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Maclean resident Wally Gates is pictured in 2013 with Cane Punt No. 6, which is believed to be the last surviving example of the barges used to transport sugarcane on the Clarence River. The old Ashby ferry was in service until 1981 (only as a relief ferry after 1976), before the bridges from Ashby to Warregah Island and Warregah to Chatsworth Island were built. File Image: Lynne Mowbray

Vessels deteriorate as council dithers

Geoff Helisma | At the March 20 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, councillors were unanimous in their decision to approve but defer action on a development application (DA) for four months – to remove the heritage listed ferry and cane punt on display at Ferry Park adjacent to the Maclean highway exit. The council officer had recommended a 12-month deferment. Four submissions were lodged objecting to the DA, which councillors unanimously voted to prepare nearly four years ago at the August 2013 council meeting. One of the four submissions, from Maclean resident Wally Gates, resulted in councillors instructing “Council [to] undertake formal negotiations with interested parties to find suitable locations for the relocation of the vessels and that the negotiations include consideration of the proposal put forward by Mr Wally Gates of the Greater Maclean Community Action Group”. The Lawrence Museum has also expressed an interest in the vessels, however, the museum would have to acquire land to accommodate the vessels, the report to council stated. The vessels have been the subject of several decisions over the past decade; in fact, restoration of the cane punt was listed as one of six ‘Special Projects’ in CVC’s Maclean Community Based Heritage Study – the result of a decision made (or adopted from the former Maclean shire council) in 2004 by the newly amalgamated CVC. In April 2009, councillors decided to seek grant funding to the value of $40,000, to “restore the cane barge comprising $20,000 for repair, rust proofing and repainting and $20,000 for a protective roof”. This was unsuccessful. in March 2010, CVC received a $5,000 Australian National Maritime Museum grant that resulted in the commissioning of the, Cane punt No. 6 Vessel Management Plan, to direct the ongoing preservation and restoration of the cane punt, built in 1946. Councillors were not directly informed of this in the report to the March 2018 council meeting, however, another report – Ashby Ferry and Cane Punt No. 6: proposed removal – tabled at the meeting, and as a result of the 2013 decision, stated: “It should be noted that a Vessel Management Plan for Cane Punt No. 6 has been prepared by Michael Staples in 2010. “This report draws heavily on Staples’ historical research, significance assessment and advice for the management of the punt.” Given the 11 years that have passed since the punt was identified as a ‘special project’ it was somewhat ironic when the report to council stated, when considering the council officer recommended 12-month deferment period: “This would be consistent with Council’s Heritage Strategy by managing heritage in the Clarence Valley area in a positive manner and setting a good example to the community by properly managing places owned or operated by Clarence Valley Council.” The old Ashby ferry (commissioned in 1936) and Cane Punt No 6 are listed as heritage items under the Clarence Valley Local Environment Plan 2011. Both the ferry and barge are also listed on the Australian Register of Historic Vessels. However, when the Independent spoke with CVC’s Environment, Planning and Community director Des Schroder in 2013, he said the maritime listing was not “statutory” and that any heritage issues would be addressed through the DA process, as approved at the March 2018 meeting. At that time, he said: “We couldn’t find any suitable grants; there was nowhere to apply for them.” When asked: Isn’t it the council’s responsibility to preserve heritage items under its care? Mr Schroder said: “It has been on the list of possible projects in a number of draft budgets, definitely in this year’s, for the ferry, but the councillors chose other projects as priorities in a very tough budget.”