ACT News


Pialligo farmers battle to maintain lifestyle

Pialligo orchardists Ken and Fay Kerrison shield their apples from fruit bats and cockatoos with nets but can't stop progress from threatening their rural way of life.

Mrs Kerrison said one or two cockatoos still crept in under their nets. ''They have learnt to survive on their wits, I suppose.''

So have the Kerrisons. They confuse coddling moth with synthetic pheromones and renew their trees with dwarf varieties for more efficient production.

But they're near their wits end on how to slow Canberra's urban sprawl, most evident in plans for a fire station on land separating them from Pialligo Avenue.

Crosses sprayed on big gums and Arizona cypress indicate many will be cut down, removing a screen from traffic to and from Canberra Airport and Queanbeyan.

''It's a lovely park at the moment,'' Mrs Kerrison said. ''To build over it I think is a crime.''


A spokesman for the government says a decision has not been made. He would not comment on the trees and said consultation was continuing.

Max Hill grew vegetables commercially at Pialligo for 50 years. Now 94, he said when he left, his farm was acquired by another vegetable grower, then a winery and it had since changed hands again.

''The government makes it easier to get a change of the purpose clause on a lease. In my day it was a lot harder,'' Mr Hill said.

Three applications before the ACT Planning and Land Authority to develop leases elsewhere in Pialligo underline that pressure. In one a commercial agent says land values are about $400,000 per hectare. Similar land for large NSW blocks is about $3000 per hectare and $10,000 for smaller ACT rural blocks.

That means lessees must look to other activities, according to an applicant who wants more uses added, including rural workshop, restaurant, art and craft shop or sculpture dealer and farm tourism.

Mr Kerrison said farmers were growing too old to continue, and when someone sold the next owner was unlikely to earn a living from growing food.

''It doesn't affect us,'' he said. ''We're happy doing what we do. Odds are that who ever takes over won't keep the orchards.''

Pialligo Residents Association president Bob Ross drew up a master plan which the government has been tinkering with since 2008. A final draft is due later this year.

''There's increasing interest in varying what's out here,'' he said. ''Once we can get the master plan sorted and have it look attractive for people coming to the suburb, I think it will open up a lot more enthusiasm from the people who come here.''