Gary and Mary Couch are in consultation with Ballina Shire Council over an entitlement to build their dream home on Goat Island.
Gary and Mary Couch are in consultation with Ballina Shire Council over an entitlement to build their dream home on Goat Island.

Fight to build island home

OWNING an island may seem like a far-fetched dream, but it is a reality for one local couple.

Gary and Mary Couch are the proud owners of Goat Island, situated in the Richmond River between Broadwater and Wardell, and they are on a mission to convince Ballina Shire Council to let them build a house there.

Their private paradise is only accessible by boat.

Building materials and equipment would have to be brought over to the island on a barge.

But Mr and Mrs Couch are so keen to move on to their own island that they have told the council they are willing to provide a legal indemnity, clearing the council of any responsibility for them or their property.

That's because the council and government departments have raised serious concerns about the island being a ‘high hazard flood risk'.

“Mary and I were farmers for 20 years,” Mr Couch told councillors at the recent council meeting.

“We are now retired.

“We wanted to buy a block that would suit our needs.

“When we bought Goat Island, it had a building entitlement.

“We are not fools – we know it is in a flood area.

“If a one-in-100 year flood comes, the whole of Ballina will be half underwater anyway.

“We take responsibility for our own actions.”

Council staff had raised concerns about Mr and Mrs Couch's development application because of the high risks during floods.

The Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water also expressed concerns.

“The only means of evacuation from Goat Island is by boat, often considered as an even more precarious mode of transport than road in times of flood,” senior natural resource officer, Toong Chin, wrote to the council.

“The consequence of fast flowing floodwater and therefore the risk of accident and loss of life would be high.”

A house existed on the island since about 1921, when the island was owned by a World War I soldier.

That property survived the 1954 and 1974 floods before it burnt down in 1999.

Councillors agreed that staff should consider indemnity from Mr and Mrs Couch, and the matter was deferred until this month's meeting.

“This is a piece of land that these folk have bought in good faith with a dwelling entitlement,” Cr Sharon Cadwallader said.

“If these folk want to take on the responsibility ... then that is what they should be allowed to do.”

But Cr David Wright said he did not support the building of a home on Goat Island.

“The problem is access – getting on and off,” he said.

“Someone's life could be lost.”

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