Taffy and Kim have shared with me.

My fear is that legally the DEC has nothing to worry about. The contract Taffy signed twenty years ago appears to have enough loopholes for them to exploit. According to the state solicitor they owe Taffy nothing, the $200,000 are a goodwill offer. They also have the financial means to press their agenda, which Taffy has not.

There are doubts that what they are doing is in fact all legal, but there is no way for Taffy to assess or prove it in the given time frame. (Is that the reason for the short deadline?)

Even if it is legal, does it being legal make it right? I don't think so.

Is there anything that can be done about it?

Only one way to find out!

Taffy has written up his story from his point of view on the website that Kim and he maintain.

The two have also made a couple of videos that tell the same story, for the more visual orientated among you:
The 12 minute version showing all the work Taffy did and explaining the current situation
The 7 minute version focussing on the current situation

You now know roughly as much as I know. Make up your own mind about all this, and if you also feel that something is going seriously wrong here, please make your voice heard.

At the bottom of the page on Taffy has compiled a list of contacts to send your letters of concern.

You can also get in touch with Taffy and Kim themselves. They can certainly use a bit of moral support right now!

And if you have any ideas and suggestions for something that can actually be DONE about this, other than expressing outrage, please contact Taffy and Kim.

You can email directly to mthart AT bigpond DOT com or use the comments form on their website.

The 23rd of December is the deadline.
Merry Christmas.


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