By Michael Giles
WHAT the South Gippsland Shire Council and its administration has done to the families and retired couples, who up until now have been annual leaseholders at the Port Welshpool and Yanakie caravan parks, is an absolute disgrace.
There’s a massive financial cost that the shire has done its best to hide, and we’ll get to the bottom of that don’t worry.
But more important, far more important than that is the human cost.
And to be there last Saturday and witness the break-up of a wonderful community at Yanakie; as couples, families and individuals went about pulling down their annexes, decks and verandas, and taking them to the tip, prior to having caravans removed really brought it home.
Their sentimental keepsakes, the family photos on the walls, their efforts to make their holiday retreats homely… they’re all gone.
Oh don’t worry, they fought the stupid edicts by the council and railed against the shire’s belligerent attitude and failure to negotiate or mediate the dispute for almost two years but in the end, many of them have been broken by the process.
Having spent thousands of dollars from their own scarce funds to mount a legal challenge, they certainly don’t want to go but fear what it might cost to fight on now that eviction notices have been served.
Even now some of them are holding out, hoping the shire will finally see reason (if not decency) and do what they should have done in the first place, make it a requirement on the sale of a caravan set-up that it be brought up to compliance by the new owners.
Or, at the very least, give them three months grace to get out now they have ultimately decided to go.
For goodness sake, this isn’t Queensland.
The long, cold stretch of weather in South Gippsland means that peak holiday demand at caravan parks, for all but the very best Big 4 Parks, is very limited and you need the balance of cash flow from the annuals and casual demand to make local parks viable.
The shire administration doesn’t know how to run a caravan park. Everyone told them that before they took it on, nor do they have the commitment to do so properly with the predictable result that they have thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars at the problem with very little to show for it.
For what it has cost us, the ratepayers, they could have made reasonable demands on the annuals and left them in peace, and built their own flash new park at Yanakie.
But for all the heartache and despair that was going on at Yanakie and Port Welshpool last weekend, we did not hear one word, not a single word from our councillors at their monthly meeting last Wednesday.
Do they even know what it has cost so far?
The council also plans to make a similar move on annuals at the Waratah Bay Caravan Park towards the end of next year. Hopefully the experiences at Yanakie and Port Welshpool will serve as a reality check for the next council.