Corunna Station


Story Details

It's another spectacular sunrise at Corunna station and another days work is well-underway...

But there's a huge cloud looming over this pastoral family... A David and Goliath battle that could see the Federal Government boot them off their land and take everything they've worked for.

The land's everything to me… I've lived here my whole life and it's something that you pass down to generation to generation,” says son Brenton.

This is the French family... Patriarch Graham and his son Brenton, wife Jo and their three teenage children... They've run this property near Iron Knob for more than 36 years... It was the setting for the acclaimed film "The Sundowners".

But it's now more closely aligned with a very different iconic movie... “The Castle”.

“It's very similar isn't it? I have watched it a few times since and it's got similarities for sure yeah but as yet we haven't won have we?” says Graham.

Already there has been a round one court room win after the Federal Government tried to compulsorily acquire their 576 square km station.

“We wanted to keep it because I've got a family heritage here,” says Graham.

But the government, with unlimited resources, is now appealing the ruling...

“Pretty shitted off actually… wouldn't you be? You know when you thought you had your home back but you hadn't,” says Graham.

“It's been a real kick in the guts for us,” adds Brenton.

In fact... So far it's been an eight year battle. Back in 2005 the family was told that the government wanted their farm as part of its expansion of the Cultana defence training area... But that wasn't the complete truth.

“All the way through we were told it was being acquired for defence purposes,” says Graham.

“Then we found out 2 and a half years ago that they were only taking 20 per cent for military purpose,” says Brenton.

The other 80 per-cent of their land was to be a bargaining chip in a land swap with Barngarla Aboriginal group after some of their land was also acquired by the government.

All this was done behind the family's back…

“I just couldn't believe it… how can you take someone else's land they've lived on all they're life,” says Brenton.

“It's just a plain land grab isn't it really… seems pretty shonky to me don't you reckon?” says Graham.

The family says it wanted to keep the land even before it discovered the truth... And Federal Member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey says the government should back off...

“In this particular case the Commonwealth in their wisdom decided to bargain away something they never owned, that they didn’t have a right to… What they're doing here is setting a precedence which is dangerous to all of Australia. They're trying to take one man's property away to give to another man or to a third party… they now have resorted to bringing in the big guns if you like and trying to exhaust the French's financially trying to scare them off, hoping they'll blink and just curl up in the corner and go away,” says Rowan.

And how much has it cost you?

“We've put in $100,000 at least into lawyers without time wasted, meetings, trips to Adelaide all those sorts of costs are not factored in… we could end up with at least that again for the next court case who knows?” says Graham.

“I can't see why we have to pay money to fight something that's already ours… why do we gotta pay money, we can fight for a while but not forever,” says Brenton.

We won our case and they're going to drag us through it, we went through the right systems… let us go now,” adds wife Jo.

The French's are one of SA's oldest pastoral families and have worked on the land for more than 100 years… so to lose this place is like losing part of their identity and the ability to pass on their legacy.

“Pretty upsetting… Pretty unfair… I don't understand how someone can just come in and take your home”.

“It means heaps to our family… it's been passed down from my pop to dad and to me, oh hopefully,” says Bailey, 15.

But for the sheep and cattle graziers the uncertainty has meant living in limbo... Running only half the stock they could be.

“It's been pretty hard on the family for sure because you can't plan anything you can't do any improvements to the property… well you can, but you know if you improve it you’re not going to get paid for it so anything you improve is going to be money down the drain” says Graham.

How emotional do you get to think that in a year's time you could be out of here?

“It'll be pretty sad won't it? After 36 years of it? And I’ve worked my same life on the same industry, there's no more of that… I'm worried about Brenton and his kids because they're the ones that are going to follow on aren’t they?” says Graham.

In the meantime Brenton has had to buy an earthmoving business as a back-up plan to support his kids through school... But that doesn't mean they're giving up easily...

“They're going back to the full bench of the Federal Court again to get 3 more judges to have another go… where does it stop you know?” asks Brenton.

“We're not going to give up without a fight anyway… definitely not,” says Jo.

Even if it means going all the way to the High Court, just like the Kerrigans.

And they're hoping for the same happy ending.

“It’s our h!/corunnastationfightingback
ome, don’t take it!” pleads Bailey.