PARK rangers say they will block vehicle access to Jells Park today as part of their industrial action.

Parks Victoria hired private security guards to keep the gates open after

negotiations broke down with rangers last week.

On Friday, Australian Services Union spokeswoman Michelle Jackson told the Weekly rangers would take steps to ensure vehicles could not enter the park but people would still be able to enter on foot.

As part of the dispute, the rangers have refused to meet or contact Friends groups, supervise volunteers or open parks with gates.

The rangers – who are being represented by the Australian Workers’ Union, the Community and Public Sector Union and the Australian Services Union – are seeking a pay rise of 18 per cent over three years.

The state government has offered 8.5 per cent,

which CPSU Victorian secretary Karen Batt labelled as outrageous.

“The government is refusing to acknowledge that this is having an impact on communities and is creating some tension at various parks that do have gates,” she said.

“We’ve had citizens turning up with bolt cutters, trying to cut open the locked gates. We’ve had management hiring security guards to keep gates open. It’s becoming quite volatile.”

Ms Batt conceded the industrial action would adversely affect local residents.

“We’re sorry about that. But our members cannot afford to continue to have a wage offer that’s below the cost of living.”

A Parks Victoria spokesman said the organisation had negotiated in good faith and criticised the unions for speaking to newspapers like the Weekly. “Parks Victoria is keen to reach an agreement with staff and unions on a new enterprise bargaining agreement. We don’t propose to conduct these negotiations through the media.”

The spokesman would not confirm that Parks Victoria had hired security guards but conceded that non-union staff had been used to open park gates.


PROFILE: Salvation Army’s Major Brendan Nottle

When Major Brendan Nottle discovered he had won this year’s Melburnian of the Year award, he thought it was a joke.

“I thought it was an administrative error. I was thinking a letter was going to come in and say, ‘Sorry about that, we sent the letter to the wrong person’,” he says.

The Salvation Army social worker was awarded the honour at a glittering ceremony in November before a crowd comprising the cream of Melbourne’s business, sport, entertainment and political worlds.

He was chosen for one very simple reason: because he cares.

Born and bred in Melbourne, Major Nottle, 49, leads Salvos Melbourne Project 614, which seeks out those living on society’s fringe and helps them ease their way back in.

The program, run by a small team of dedicated staff and more than 1000 volunteers, works on establishing one-on-one relationships with the homeless and disadvantaged and then getting them the help they need.

“We thought if we’re going to get people back on their feet, we need to develop this relationship first and then be with them in the long haul and through the ups and downs,” Major Nottle says.

Thirteen programs are run through Project 614, including the Youth Street Teams that go out every Friday and Saturday night to support young people who have had too much to drink or need help getting home.

There’s also the Youth Bus, which provides a safe place for homeless and marginalised youth to enjoy a hot drink, play video games and get to know the Project 614 team.

A Salvos veteran of 22 years, Major Nottle has no doubt seen and heard just about everything possible. He remains compassionate yet unfailingly professional.

It is only when asked what motivated his career that his guard drops.

He tells how his grandmother – who was already a mother of three young boys – was almost eight months pregnant with his mother when her husband died. He had gambling and other severe addictions.

“Life was really tough for the family and the Salvation Army found out and offered support,” he says.

There were to be more family tragedies. Major Nottle’s father died when he was four and his mother died when he was 17 and in the middle of year 12, leaving him and his three older brothers orphaned.

“I think those sorts of things really shaped my outlook on life and a sense of empathy for people who find themselves in difficult circumstances,” he says.

Nottle’s family are all involved with the Salvos; it’s where he met his wife, Sandra, who also works with Project 614. Their three children, aged 26, 22 and 18, either work or volunteer with the Salvos.

Many nights, after just a couple of hours’ sleep, Nottle is out on the street before sunrise to try to establish all-important relationships with the homeless and disenfranchised.

Relathionships, he says, are the key to making a difference in people’s lives.

“We might see a homeless person and it’s easy to lump them to a stereotype. But it’s important to realise that these people often have an incredible story and are often in those situations through no fault of their own,” he says. “We have to maintain that compassion and care for those people.”

Now in its 11th year, the Melbourne Awards recognise residents, businesses and organisations whose deeds have contributed to making Melbourne a better place.

Lord mayor Robert Doyle presented Major Nottle with the award, declaring his deeds across the city “inspiring”.

“Every week, Brendan can be found in the city giving crucial support to those in need, including meals, clothing and counselling,” he said in announcing the award.

“The dedication he brings to his work makes him a role model thoroughly deserving of this accolade.”

Having seen and heard so many stories of desperation and vulnerability, does Major Nottle ever struggle to maintain momentum?

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” he says. “The thing I struggle with most is when someone we’re working with really intensely ends up dying and that’s certainly happened on a number of occasions. I find that really devastating and just a complete waste.”

To this day, Nottle does not know who nominated him for the award. But he’s thankful, as it has brought attention to the work he and his team perform seven days a week.

“For me, I think the award really speaks volumes about our team. We have a fantastic team that goes beyond what they’re expected to do. And I think it speaks volumes about the heart of the city, too.”

He says people have been “genuinely excited” for him and the team. “And they’re saying this is a really good thing that’s happened. It gives me real encouragement about the city and its heart. It’s a city that really does care. And I think that’s fantastic.”

Baa humbug: Vu Ho loses fight to keep his sheep Baa

The tale of a Melbourne man’s 13-year companionship with his $60 pet sheep has ended in Australia’s highest court – with a $200,000 legal bill.

Vu Ho has been battling Greater Dandenong Council for the right to keep Baa in his suburban backyard.

But Mr Ho’s two-year legal quest, which he says will cost him about $200,000, looks doomed after the High Court refused him leave to appeal.

The decision follows on from a Victorian Court of Appeal ruling in June, which upheld an earlier Supreme Court order for Baa’s removal from the Springvale home.

Mr Ho paid $60 for Baa, but has spent a fortune trying to keep him.

The Court of Appeal ordered him to pay the Greater Dandenong Council’s legal costs.

Mr Ho has said he is unemployed with no money or property and will declare bankruptcy if he is forced to pay the costs.

The council ordered Baa from Mr Ho’s property in 2011, under a local law prohibiting livestock on land under half a hectare.

City of Greater Dandenong acting chief executive Jody Bosman welcomed the High Court decision.

“Council will now consider the options available to it and will seek to work closely with Mr Ho for the best possible outcome,” she said.

“These laws are essential for the protection of public amenity and the good governance of local communities.

“The decision by the High Court reinforces the validity of our local laws, and the previous decisions made by various courts in the judicial system.”

Mr Ho had argued the council had no authority to take away Baa and represented himself in the Court of Appeal hearing.

But the High Court on Friday found no reason to doubt the Court of Appeal decision and said Mr Ho’s appeal had no realistic chance of success.