“IT IS like a bottle of champagne - it puts a permanent smile on your face.”
That’s a Willows Gemfield resident’s description of the feeling he gets when he finds a sapphire. But contrary to that emotion is a growing concern around town that the Willows lifestyle enjoyed by so many for generations is under threat.
Citizens are putting the shout out to government authorities to take the necessary action they believe will ensure the survival of what they call a “tourist attraction worth its weight in gold”.
Des Volk, a Willows resident of more than 30 years and chairman of the area’s Rural Fire Brigade, said the concern weighed deep in his heart and was exemplified by his wish to “protect a way of life that is completely unique and different to any other in Queensland”.
“We’re not just another coal mining dormitory,” Mr Volk said.
“This township was donated to council generations ago under the agreement that the fossickers and their rights, which overrule the grazing leasehold rights, would be protected.
“It’s all changing now, the cattle property is slowly taking priority over fossicking and something magical is withering away.”
The problem for Willows residents and tourists that come from afar is the fact a grazing leasehold sits right on top of the town and its designated fossicking area. With grazing properties come fences, gates and general farm infrastructure. Fossicking legislation protects tracks from being interfered with, but does not prevent anyone from simply fencing over them.
“New fences are going up everywhere and gates are always being shifted without anyone in town knowing,” Mr Volk said.
He offered authorities a design on how to protect his beloved Willows, and suggested a complete removal of the pastoral leasehold, where due compensation was awarded and all internal fences were removed. He called on authorities to restore the Willows protected flora and fauna status and its full fire-breaks, replace the dump with garbage collection, and reinstate a restriction on the maximum number of mining claims allowed to operate at once.
“I think we should be able to co-exist on this land as fossickers and graziers, but unfortunately, there has been a gradual wearing down of all that is magical about this area and what this place stands for and once was is disappearing,” Mr Volk said.
Willows fire warden Paul Goodson said the emergence of new fencing and the constant shifting of gates also endangered residents.
“One was recently moved without our knowledge and is now a kilometre away and over a couple of creeks,” he said. “It’s a hassle that we as fire wardens should not have to deal with.”
Mr Goodson also talked about the dire need for a second egress heading out of town that leads to a marshalling area for residents and tourists in case of a dangerous fire.
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