Kialla settlers under threat due to planning concerns

By John Lewis

Every town needs a place for its dreamers, mavericks, renegades and fringe-dwellers.

For more than 130 years, the historic Kialla Village Settlement has been a retreat from the encroaching urban world for some, and a forgotten place of flood-prone bushland for others.

Now, Greater Shepparton City Council aims to protect the history of the place with a heritage overlay and at the same time enforce building and safety regulations on existing structures. John Lewis talked to current and former residents about what makes the place special.

Noel Heenan built his home out of tin and wood more than 20 years ago. But it's far more than a shed. It's a formidable structure with two storeys and steps leading up to an open-plan kitchen and lounge-room. Inside, there's a log fire and space for his collection of classic racing motorcycles and, in front of the log fire, a glass coffee table rests on a polished twin-cylinder motorcycle engine.

If a man's home is his castle, this is Noel's palace.

But there's a problem.

The Mooroopna panel beating business owner built his castle without planning permission, and now the planners want him out.

Noel strikes you as a man with a stubborn streak as wide as the Goulburn River.

He should have been out two months ago but there's no sign of packed bags.

And he isn't worried about flood or fire, either.

"This property has been settled for 130 years — we love the floods, bring it on," he says.

Just down the road, Mark Farren lives in a caravan after being told he can't build a shed to live in while he builds a house. He said he had a meeting with Greater Shepparton City Council officers on August 26, but he hasn't heard anything since.

"I think they're trying to get us out," Mark says.

Third generation Kialla Village Settlement residents, siblings Lindsay and Pam Miller. 

Brother and sister Lindsay and Pam Miller live further into the settlement in a small weatherboard house on Riverview Dve.

Pam says their grandfather transported the house from Dookie before World War II.

Both were born at the old Mooroopna Hospital and have vivid memories of growing up on the settlement.

"There were seven of us and Mum used to bring water up from the river to give us a bath in the house," Pam says.

Lindsay, 74, followed in his father's footsteps cutting wood from Toolamba to Violet Town.

"I remember as a young bloke people had little shacks made out of kerosene cans. There were the Barkers, the Millers, the Corrigans — there were heaps of families," he says.

He says 30 years ago the water commission tried to buy a string of settlement properties and then knocked down a few houses to clear the place.

"There were people who refused to sell too," he says.

He says people's properties were regularly flooded.

"When Mum was pregnant the old man would row her to the hospital," he says.

But Lindsay says things are changing.

"Now, there's no water in the creeks, they've all dried up. There's no turtles, you don't hear the frogs, the billabongs are dry.''

He's also confused by the proposed heritage overlay.

"We feel insecure, nobody will say exactly what is happening," he says.

Lindsay and Pam Miller's residence off Riverside Dve where they grew up.

His neighbour Roy Shepherd says he had three feet of water in his house during the 1993 floods.

"We just cleaned up and got on with it," he says.

Alan and Glenice Scott have lived on the settlement since 1975 after buying land occupied by a chook farm.

Alan remembers picking up bullet casings from the soil around their home and believes the sand hill was used as a rifle range during the Boer War.

Fronting their home on Riverview Dve is a billboard that announces their beliefs to the world. "Jesus is alive" it proclaims to passersby.

"We chose to live here because it was quiet, and there was plenty of room for our children. They loved growing up here," Glenice says.

On a wall over their dining table hang the framed deeds and legal titles to their house and land.

Both are proud historians of the area.

"A lot of well-known families come from here and a lot of soldiers who fought in the wars," Glenice says.

In his two-storey corrugated palace near the railway line, Noel Heenan sits back in a chair waving a letter telling him to leave by July 18.

"That's all good. But there's only one problem — I'm not going anywhere," he says.

Settlement history

The Kialla Village Settlement is in an area of bushland along the Goulburn River, formerly known as Honeysuckle Park.

The 188ha (470 acres) of land was subdivided in the first decade of the 20th century; approximately 90 blocks of various sizes — an average of 2.05ha (five acres) and some 40-50 houses were constructed, mainly on the higher banks of the Goulburn River, and on sandhills that abound in the locality.

The rules for such settlements were that the blocks were sold at one pound per acre, repayable at one shilling per acre per annum, and were deemed to be "conditional" purchases with a view that they were to be workmen's blocks allowing for a cow, a horse, fruit trees and poultry.

Although in the Shepparton Shire, the settlers had a closer affinity with the township of Mooroopna, and many who took up blocks were residents of that town.

- From The History of Kialla Village Settlement (Honeysuckle Park) 1893 - 1993 by Kitty M Weight