It's buyer beware in Australia's croc country
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It’s buyer beware in Australia’s croc country

Dreaming of a move to Queensland to escape the winter chill? Property in the far north comes with its own challenges

By Sara Mulcahy
Fri, Jun 30, 2023 8:20amGrey Clock 5 min

A  large crocodile has been spotted across the road from Warri Park Wetland (near Lakes Estate) today. The Department of Environment and Science has been notified. There will be a staff member at the site this afternoon to ensure student safety.”

This was the message posted on the Port Douglas primary school’s Facebook page in February this year. Just off the main road into town, the 2ha beauty spot is popular with dog walkers, bird watchers, joggers and kids playing after school. It’s also a desirable place to live, with about 50 homes circling the park. So why would anyone build family homes so close to a crocodile-infested swamp? 

Put simply, they didn’t.

Despite having survived for an estimated 200 million years, the estuarine crocodile very nearly didn’t see out the 20th century. 

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Unregulated hunting in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s saw crocodile numbers drop by 95 percent, and by the ’70s they were critically endangered. Crocs were belatedly afforded protection, and since then the numbers have steadily risen back up to pre-hunting levels. Salties haven’t moved into our habitat — we moved into theirs, while they were away.

Crocodile numbers have steadily increased since hunting was banned, placing them in competition with humans for habitat.

Soula Kazakis from Ray White Port Douglas (pictured) has been working this patch of real estate for the past two decades.

“Croc sightings in Warri Park don’t surprise me,” she says. “I’ve seen them there multiple times. The council is aware, and there’s a history of having traps in the lakes to catch them.”

Like many who live around Port Douglas, Kazakis has her own near-miss story. Back in 2015, on a sunny winter’s day, she was showing a family from Melbourne a house on a street that backs onto the lake. 

“They asked me what was behind the house, so I took them for a walk,” she says. “Their four-year-old boy was running ahead of us, jumping and laughing. I was following behind with the parents, chatting all things real estate, when I looked up and saw a big croc sunbaking with its mouth open on the grassed area directly in the pathway of their child. I’ve never run so fast in high heels! I grabbed his arm, and he was airborne just in the nick of time. Needless to say, they didn’t buy in Port Douglas.”

Ray White’s Soula Kazakis has her own near miss story involving the local crocodile population in the far north

Far North Queensland has been experiencing a property boom in the post-COVID era, with interstate buyers lured by the promise of a sea-change to year-round sunshine and greater value for money.

“I would say half the interstate buyers are aware of our wildlife and the other half oblivious,” says Kazakis. “Some are more paranoid than others and think crocs get into everyone’s backyard. But given the volume of migration we’ve seen to the Douglas Shire, I would say it’s not putting people off.” 

Croc country begins just south of Gladstone and extends up the east coast and across Far North Queensland. 

In the summer, during very high tides and periods of flooding, crocodiles move further upstream and may appear in areas where they’ve not been seen for decades. 

On February 22 in Ingham, 113km north of Townsville, a 2.5 metre saltwater crocodile was sighted on a road behind a childcare centre in the CBD. The town’s mayor commented: “We don’t expect to come across crocodiles in the middle of our town, but what I am noticing is that the crocodiles are coming closer and closer to us.” 

On January 23, a huge 3.9m saltwater crocodile was removed from the Barron River in the Cairns suburb of Caravonica and relocated to a nearby crocodile farm. (That came too late for the 40kg labrador taken from the adjoining footpath.)

On January 16, swimmers were asked to leave the netted area of Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas when a lifeguard spotted a small croc trying to get back out to the open ocean. On December 27 2022, residents of Blacks Beach in Mackay put up signs to warn the public of crocodiles after one was seen metres from dozens of homes. 

“I’ll be giving that end of the beach a wide berth for a while,” said one local resident. “I want my puppy to reach his second birthday.”

As with sharks and other predators, there is lively debate between those who want to protect these awe-inspiring creatures, and those who think they should be culled. As our territories become ever-more entwined, the Queensland Crocodile Management Plan (QCMP) aims for a balanced approach between crocodile conservation and public safety. There are six zones (A to F) that apply throughout the state, and each zone has rules around when crocodiles are removed, based on their size, behaviour, location and proximity to urban populations. 

Active Removal Zones are defined as ‘rivers, creeks and wetlands where crocodiles are frequently in close proximity to large urban populations’. All crocodiles in ARZs, regardless of size or behaviour, are targeted for removal. In total, the Department of Environment and Science (DES) removes about 50 ‘problem’ crocodiles a year, and most people are pretty OK with that.

“In the whole time I’ve been selling real estate, I’ve only come across one crocodile enthusiast,” says Kazakis. “That person ended up buying a house from me and getting a job at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures near Palm Cove. She went from working at Myer in the big smoke to holding baby crocs and showing them off to the tourists. That was one very happy client.”

Meet the neighbours

Crocodiles are a fact of life in all far north waterways. A local agent will be able to tell you about any recent sightings in your favoured area, but at the end of the day, it’s buyer beware. If you’re wondering whether a pest inspection might cover you, the answer is “absolutely not”. 

“No pest inspection will cover evidence of crocodiles,” says Chris Boswell, director of Arrow Building and Pest Inspection in Cairns. “And even if it did, it wouldn’t provide an option to withdraw from a sale, because a crocodile is neither a building defect nor a wood-destroying pest.” 

Chris’s advice to anyone thinking about buying a home in croc territory? 

“Don’t go in or near the water.”

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images for Tourism Queensland)

To expand on that, the DES tips on being
crocwise in croc country are:

• Obey all crocodile warning signs.

• Never swim in water where crocodiles may live, even if there is no obvious warning sign.

• Stay at least five metres from the water’s edge.

• Don’t leave food, fish scraps or bait near the water.

• Be extra cautious at night, dusk and dawn when crocodiles are most active.

• Do not use kayaks, paddle boards and other small craft in and around crocodile habitat. 

• Be extra vigilant during the breeding season, which runs from September to April.

• Keep dogs on a lead and away from the water’s edge.


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Wild cities and concrete corridors: How AI is reimagining the landscape

A new AI-driven account by leading landscape architect Jon Hazelwood pushes the boundaries on the role of ‘complex nature’ in the future of our cities

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Dec 6, 2023 2 min

Drifts of ground cover plants and wildflowers along the steps of the Sydney Opera House, traffic obscured by meadow-like planting and kangaroos pausing on city streets.

This is the way our cities could be, as imagined by landscape architect Jon Hazelwood, principal at multi-disciplinary architectural firm Hassell. He has been exploring the possibilities of rewilding urban spaces using AI for his Instagram account, Naturopolis_ai with visually arresting outcomes.

“It took me a few weeks to get interesting results,” he said. “I really like the ephemeral nature of the images — you will never see it again and none of those plants are real. 

“The AI engine makes an approximation of a grevillea.”

Hazelwood chose some of the most iconic locations in Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as well as international cities such as Paris and London, to demonstrate the impact of untamed green spaces on streetscapes, plazas and public space.

He said he hopes to provoke a conversation about the artificial separation between our cities and the broader environment, exploring ways to break down the barriers and promote biodiversity.

“A lot of the planning (for public spaces) is very limited,” Hazelwood said. “There are 110,000 species of plants in Australia and we probably use about 12 in our (public) planting schemes. 

“Often it’s for practical reasons because they’re tough and drought tolerant — but it’s not the whole story.”

Hazelwood pointed to the work of UK landscape architect Prof Nigel Dunnett, who has championed wild garden design in urban spaces. He has drawn interest in recent years for his work transforming the brutalist apartment block at the Barbican in London into a meadow-like environment with diverse plantings of grasses and perennials.

Hazelwood said it is this kind of ‘complex nature’ that is required for cities to thrive into the future, but it can be hard to convince planners and developers of the benefits.

“We have been doing a lot of work on how we get complex nature because complexity of species drives biodiversity,” he said. 

“But when we try to propose the space the questions are: how are we going to maintain it? Where is the lawn?

“A lot of our work is demonstrating you can get those things and still provide a complex environment.” 

At the moment, Hassell together with the University of Melbourne is trialling options at the Hills Showground Metro Station in Sydney, where the remaining ground level planting has been replaced with more than 100 different species of plants and flowers to encourage diversity without the need for regular maintenance. But more needs to be done, Hazelwood said.

“It needs bottom-up change,” he said. ““There is work being done at government level around nature positive cities, but equally there needs to be changes in the range of plants that nurseries grow, and in the way our city landscapes are maintained and managed.”

And there’s no AI option for that. 


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