Tara's isolated rural blocks in spotlight after police officers gunned down at Wieambilla property – ABC News

Tara's isolated rural blocks in spotlight after police officers gunned down at Wieambilla property
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From afar, it seems unremarkable — a dilapidated house on a wooded 40-hectare block.
But the rural block at Tara, west of Brisbane, has been catapulted into the national consciousness after two police officers and a neighbour were gunned down at the scrubby property at Wieambilla on Monday.
Sold off by company Washington Developments in the 1970s and 80s, there are countless numbers of these rural blocks — with the majority having no power or water — across the Western Downs.
And while many people choose them for the affordability and lifestyle, there are concerns such subdivisions can lead to social dislocation and under-privilege. 
Tara is four hours west of Brisbane and Wieambilla is a 45-minute drive north of Tara. 
Day Street runs through the middle of Tara, with establishments either side. It has a pub, a hardware store and a couple of eateries. 
But what you cannot see from this level is the surrounds, and that's what makes Tara more than just a typical town.
If you zoom out, you will find hectares of land subdivided, crisscrossed with dirt roads, often leading to gas wells that have vastly increased the worth of the blocks they sit on. 
On Wains Road, where Wieambilla resident Alan Dare was shot and killed, some blocks are worth as little as $1,500, while next door there are properties worth up to $2 million, owned by coal seam gas company QGC — which went on a buying spree in 2014, acquiring blocks to help establish its gas network.
Within the wider Tara community, there are people who live in the town and people who live on these subdivided blocks. 
People living on these blocks —  and similar subdivisions in Queensland in places such as Esk and near Rockhampton — are locally referred to as "blockies", a term that is sometimes used in a derogatory manner. 
"A blockie in the broadest sense of the word is someone who lives on a block of land that isn't in truth viable for primary production but has rural lifestyle elements," former Local Government Association of Queensland chief executive Greg Hallam said. 
Mr Hallam spent two decades dealing with complaints from councils and authorities across the state regarding these types of blocks. 
"They almost certainly don't have water and sewerage … nor do they necessarily have good road infrastructure," he said.
Mr Hallam said people chose to live on the blocks for several reasons, including affordability, and he believed people on the blocks often lived "alternative lifestyles". 
"And that's not meaning to reflect badly on them, it's just simply saying that whatever their life experiences they weren't happy in the broader community, and this is a chance for them to live differently," he said.
Adam Young owns one of the blocks near Tara and prefers the term "landowner" to the often negative "blockie" label.
As the residents of Tara come to grips with the Train family's calculated killing of three beloved locals, some fear their town may be written-off as a "conspiracy" hub.
"We generally like to keep to ourselves," he said.
And while padlocked metal gates and keep out signs are common, Mr Young said there was a camaraderie among people living there.
"[We] always like to help each other out, scratch each other's backs," he said.
Ray Brown, former mayor of the Western Downs Regional Council, said small towns like Tara had experienced a population boom when small blocks of land were put on the market in the 1970s and 80s.
"Everyone wanted their parcel of land, their castle," Mr Brown said.
"It opened a lot of land. You've got to remember a town like Tara that had a population of about 900 people [now 3,800], all of a sudden had 500 children at the school."
Mr Brown said the promise of cheap land had attracted all sorts of people to the region.
"They sold it as your piece of heaven, and there are magnificent subdivisions out there," he said.
Mr Brown said a lot of people had been ill-informed about the nature of the blocks, buying them thinking they would have all the services usually available on a block in the suburbs — they did not realise they would not have access to basic services.
"There was some very educated people [regarding amenities] that went in there, too," he said.
"But a lot of people saw a cheap block of dirt, built a bit of a house on it and thought everything was okay."
Mr Brown said the council had struggled with state and federal governments for years to improve services to the area. 
There were many signs something was not right about Gareth Train and his wife Stacey before they joined his brother Nathaniel on a deadly shooting rampage in Queensland's Western Downs. This story contains content that readers may find distressing.
He said it was also a challenge to get people in blocks around Tara to register for things such as the electoral roll.
"It wasn't until we had some major fires out there that we realised we had large populations of people living on these rural subdivisions," Mr Brown said.
"We had real concerns early in the piece that a lot of these families who were taking the kids off the grid — the whole lot, we were going to make sure that they were looked after."
Mr Brown said it was wrong to brand people who decided to live in the subdivisions as anti-vaxxers or anti-government and it was derogatory to refer to them as "blockies".
"You'll get the same number of anti-vaxxers that are living in rural subdivisions as you do in inner city Brisbane," he said.
"They're very proud of their region … they'll bind together tightly as a knit community."
The blocks of Tara are full of contrast, where one home can have an off-the-grid solar system while the next one only has candles. 
University of Southern Queensland rural sociologist Saleena Ham, who has spent time in Tara researching people living on rural blocks, said she was worried those communities would be stereotyped even further after Monday's shooting.
"Treating them as something that's frightening really doesn't help overcome some of the social issues that exist in those blocks," she said.
Dr Ham said people living in those communities needed more support and access to basic services.
"But people also have a lot of pride in their properties," she said. 
"I've been on Tara blocks where they show me the marble benchtops in their kitchen … one guy actually had a toilet on the back verandah with no walls, which he was very proud about."
Dr Ham believed it was important to respect the choices of people who decided to live on the isolated blocks. 
"But they also need to be visible in our society and that's a responsibility that we have as a whole, to make sure they are visible and to acknowledge the good things that they do contribute to the communities."
However, Mr Hallam said such blocks in Queensland were home to many disaffected people.
"A lot of them moving away from previous problems," he said.
"It's self-perpetuating in lots of ways … it's this loop that continues throughout their lives … they won't see it as that, but that's what it is."
Mr Hallam said these types of blocks in Queensland had been a constant source of complaints from councils and authorities over the past two decades, with concerns about overgrown lots, feral animals and unfinished dwellings.
He has called for future dwellings in such subdivisions to be stopped, with concerns it will lead to further social dislocation and under-privilege. 
"We have people who want to live on the fringes of society in every sense of the word," he said. 
"This problem will only get bigger as the state grows and people seek out these blocks." 
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