The Curious Case of Private Properties

By Craig Doumouras

Published on 05 Sep 2016

11 July 2017 - It has been brought to my attention a number of errors and misunderstandings in this article. I sincerely apologise to those who were misrepresented, and have attempted to correct this article as much as possible.

Waterfalls of Tasmania wishes to express that under no circumstances does it wish to document waterfalls situated on private properties that are not marked on any topographical map.

In a community group like ours at Waterfalls of Tasmania, having a membership of over 2,500 people will often bring different personalities and differing ideologies to the surface.  Quite a few members of our community are very keen waterfall baggers. They are on quests to visit as many waterfalls as they can. Why do they do this? Experiencing nature, getting out in the bush, and seeing stunningly beautiful landscapes helps bring a sense of exhilaration. For me personally, having been a sufferer of depression for many years, chasing waterfalls fills my soul with a sense of freedom I never knew existed. Depression can be a cruel condition to live with, and for me, I couldn't bear the thought of going outside for over a decade. The world felt like it was closing in on me. Thankfully, I have changed dramatically. I get very excited about my next outing, and I look forward to seeing and experiencing something new. 

When I started chasing waterfalls, I did a lot of research on the Internet to find waterfalls that were near me. I bought the odd book as well, and I tried to equip myself with information that assisted me in reaching waterfalls successfully. The entire experience of hiking was completely new to me. Needless to say, I made many mistakes with my preparation and my expectations. Tasmania is not an easy place to hike in. I learned little things like my clothing was not suitable for hikes. I learned that stepping on old logs could result in falling and breaking your rib. Crossing creeks by stepping on rocks is not a very wise thing to do! Tasmania has a way of making you honest.

On top of the world! Chasing waterfalls opens a world of stunning scenery.

Information in Tasmania

Unfortunately for Tasmania, information is difficult to come by. Don't get me wrong, if you look hard enough and research long enough, you will get the answers you are looking for - eventually. By trade, I have a degree in Information Technology (IT). Despite what people immediately think IT is, Information Technology is the science of sharing and dissecting of information, as well as the science of how information can be used as a tool to assist and improve society. In my studies it was demonstrated to me the power of information, the power of misinformation, and how the withholding of information can be detrimental to communities, societies, and even entire countries (North Korea anyone?). What has been proven time and time again is equipping people with as much information as possible ultimately leads to better decisions, and better outcomes.

Early in my quest to visit and photograph waterfalls, I very quickly learned that there was a huge gap in what I was hoping to find in the way of waterfall information, and what could be scraped from various sources online. For me, there was no centralised resource collating information about waterfalls in Tasmania, and the information I did manage to find was often out of date, scant on details, and in some cases completely incorrect. When you are starting out in hiking, you rely and place a lot of trust in the information you find. My frustrations in collecting and finding this information grew so much that I decided with my skill set and knowledge of IT I would try and fix the problem. I registered the domain name, I set up my web server, and I built the website, entering information about waterfalls I've visited. A few of my Facebook friends encouraged me on this pursuit, and one friend in particular, Benita, helped with researching information of some waterfalls. We started the Facebook Group and the Facebook Page, and watched the community grow. 

It was great to see other people with a similar passion to mine. They were on quests too, and I felt that I had found people to whom I could turn to when I had a question, in an effort to safely travel on my journeys. To say that people are incredibly reluctant to divulge information is an understatement. I asked a number of experienced waterfall baggers out there if they were willing to help on sharing information for the Waterfalls of Tasmania website. I encountered many refusals. I would ask questions about particular waterfalls and would get told 'yeah, don't bother going there'. In fact, what became very clear; these people wanted to keep waterfalls to themselves, and they did not want the information to be shared with the public. They were happy to post a photo of the waterfall they visited, but were not so eager to share any information about it. Even the thought of sharing information about public waterfalls, waterfalls like Liffey Falls for example, was like taking a bone from a dog. Their resistance was overwhelming. Their arrogance profound.

Whatever their reasons are for withholding information from other waterfall baggers, I respect that it is their decision. It's their information; they have earned it one way or another. It's completely up to them what they do with it. They have their reasons for keeping it to themselves.  Perhaps they are selfish reasons. Perhaps they truly think it's the best thing to do for regions and communities. I, however, strongly believe in the sharing of information. It's why I studied Information Technology at university, and why I believe a lot of problems can be mitigated if information is available.

...And Now to Private Properties

I was once openly told that I should pull down the Waterfalls of Tasmania website. When I asked why, I was told it does more harm than good. When I asked how, they said it would cause sensitive areas to be destroyed in the wilderness. 

The fear of what 'might' happen if information is available often rules people's decision making. People envisage a worst-case scenario of doom and gloom, and from this person's fantasy in their mind they brought down a swift judgment  - the 'death sentence' for this very website. For this person, this website has the potential to bring Armageddon to regions of Tasmania.

When you step back and dissect the logic behind his thought processes, it is incredibly comical.

Recently in our Waterfalls of Tasmania Facebook group, a heated argument ensued between two members privately, which then spilled out into the public arena. The issue at hand was about Private Property, and waterfalls that are situated on them. For one person, who has gained approval to visit some of these waterfalls, he proudly posted the photo for all of us to enjoy, and stated it was on private property. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. The second person, wanted to know where the waterfall was located, not because he wanted to go there, but so he wouldn’t accidentally trespass. His reasons for wanting to know this information are perfectly legitimate too.

Topographical map, showing a waterfall feature. But is it on public land?

The big problem with the information you can obtain easily from Tasmanian Topographical Maps and online lists from various websites is that they will show you where waterfalls are but not the land tenure they are on. Good Topographical maps clearly show waterfall features on them. If the waterfall has a name, it will be shown too. In some cases, GPS coordinates are also provided. The issue with this information is it is incomplete.  With land tenures not being shown, how do you know if a waterfall is public property? What if it's on private land? Is it managed by Forestry Tasmania, or is it a National Park? Finding land tenure information isn't so easy if you do not know where to look, and in a community like Waterfalls of Tasmania, asking each other should be acceptable. I would expect people, if they don't want to give the answer directly, would at least point people in the direction where they could obtain the answers. Sadly as I stated earlier in this article, information in Tasmania is difficult to come by. Even asking fellow members in our community is often met with frowns and snobbery. With land tenures, the information is public information and can be obtained if you know where to find it.  It’s not information that is shrouded in secrecy.

So, why is the knowledge of waterfalls situated on private property important for hikers? Hikers do not want to trespass. As it currently stands, on maps and on other resources online, people have no clue whether a waterfall is on private property or not. Maps, and lists of waterfall locations can easily be obtained, but are missing vital information regarding land tenure.

I myself went and visited a waterfall that was right next to a road, with huge power lines above, and I instantly assumed it was on Crown Land because of the public infrastructure around it. I photographed the waterfall, and shared it on our Facebook Group, and then received an absolute blasting from one of the members for 'trespassing'. The incident didn't wash well with me for a few reasons:  I didn't intentionally trespass.  I have a lot of respect for people and their property, and I always try to treat people the same way I expect to be treated. Secondly, the person who was angry with me was the same person I asked previously for help in identifying waterfalls on private property; a request he refused, because he doesn't want people going to private property waterfalls.

I wish to apologise for the paragraph above, because I had misinterpreted a dialogue I had with another member regarding said waterfall. In my efforts to visit and document waterfalls, I mistakenly visited a waterfall on private property I had initially thought was on public land. I was corrected by another member of our Waterfalls of Tasmania group. At the time, I felt I was being blasted, when in fact I was simply being politely corrected. It was also pointed out to me that his intentions was never to hide the information of waterfalls on private property, but wished to protect his credibility with property owners, and protect the relationships he has forged with them. I fully agree with his sentiments on this, and for my previous paragraph, I truly apologise.

The Irony

The first irony:

  • One man, never wanted to trespass, but accidentally did.
  • The 2nd man never wanted to share information about private property, but blurted it out when the first man made a mistake.
  • Both men are left feeling very unhappy, and very distrustful of each other.
  • No one is a winner.

The second Irony:

  • In an effort to 'protect' private property owners, the 2nd man refused to share information. By not sharing information, he believes people will not go to those places.
  • The 1st guy, thinking it was public property, goes to the waterfall, only to be told later he trespassed.

Was the property 'protected'?  It doesn't seem so to me.

What would have prevented that incident from even occurring would have been accurate and complete information. It truly is that simple.

What's the solution?

In the argument that was provided by one of the members of our facebook group as to why he doesn't share information, he stated it's because of damage that is caused on properties time and time again by hoons and trespassers who visit these places.

I've also been to waterfalls on private properties where the exact opposite is also true. When chatting to the owners of those waterfalls, they expressed they didn't mind people visiting their waterfalls, and they have forged some very good friendships with some of the onlookers. Their experience was completely different.

In both instances, what is a certainty; people would not have seen on any map that the waterfall was on private property. Some people will argue they thought that waterways, creeks & rivers have 5 metres of crown land either side, and even if there is a fence around it, they still believed it was publicly accessible. In fact, quite a few members of the general public actually have these misconceptions, and part of the reason people will go to waterfalls on private property is that they believe they are doing nothing wrong.

The only way to begin to turn the tide of trespassers is to start feeding everyone the facts. Give them complete information. Provide information to them that clearly states a waterfall is on private property. Teach people that despite what might be popular belief, not all waterways are public. Knowing what I have spent years learning about the science of Information, equipping each other with good and complete information will ultimately reduce the amount of trespassing on private properties. 

DPIPWE involvement

The fight that occurred on the Facebook group motivated me to start the commencement of fixing the issue with regards to Private Properties and waterfalls on them. I telephoned a representative at the Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water & Environment (DPIPWE), and discussed with him if there was a way the public could easily get information regarding land tenures in Tasmania. The DPIPWE have TheList, an online map service free for the public to use, and one of the layers that can be displayed on the Tasmanian Map is land tenures.  It takes a bit of time to learn how to use TheList effectively, but it is a great resource for the public.

I asked if it was possible, if I provided a list of the waterfalls in our database and the GPS coordinates if they could report back which waterfalls were on private property, they said they would provide the information to us for the Waterfalls of Tasmania community. Within 30 minutes, I was emailed a spreadsheet that clearly showed the Land Tenure of the waterfalls in our database.

Consequently, The Waterfalls of Tasmania website has been updated with this information, and each waterfall page now displays the Land Tenure as part of its documentation. Our intention is not to encourage people to go to waterfalls on private property, but to accurately document each waterfall so people can make their own informed decisions which waterfalls they should visit. Our aim is to provide a resource that people can use to obtain good credible information. Then they can concentrate on the very things they should be concentrating on - enjoying Tasmania.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of other contributors to the Waterfalls of Tasmania website, Waterfalls of Tasmania Facebook page, or Waterfalls of Tasmania Facebook group.

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