Laurie Axtens - Call of the Loon

The good councillors of Lismore were asked a vital question this week. Possibly one of the most vital questions they have ever been asked.

Not that youd know.

The issue didnt make much of a splash in the local media, there were no blaring headlines, no in-depth analysis from investigative journalists, just a couple of brief news story about re-classification of land.

They should have appeared in the funeral notices under Death of the Commons.

If you think Im exaggerating, just take a look at what has happened to Spinks Park over the last 30 years. This was a place where I used to play and roam as a child.

Now look at it. Its a carpark, a rose garden, a coffee shop and a transport centre. Spinks Park is a misnomer. There is no park to speak of.

Lismore Park is now being set up to travel the same road.

The founding fathers of the state of New South Wales, in their wisdom, established two essential classifications for lands controlled by local government; operational land and community land. Operational lands were mostly free of restriction. They could be sold or leased or used in virtually any manner councils saw fit. Whereas community land was to be held in perpetuity, to remain a community possession for time immemorial. A rallying place which no vested interest, no matter how wealthy or powerful could seal off and exclude us from. Small leases were available on community land, but the lands were not to be sold and the leases were short and development restricted.

The most prestigious parcel of common land in Lismore is called Lismore Park. It is a glorious, grassy stretch of land, which incorporates Oakes Oval and is bounded on the west by Dally Street, the south by Magellan Street, north by Uralba Street and the east by Brewster Street. It is the jewel in the heart of our city. It is the common lands which, as a child, I played on twice a week almost without fail.

On Wednesday afternoon the last public input regarding the re-classification of this common land went before council. A small, but devoted group of protesters attended. A small crowd of people who actually knew what the re-classification meant. Who knew that it was a direct attack on the spirit of community and the property of each and every Lismorian.

For if Lismore Park isnt the commons then what is? Nothing is, and thats the point. If the most central piece of commonly-owned land in Lismore isnt collective property, then the whole notion of collective ownership goes with it. This isnt the thin edge of the wedge, this the theft of the jewel in Lismores crown, and its like no one even seems to notice. Im crying as I write this. Im not fooled by all the bureaucratic gobbledegook, I know whats going on. You and I are being removed from the equation.

Its not that I doubt the councils officers when they tell me Lismore Park will continue to be used for recreation. But they wont be in those jobs forever and they cant protect those lands in perpetuity. Only the community classification can do that. Im not even opposed to the development plans that the present council has for Crozier Oval. But this council wont be there in two years time.

If we take away the protections of the community land classification we are consigning our heritage to a corporate future where economic pressures will consume it. That much I feel sure of, why else change its classification?

Lismore City Council is already tens of millions of dollars in debt and the citys General Manager has assured council that a further $30 million dollars worth of projects will go ahead. Maybe we can afford to pay these off, but if interest rates go back to pre-2000 levels, what then? Will they feel the pinch and be forced to sell off the family silver. Undoubtedly, unless there are legal restrictions protecting those lands. Its in the councillors hands now, and their vote will show you whether they stand with us or against us.

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