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Clarence Valley News

Watch out, snakes about



Reptile enthusiast Ben Fisher shows he has mastered techniques for dealing with venomous snakes during his venomous snake handling course he attended in June.

Watch out, snakes about


By Tim Howard

Northern Rivers residents should be aware snakes are on the move about a month to six weeks earlier than normal.

A Clarence Valley snake and reptile enthusiast, Ben Fisher, said he had been called out three times since July 31 for snake sightings, which was surprising.


Mr Fisher who has a life-long connection with reptiles, completed a course training him in the handling of venomous snakes.

He hopes to turn his passion and training into business later this year.

“Usually it’s about mid-September – spring – when they start moving around,” he said.

“Now that it’s starting to warm up the male snakes are often travelling in yards, schools and in towns in search of a mate. You may find them fighting.”

Snakes can surprise residents in their yards, but often other animals can give people a warning one is near.

“There are signs that you can look out for,” Mr Fisher said.

“Two of those signs are local birds and your dogs. If you hear your dog’s barking please go and check.

“If you hear the local birds making a racket please go and check it may be that there is a snake close by.”

He said while the usual suspects were non-venomous carpet pythons, he had been shocked at the large number of red-bellied black snakes that had taken up residence locally.

A snake being lowered into a bag.

Finally it became necessary to pick the snake up and lower it into the depths of the bag to ensure its safe capture.

“They’re a snake that loves the water,” he said. “Since the floods are lot more of them have been around.

“They’re generally found around pools, water pumps or the river.”

There are steps people should take if they come into contact with a snake.

“Unfortunately these beautiful creatures come in contact with pets,” he said.

“If you believe that your pet has been bitten please contact your local vet asap.

“If you have a snake in your yard or around the home please keep a safe distance and try to take a photo.’

“The local agency will be able to identify and let you the appropriate steps to follow.

Mr Fisher said snakes were found in and around town.

“Already this year I’ve seen the biggest red belly I’ve ever seen and it was in town,” he said.

He said pythons, red bellies and the occasional brown snake were the most common snake sightings.

He said he had also been called out to a snake sighting near the bus interchange at South Grafton.

“If anyone sees a snake, keep a safe distance from it and watch to see where it goes,” he said.

“Don’t take your eyes off them for more than a few seconds.”

A carpet python snake on pavers.

A 1.5m carpet python came calling at a Grafton residence last week. The residents called a local snake catcher who safely caught and removed the animal.

He said it was a misconception snakes hibernated.

“They go dormant during the colder months and find a safe place like a roof space, a tree or rabbit warren to nest,” he said.

“Because they’re cold blooded they can’t regulate their body temperature, so they want the sun to warm them up and get their blood circulating.

“If its cold lactic acid builds up quickly in them, which is like a massive cramp for them.”

He said the snake mating season was during mid summer, but snakes moving about could come into contact with each other.

“Two males could come into contact and begin fighting,” he said. “They coil around each other to assert their dominance.

“Some people mistake it for mating, but at this early stage of the season it’s likely to be males fighting.”

A snake catcher on arrival will use a stick with a wire crook and a long, black bag on a pole to capture the snake.

If the snake is on the ground it is relatively quickly pushed into the bag and secured.

Sometimes they might need to pick the snake up by the tail and lower it into the bag.

He said people who sighted a snake could call WIRES or the National Parks and Wildlife Service but they might not always be able to help.

It is illegal to capture or kill a native snake in Australia even if it is on your property.

A fine of $10,000 and jail time could result for anyone who kills a snake not deemed to be a threat to safety.


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Clarence Valley News

Lawrence Loves… lanterns to light up Lawrence Community




Lawrence Loves…

Lawrence Loves… lanterns to light up Lawrence Community


Lawrence Community Fundraising Inc. is inviting community members to participate in lantern making workshops over the weekend of Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 May, in preparation for Lawrence Loves… festival.

The free workshops, which run from 10.00am to 4.00pm both days, will be guided by master lantern maker Phill Relf of Ikara Celebratory Events. Phill, who is no stranger to the Clarence Valley in recent years – having conducted workshops and coordinated lantern parades in Ulmarra and Copmanhurst – said that lantern making is accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages.

“I just recently ran a workshop with students at Lawrence Public School, who made box lanterns. With the help of older ‘buddies’ from years 5 and 6, even the kindergarten kids were able to complete the lantern. I look forward to seeing them join the parade at Lawrence Loves…”


The workshops will be held at Lawrence Public Hall and offer two activities: attendees can build a small boat-shaped lantern to carry in the parade; they can also contribute to the construction of a model of the Lawrence Ferry, which will head up the parade on Saturday 25th May.

Phill is also keen to share insights with anyone curious about learning the techniques of building large processional lanterns. He remarked, “It’s a passion of mine to ‘teach the teacher’ so that others can pass on these skills. Lantern making is essentially a form of sculpture and by using a handful of core techniques, the models created can be extremely varied in style and size.”

Event manager Phil Nicholas said, “We are expecting school students, their families and community members from Lawrence and surrounding towns to attend the festival.”

“There will be activities and live music from 2.00pm to 9.00pm. In addition to sharing great food and live music, a lantern parade is one of the most magical ways of bringing a community together.”

Head to for detailed event information.


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Clarence Valley News

Government sinks Ulmarra ferry service




Ulmarra ferry in the mist

Government sinks Ulmarra ferry service


By Tim Howard

The pleas of a rural community and its representatives to keep the Ulmarra Ferry service have counted for nought, with the service scheduled to close permanently on June 10.

Transport for NSW announced last week the ferry, which has operated for 74 years carrying vehicular traffic across the Clarence River between Ulmarra and Southgate, will be decommissioned.


TfNSW director North Region Anna Zycki said the ferry had reached an age and condition where it was no longer fit to operate and ongoing river conditions also made the service untenable.

“The existing ferry has reached the end of its serviceable life,” she said.

“Because the existing ferry is now so old and requires so much repair, such a large restoration project would take about 18 months and cost an estimated $5 million, which is around a million dollars more than building a new car ferry.

“It’s effectively beyond repair, so this service would have been closed for that length of time anyway.”

Ms Zycki said silting on the southside of the river at Southgate was another problem for the service.

“The river is constantly changing course and there is nothing we can do to prevent the silt building up,” she said.

“We’ve dredged in the past, but it’s only a matter of a couple of weeks and the silt is back. It’s costly to do and has no lasting benefit.”

Ulmarra resident and Clarence Valley Councillor Steve Pickering was devastated and angry at Friday’s announcement which showed the views of the local community meant nothing to the State Government.

“It appears to be State Government cost cutting,” he said. “It looks like Ulmarra, little regional village, is just the recipient of the state government cutting its costs.

“And the community have basically been led up the garden path, thinking that there was the possibility of the ferry being retained. Turns out that was not true.”

Steven Pickering on the Ulmarra ferry closure

Steven Pickering is one of 13 people standing election to Clarence Valley Council on December 4.

Cr Pickering said the closure would have a big impact on the community ranging from school children, farmers, commuting workers and tourists.

He said the extra travelling would result in children changing schools, people switching jobs and relocating out of the area.

“There are people that work at Trenayr, so it could affect their employment if their 10-15 minute trip is now, 40 minutes each way,” he said.

He said local farmers who use the ferry to move slow-moving farm machinery around would not have to take that machinery to Grafton to cross the river.

“When you’ve got slow moving vehicles on the on Big River Way you’ve got drivers that will take risks, they will take risks to overtake these slow moving vehicles,” Cr Pickering said.

“And I don’t think that the safety issues, the safety concerns have been taken into account.”

Cr Pickering dismissed the cost argument for axing the service, saying the government had deliberately run down the service and not put regime in place to retain the service.

“Anybody that has an asset that’s approaching end of life has a plan, you know, they have a plan either to replace it or to or to repair it and this state government had no plans they’re only plan which we were led to believe was a plan was to take the Lawrence ferry.”

He said the lack of maintenance and the dredging issues had made the ferry service unreliable.

Cr Pickering said last year the Ulmarra ferry service was closed 250 times when low tide and silting combined to make crossing the river impossible.

He said this situation had been allowed to develop to discourage people from making ferry trips and paint a picture of declining usage.

Cr Pickering said the effect of this decision, going on the figures TfNSW provided on ferry usage would be to put more cars on road, travelling 6000km a day.

“When we’ve got a state government that say that they’re focusing on, you know, climate change mitigation, saying they’re looking at reducing vehicle emissions,” he said.

“We’ve got a government that could have shown leadership, but they could have brought forward perhaps an electric or a hydrogen powered ferry, you know, something innovative.”

The Member for Clarence Richie Williamson addressing NSW Parliament. On Wednesday he will speak about the community petition seeking to keep the Ulmarra Ferry operational.

The Member for Clarence Richie Williamson addressing NSW Parliament. On Wednesday he will speak about the community petition seeking to keep the Ulmarra Ferry operational.

The Member for Clarence, Richie Williamson, said the decision was a bitter disappointment, but he would still bring the petition with the signatures of thousands of Clarence residents to parliament on Wednesday night.

“I’m still going to speak on Wednesday night this week, because it’s, it’s vitally important to my community that I do that,” Mr Williamson said.

Mr Williamson said the issues with silting of the river were complicated, but he said the ferry had been able to deal with these issues.

“I understand the ferry had some kind of self-silting mechanism underneath, where every time it went past it pushed the silt away and every trip did a little bit to move the silt,” he said.

“Obviously for whatever reason, this stopped. And because of that the ferry became unreliable, because it was unreliable, patronage was down it makes perfect sense.”

Mr Williamson said was now up to the NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, Jenny Aitchison, to reverse her decision.

“She wrote to me on Friday night, saying that acting on advice from TfNSW she was making the difficult decision to shut down the Ulmarra Ferry service,” Mr Williamson said.

“But she can’t hide behind the department. The Minister has made the call to close the ferry which will affect a lot of people in the Clarence electorate.”

He said the parliament would hear how the decision would affect local people.

“As far as I’m concerned I’ll be tabling the petition in Parliament tomorrow (Tuesday),” he said.

“I’ll be speaking on behalf of the petition and on behalf of everyone in my electorate, who uses the ferry on Wednesday night, and I’ll be informing the house how important it is that the ferry remain and how this decision by this government will affect many people.”

Ms Zycki said the decommissioning of car ferries was not unusual.

“Many will remember ferries between Southgate and Brushgrove, at Harwood, Maclean-Ashby, Sportsmans Creek at Lawrence, Iluka, Goodwood Island, Seelands-Junction Hill and, way back, between Grafton and South Grafton,” Ms Zycki said.

“As road transport networks have improved, ferries at these locations have all gone out of service and people have adapted to the change.”

She in the case of the Ulmarra ferry, the opening of the second bridge at Grafton almost halved the number of vehicles using the ferry.

“When the new Balun Bindarray Bridge opened in Grafton in late 2019, patronage of the Ulmarra ferry immediately dropped by 46%” Ms Zycki said.

“It was anticipated that demand for the ferry would decline once the new bridge opened so it would largely replace the ferry service.

“The patronage hasn’t returned and the ferry – when river conditions allow it to operate – now carries on average about one vehicle per trip, costing taxpayers $22 for each vehicle journey.”

She said Transport for NSW was aware of the importance the community has placed on this ferry and will work with Clarence Valley Council and the community on suitable ways to commemorate its long service.


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Clarence Valley News

Councillors knock back Brooms conflict consultant proposal




Crown Maintenance Reserve

Councillors knock back Brooms conflict consultant proposal


By Tim Howard

Arriving at a plan of management for the Brooms Head Reserve has become so contentious Clarence Valley Council staff considered a conflict resolution consultant necessary to continue the process.

Council resolved in February to hear a further staff report on the long running attempt to arrive at a PoM for the reserve.


But when the report arrived it recommended ditching previous efforts and estimate costs for a new draft plan.

It also included recommendations to engage both a planning consultant and a “facilitator specialising in conflict resolution given the polarisation within the community regarding future management of the Reserve.”

To fund it the plan was to allocate $100,000 from the Crown Maintenance Reserve and include it in the 2024/25 Operational Plan.

The proposal was not to the liking of councillors.

Cr Debrah Novak moved council continue with preparing the draft PoM in accordance with the resolution in February 2024, allocate funds up to $40,000 from the Crown Maintenance Reserve  to complete this PoM.

The motion recommended funding the engagement of a planning consultant, but not a conflict resolution consultant.

It also stipulated the Terms of Reference for the PoM do not include, or relate to, the 2017 Concept Design Report for Brooms Head Holiday Park.

Most councillors believed the need for conflict resolution was overstated, although all admitted the process to arrive at a PoM had been long and contentious, with some reference to attempts in 1995 to come up with a PoM.

In moving her motion, Cr Novak said many people at Brooms Head were happy with what the council proposed in its February 24 resolution and this motion if successful would “provide clarity” for the community.

But Cr Karen Toms said she could see trouble ahead if the council pressed ahead with current February resolution.

“It’s it is a it is a very contentious issue,” she said. “And I wish we could fix it so easily.

“But I come back to the information in the report that tells us that the Local Government Act 1993 does not make provision to amend an existing PoM.

“And we’ve got a very old PoM that I don’t think we even had proof that had went out to community consultation.”

Cr Toms said there she knew people in the community who were unhappy with the process.

“It’s it’s complicated because I think some of the community stakeholders don’t really understand what a plan of management is,” she said.

“They wanted to have it to have more teeth, they wanted to have nitty gritty things in there, but that’s not what Plans of Management do.”

Cr Toms was also concerned the $40,000 allocated would not cover what needed to be done and and the absence of conflict resolution consultant.

“In the report, it talks about $34,000 And it was $54,000,” she said. “So we’ve got a bit of money.

We don’t know if that’s enough.”

Cr Toms said conflict resolution was perhaps not the right term, but she believed there needed to be some interaction with the community to ensure both it and the council were on the same page.

“We need to somehow bring the community with us,” she said. “That’s what was said back in February or before we need to bring the community with us but I think the community also needs to understand really what a PoM is.”

Cr Steven Pickering said he had heard many different messages coming from the Brooms Head community about what was needed.

“They want a different goal from the plan of management I think that by putting the conflict resolution consultant back into the mix, will give for a more streamlined and hopefully a better outcome,” he said.

“In the end, we want to we want to plan of management that the community agree with.

We don’t we don’t want a plan of management that is being forced on the community because it just won’t work.”

He said the community were engaged and consulted in the previous plan of management, but when it came to council, there wasn’t one person that he spoke to me that agreed with the entire plan.

“If we don’t have the conflict resolution, and we don’t end up with a PoM that they all agree with, we’re going to be back to square one again,” he said.

“And we’ll be doing this for the third time within a couple of years and I don’t want to see that.”

But the majority of councillors were more optimistic.

Cr Bill Day said beginning again would offend many in the Brooms Head community.

“It seems this Brooms Head plan of management issue has been argued for just so long,” he said.

“Finally in February we seem to have reached a degree of consensus with most parties.

“I had quite a bit of feedback from Brooms Head, people, residents and people who use the caravan park saying that we’re very very happy with council’s decision in February.”

“It seemed that we were on the right track.”

Cr Greg Clancy said there were different views about what needed to be done, but his feedback was that it did not need a person to sort them out.

“I went to the campers and caravans annual meeting and I’ve talked to locals and I’ve talked to visitors so I’ve got a bit of an idea of across the board and I think we need to employ a planning consultant to complete the job,” he said.

Put to the vote, council voted 7-2 in favour of Cr Novak’s motion, with Crs Toms and Pickering against.


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