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11/05/2015

Vineyard fears bureaucratic rescue of ‘non-existent frogs’

One of Australia’s more esteemed makers of Shiraz is locked in an existential struggle with bureaucrats intent on turning his historic winery into a haven for a frog he says hasn’t been seen on the property for 50 years.

Pat Carmody, whose Craiglee Vineyard sits on Melbourne’s western outskirts, discovered by chance in 2013 that his property had had a growling grass frog overlay placed on it covering 75 per cent of the property.

On a horseshoe bend of Jackson’s Creek at Sunbury, the vineyard produces a few thousands cases a year of some the ­nation’s finest shiraz, regularly ranking in Halliday’s top 100.

Carmody says his winery is under threat because of the frog overlay the Environment Department insists extends 100m either side of the creek, severely restricting what he can do with three-quarters of his land.

“What I do here gives people a lot of pleasure and I don’t think it should be destroyed by these ­people,’’ he says. “I have had two years of battling this and I still don’t quite believe this could happen in a reasonable society.”

Craiglee, established in 1860. has been in Carmody’s hands since 1976. During that time he has never seen a growling grass frog, which can grow to 10cm and is listed as threatened in Victoria.

He says bureaucrats who put his vineyard and home within the frog habitat have never surveyed the creek to see if the frog exists, but surveys he commissioned found no frogs and said the creek was “highly marginal” territory for them.

“My wife is a biologist and she says it is only a hypothesis there are any frogs here. She said if they put studies they have done before a scientific conference, they’d be ­laughed out of the place.”

The winemaker says the frog habitat was established as part of deal between developers and state and federal governments when the urban growth boundary was extended to cover parts of Sunbury in 2010: “They haven’t even had the courtesy to notify me they think it is frog habitat.”

Developers with estates nearby were happy to sacrifice the land along the creek as the banks were too steep to build on, but the deal has left Carmody with a vineyard, house and winery he cannot upgrade or sell. He believes the move is ­designed to pressure him into giving over the land inside the frog buffer to government and worries it is stonewalling in discussions to deplete him of time and money.

“The history and the longevity of this property mean it is a special site,’’ he says. “If this was in Burgundy … they would be saying how can we help these people keep it operating rather than trying to shut it down. It’s bureau­cracy gone mad.”

A spokesman for the state department said the overlay would “have no effect on landowners’ abilities to continue to use their land within the area as they have done historically.”

He said future development would be subject to state and federal planning approval.

-This story was originally published in The Australian by Rick Wallace.

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