I’d like to say paltry, but it isn’t. Or, rather – wasn’t.
Like all good and responsible pet owners, I carefully checked our local and bylaws (now called subordinate laws) before getting our chickens. Being in one of the biggest amalgamated councils that came about several years ago, searching through local and subordinate laws of the Moreton Bay Regional Council took a great deal of time. It was also a rather confusing process, with several ‘old’ regions now combined but all still having existing and relevant laws.
We’d moved house to a larger plot of land, so we could keep hens. We’re on just over 1/4 acre, which meets the criteria. We have all the space needed. All good.
So just 10 days after fencing off and completing the hen house, I was surprised to receive a call at school from the Sparky.
It seems he arrived home from picking up R and found a council doorknock card under our screen door. Signed only with a Christian name, on a council letter head, the handwritten note tersely referred to our girls, saying “Chickens must be housed 18 meters from any dwelling” and a mobile phone number.
And when the Sparky telephoned this ‘gentleman’ to discuss the issue, he was also advised that unless we cleaned up our yard we could be considered a health risk as building materials and detritus lean on our fence. (This would be the colourbond on-the-border fence WE erected to keep out a yappy little neighbour’s dog, and the door we removed when we replaced the front door.)
In short, it was a telephone call that was just shy of bullying, and the Sparky felt they were rather veiled threats. Where was the name of the person I had spoken to in council when I originally inquired about chickens?
The following Monday I contacted council myself. The person I originally spoke to was no longer available, I was advised. I rang the Mayor who was unavailable, and then my local councilor. He was as surprised as I was at the doorknock card, knew nought about poultry keeping and made a rather offbeat comment – “you know the Mayor has chickens…” With a promise to investigate the issue further, he rang off and I went back to work on the Internet.
I found 6 local laws for our jurisdiction, all different. I found 6 subordinate laws, all contradictory to the local laws and each other. I found an amalgamated town plan which forbid the keeping of any caged birds or poultry including aviaries and chicken houses AT ALL, including small caged birds. Budgies? Finches? Avairies? Are they serious? Google and I ploughed on. I found a current planning scheme advising a different metrerage from a fixed poultry house. I found that I could keep a donkey and a rooster but not a goat. Or I could keep up to 20 pigs, 3 cattle or even a sheep but not a snake.
I just want my 4 laying hens, thanks.
The local councilor gets back to me with a new document. This advises me I can have the girls but must have a 30 meter radius around their house. He is as surprised as I am, but is reluctant to take up my case. “We are a reactive Council“, he tells me. “Not a proactive. When someone complains, we take action, otherwise we like to remain ignorant“.
I have to tell you – this comment rendered me almost speechless.
But, that he mentioned a complaint got me thinking.
Later that day, we doorknocked. All our neighbours love our girls and the eggs. No one has an issue – until we get to the new people.
The people with the yappy dog.
The people on the other side of the fence that WE put up to keep their yappy dog out.
It seems their yappy dog does a lot of sniffing around in the back corner, and Mrs yappy had ‘enquired with her brother-in-law who works at the council, if chickens are actually allowed in this region?”
And her brother-in-law shares the same name as the gentleman caller with the doorknock card. How co-incidental is that!?
After sleeping (or rather, not sleeping) on that little gem, I decided that I would go further. Armed with all my conflicting papers and acts and laws and cards, a local reporter and I fronted the local member representing State. Now State and local council rarely intervene, but since the amalgamation, State has protective sections in place to cover grey areas while certain outdated or irrelevant subordinate and local laws are going through a repeal process.
Within 5 minutes, I had a new piece of paper – one that lets me keep my girls, but back in their coop. Free ranging. Happily. I also have the umptydoo local and subordinate laws flagged for repeal and plan to submit a very explicit plan on the ridiculousness of the laws and the content, in particular caged birds. For now, the girls are safe. And as the person responsible for finally helping me with this issue lives just 2 streets away, keeps chickens and is the head of the local *poultry club, I will assume they will be safe for a long time.
In the meantime, I may a get a donkey. I hope it eats yappy little dogs.
* I know, speechless.