From misery to renewal, the Traveston dam left a hole
“INITIALLY it was heartbreak,” John Cochrane said yesterday.
Mr Cochrane, whose recent life story mirrors the fall and recovery of an area moving from a stable farming economy, through hopelessness and misery to a new and different boom era.
His family’s Goomong property, right at site of the ill-conceived Traveston dam, was to be resumed, like much of the family-heirloom food-bowl property the dam would have drowned.
“The period during which we negotiated the sale of our properties would have been the most stressful time in our lives. We were losing not only our home, but our business and what we thought was going to be family property that we could pass on.
And there were plenty of people whose families had been on their land for 100 years – generational land with a huge emotional, but practical attachment.
These people were running their own farming businesses, employing people and, because they were generating money, also keeping other businesses profitable as they bought supplies and products out of Gympie.
“When people slowly began to sell, they moved to other areas and made new lives, never to return.
“When they then decided they weren’t going to build a dam, those families who would never have sold, could not move back and their properties went back on the market.”
Another source of despair was that the properties now being resold were not the prized family jewels originally sold to the government.
“The properties weren’t businesses anymore.
“They had been rented out and there was a lot of deterioration of land, irrigation systems, fencing and houses.
“Everybody believed it was going under water. Nobody maintained anything.
“When they came back on the market, the buyers were generally having to borrow money, so there was less equity and less to invest in a business use of the land.”
But, unnoticed by many, a new and powerful economic force was emerging – real estate.
The new highway, built around the dam, brought Gympie within easy commuter reach of the Sunshine Coast and even Brisbane.
Now, as Mr Cochrane knows from his own businesses, Gympie and Noosa Regional Realty, the Mary Valley is often marketed as Noosa Hinterland.
“There’s an asset boom but people still have a way to go to establish businesses here,” Mr Cochrane said.
“The Gympie economy,” he said, “still has that hole in it, left by the loss of the productive businesses which had generated money from the land.
“There is a lot of lifestyle property along with some new and welcome agricultural pursuits and tourism.”
The new replaces the old.
“The biggest plus the state government did for the Mary Valley was what came out of all the protests. Everybody knows where the Mary Valley is now.
“And that means marketing the Mary Valley is much easier today than it was,” he said.