Geoff Helisma |
Alan Smith, 70, says he’s an independent man and that he is humbled as a result of online Facebook advocacy group, The Clarence Forum, contacting and assisting him to save his home from being auctioned by Clarence Valley Council (CVC)
Mr Smith’s property was one of 27 properties, for which rates and charges have been overdue for five or more years, which CVC will auction on Wednesday May 23.
In Mr Smith’s case, the circumstances surrounding his debt to CVC were quite extraordinary.
Due mainly to serious health issues, he was unaware or unable to address the debt until “alerted by council … about four weeks ago”.
Mr Smith had a cost-sharing agreement with his deceased wife but that had not worked out to be satisfactory.
He said he received letters from CVC following his wife’s death, however, at that time (in 2015) he went to visit family and attend a funeral in Bendigo, after which he had planned “to spend a few weeks with [his] children in the Riverina and in the Bathurst Orange area”.
However, he “started having collapses”.
“Doctors diagnosed me as being epileptic,” he said.
“I went through 14 or 15 months of that and then put myself in hospital and insisted I wasn’t leaving until I had some proper answers.
“We got proper answers when I was connected to monitors, which resulted in emergency surgery, a Royal Flying Doctor flight to Sydney and an operation the very next day to insert a pacemaker.
“My heart was stopping; it was not epilepsy at all.
“The house was abandoned for two and half years due to my health issues and making sure that I was capable of living alone again.
“I still supported myself when I was at my son’s place in Bathurst, but I needed somebody there in case something serious happened.
“I was not sure I was going to live.”
Twenty years ago, Mr Smith was diagnosed with cancer.
Following successful treatment, he retired and moved to Grafton with his wife. He began volunteering at Camelia Cottage in South Grafton “from its inception in 2000”.
He volunteered there, on and off, until he suffered his first collapse “at the Salvation Army Op Shop in Bathurst in 2015”.
Mr Smith performed general maintenance and upkeep of the grounds, working “four or five hours a day depending on circumstances” as a “general dog’s body” and on community assistance programs such as providing breakfast for kids who “were setting off for school without breakfast in their bellies”.
When asked about the assistance provided by the Clarence Forum, he said: “I’m more the kind of person who wants to be helping others, not asking for help myself.
“But I am very grateful for the help I’m getting.”
Just as the Independent was winding up the phone interview, forum member Bernadette Trela, who lives in Mr Smith’s street and initially approached him, knocked on the door and asked if Mr Smith was alright.
The forum’s convenor, John Hagger, had been trying to contact Mr Smith while he was talking to the Independent – he subsequently contacted Ms Trela to check on Mr Smith’s wellbeing.
“Alan’s just a neighbour in our street … we were quite shocked to hear about his situation,” Ms Trela said.
Mr Smith’s travails are not at an end, though: he has agreed to onerous payments to CVC, $350 per fortnight from his pension, and he has borrowed from Centrelink against his pension payments.
Mr Hagger, who assisted Mr Smith with his negotiations with CVC is continuing to act for Mr Smith on several fronts, including applying to CVC’s hardship policy.
Meanwhile, Mr Smith’s outlook on the future lays somewhere between optimism and irony: “I can see some sort of glimmer at the end of the tunnel,” he said, followed by a little laugh.