“Mayor and Council scratched their heads/ tossed and turned in their ratty beds/ passed a big appropriation to count the rats in the population/ solemnly resolved that it was a sin/ for rats to live in Hamelin, Hamelin, Germany, long time ago.” - The Pied Piper - Malvina Reynolds.

David Dawson & Buddy - photo by Ruth Pease

Some of the rats were almost as big as cats and lay comatose beside dead possums, mice, pigeons and spiders in the suburban jungle.

They had an ideal procreation paradise under the canopy of overgrown trees, bushes and vines that invaded neighbouring homes.

This was not the famed town of Hamelin in Lower Saxony in Germany in 1284 but a deserted house at 43 Ferndale Road, Glen Iris, in the leafy eastern suburbs of Melbourne from 2009-2016.

Welcome to a land banking oasis for absentee overseas landlords in this burgeoning growth industry in the lucky country.

The human free house was previously the beloved rental home of revered Christian minister Rev Justin Tan and his family including his late sister Bian.

Bian, a social worker, perished in the horrific Black Saturday bushfires at a Marysville health facility where her altruism was remembered long after she was incinerated.

The Tan family were the epitome of good neighbours - unlike the new feral tenants who were not as large as the nocturnal fox who dined out with increasing frequency on smaller predators.

Luckily none had the sharp sting of the bees that flew from two chimney hives to the nearby pool and water bowls to sting a defense-less Golden Retriever named Buddy.

Buddy lived long enough - 13 and a half years - to share his pain with his mistress and master.

This rat catcher was also stung on several occasions including filming Nu Country TV shows but survived to enter his 69th year.

The hives were just one of many health hazards to neighbours of the house, deserted for seven years.

It was one of a reputed baker's dozen owned by a company, established in 1991, de-registered by ASIC in 1994 for almost 20 years, and now belatedly offloading some of its empty houses.

The vacant house's trees and bushes flattened neighbours fences while vines, lawns, weeds and chimney bee hives thrived within an overgrown home of their own.

Neighbours contacted the City Of Boroondara but officers advised that they were unable to help - they said they couldn't locate the property owner who owed more than $15,000 in rates.

Neither could the power and gas companies and Yarra Valley Water who were owed $3,000 plus.

With uncollected overdue bills from council, power companies and Yarra Valley Water blowing in the wind and footpath, an alert witness established the absentee addressee was a company Chanmere Pty Ltd .

I conducted a company search and discovered Chanmere Pty Ltd ACN 052 035 659 - created in 1991 - had been de-registered by ASIC on July 6, 1994, pursuant to Section 574 of the then Corporations Law.

There was no phone or mail contact for the de-registered company but that didn't deter rats, possums, mice and bees procreating in their absence in a house that was an open invitation to squatters, snakes, burglars and errant arsonists.

Furniture was piled up inside, apparently removed from other houses in the owner's large portfolio.


Oh well I'm pickin' 'em up and I'm laying 'em down/ I believe he's gonna work me into the ground/ I pull to the left I heave to the right/I wanna kill him but it wouldn't be right/ cause I'm working for the man, working for the man/ gotta make him a hand when you're working for the man.” - Working For The Man - Roy Orbison

David Dawson & Kinky Friedman - photo by Carol Taylor

I had previously been the victim of junkie burglars on several occasions while working as an investigative crime writer and court reporter after buying the neighbouring home in 1975.

The late septuagenarian neighbour at 41 Ferndale Rd was stabbed by a masked intruder when he investigated nocturnal noises.

Les was defending Olive - his octogenarian spouse - and recovered from his wounds but later died of natural causes.

So a lengthy preventive strike mission began to dissuade robbers, arsonists, squatters and parasitical pariahs from choosing this lush locale for their pyromaniac perversions and pillaging.

My monthly lawn and nature strip mowing and rubbish removal from the back and front yards over seven years, to give it an appearance of being occupied, was not an optional exercise.

As a fifth generation dairy farmer I learned long ago as a teenager that Talon replaced Ratsak as the poison of choice to eradicate rats and vermin around barns, feed sheds, dairies and hay stacks during harvesting in summer.

So a liberal lacing was applied - 1080 wasn't needed as the only bunnies in this borough appeared to be the absentee owners.

I had no effective deterrent for the bees as smoke bombs in the chimney hives were out of reach, so to speak, as the council advised its public risk policy didn't extend to workers or neighbours.

But frequent bee stings necessitated a visit to my Tooronga GP who suggested my elevated blood pressure during a 51 year career in journalism, radio and television, would benefit from exercise and karmic altruism.

After a previous consultation Dr Bernard Freedman Googled his namesake - famed singing Texan crime novelist and frequent Australian tourist Kinky Friedman.

The Texan Friedman family's medical expertise was more of the check-up from the neck-up variety.

So the good doctor kindly suggested wearing a face mask, hat and gloves when removing dead vermin, rats, mice and possums and spraying weeds.

It may have also been advisable attire for modern street battles in Coburg - due north of where my ancestors farmed the Phoenix Park Estate in Brunswick from the 1840's after arriving here as the original boat people.

They kindly gifted land in Dawson Street to the local council and like Merle Haggard's dust bowl refugee family headed west - not to Bakersfield, but the banks of the Hopkins River at Warrnambool.

Neither the GP nor my rheumatoid arthritis specialist had a medical solution for treating the flattening of our fences by the absentee neighbour's trees and bushes.

That required professional contractors - at considerable expense.

So did the removal of a large tree whose roots had penetrated our storm water pipes that had to be replaced, costing more than $3,000.

But worse was yet to come.

The power and gas companies removed their meters from the house and cut off supply for non-payment of their bills.

Yarra Valley Water restricted the water supply for their bills arrears so the fire risk heightened.

Council officers advised that they were still unable to locate the owners to reduce the fire hazard.

So I brandished a saw and removed trees, tree limbs, bushes and other fire fuel and neatly placed them on the nature strip each spring to try to ensure fire free summers.

A rusty rabbit trap was also resurrected from the family farm at Warrnambool and proved a handy catalyst for dispensing rats and possums - none of whom remotely resembled the late Texan legend George Jones - to rodent heaven in the council's weekly waste collection.

My long suffering partner Carol, also raised on a western district dairy farm and regional and metropolitan newspaper journalism, put her health and career at risk with regular weed spraying and waste removal behind our gender neutral masks.

Finally, after seven years of repeated calls to council by neighbours, some workmen belatedly arrived to remove the bush and tree debris.

But, unlike the seven dwarfs, they didn't sing as they toiled in the shrouded shadows of the shrubbery with no sign of a suburban Snow White to crack her wand or whip.


“She had all that I wanted and more/ and I've seen honey bees before/ started buzzin' in my ear/ buzzin' in my brain/ got stung all over/ but I feel no pain/ I'm done, I got stung!” - I Got Stung - Aaron Schroeder-David Hill.

Photo by Ruth Pease

I also contacted Local Federal MP for Higgins - Kelly O'Dwyer whose assistant treasury and small business portfolios included, ironically, a crackdown on overseas land bankers.

Assistant treasurer Kelly advised I could take my complaint direct to the Foreign Investment Review Board if I desired.

But, like the famed 1910 Melbourne Cup winner Comedy King whose stables still stand at our Shipley stud on the banks of the Hopkins River, this horse had bolted in a final autumnal sting.

A board, nestled in the lush over-hanging bushes, announced an April 30 auction - maybe hoping for a 60 day settlement to avoid the June 30 deadline for the new $25,000 tax for absentee landlords.

And unlike the late Warrnambool publican and dairy farmer whose Liebig Street tavern was dubbed The Bullcutter's Arms after he castrated a neighbour's bull for inseminating his heifers out of season, I have not sought summary justice or availed myself of the services of the FIRB.

Instead I opted for cosmic karma as I watched a twilight open for inspection being neutered when lack of electricity for lighting threw a dark cloud on the house as a storm moved in from the west.

It may have prevented potential buyers seeing the dead bees resting in peace inside the house at the base of the chimneys.

This did not deter auctioneer Robert German of Beller Residential who quoted $1.3-$1.4 million to potential buyers but knocked it down for a cool $1.64 million.

German, an immaculately groomed estate agent with maybe a little help from hair-dresser spouse Pauline who plied her trade in Carnegie, suggested I put in my bill for green waste removal and maintenance to the overseas owners whom he said earned “squillions” in optic fibre in Hong Kong and beyond.

German advised that his company's emails to the property owners often went unanswered for months.

I know the feeling.

After several emails to the absentee owners' veteran lawyer Frank Tisher OAM of Tisher Liner FC LAW Pty Ltd. I'm still waiting.

We received a small amount for our share of fence replacement the day before the auction after suggesting caveats rhymed with dead rats.

But that wasn't the final sting.

On the eve of the auction the chimney queen decided a home swap might be timely and made a bee line with her frenzied followers for a new hive on our front porch.

Unfortunately as I ventured out early to collect the morning papers the bees swarmed and I was stung again.

An email to the local Solway ward Councilor Kevin Chow prompted swift response.

He apologised for council's inability to contact the absentee owners for seven years.

A vermin removal team with the apt name - Dawson's Pest Control - promptly removed the hives and more tree branches that are now resting in pieces.

Yes, once again against our fence as the weeds outgrow the roses at a prickly pace.

top / back to diary