The family of hard-hitting gangland journalist Adam Shand stands on the brink of a million-dollar payout from the NSW government after archival research revealed his family’s historical claim to a western Sydney lane.

Crikey can reveal the Walkley Award-winning Shand is locked in a legal battle with planning minister Brad Hazzard to secure just compensation for a 2008 land grab conducted by the previous Labor government.

While researching his family history, Shand stumbled across a compulsory acquisition notice signed by former state planning minister Frank Sartor to snag the “residue” of Rudders Lane in Eastern Creek for industrial development.

The notice acknowledged the land, once part of the Shands’ Wallgrove estate, “was said to be in the ownership of John Shand and Alexander Barclay Shand”.

But the government ignored this, choosing instead to pay Blacktown City Council a cool $1.22 million to give up its “ownership” of the 8500 square sliver.

John Shand, a skilled artisan fresh from building a stone pier at Ulladulla, had bought the surrounding land parcel in 1866 with his wife Mary Barclay. The then unnamed lane was used stock route to access Wallgrove from the Great Western Highway. Parts of the estate were sold at auction at 1890 for a knockdown price, however the Shands’ ownership of the road was never extinguished.

Rudders Lane is located within spitting distance of the Los Angeles-style M4-M7 interchange, and has been earmarked by the government for a large-scale industrial development. It now features lavish guttering and has been substantially widened. Empty warehouses await new tenants.

After Adam Shand’s “Eureka” moment, a NSW Planning Department lawyer informed him that extended occupation equated to ownership and therefore council was the rightful owner. NSW law indeed states that a guarantee of ownership or “indefeasibility” can be claimed if it is held under Torrens Title. But more digging by the feisty former Sunday reporter revealed the lane fell within the protection of the Torrens system and the council had no legal claim over the land.

Shand, who is currently in Zimbabwe, told Crikey that after a year of back-and-forth with lawyers it was time for the government to pull their finger out.

“I think they’re going to have to act, the question is whether we can come to some sort of conclusion on the complex situation,” he said.

In the event of legal action, Shand said he would have a strong case. Under the terms of his forebare’s wills he is empowered to negotiate with government on any residual proceeds from their estates.

“I think we would have a case to be compensated for use of the road, perhaps with a nominal toll arrangement,” he said.

Crikey understands that one sticking point is the issue of unpaid council rates that may be levied retrospectively on the Shands if their claim is proven. On the other hand, NSW denizens had enjoyed free use of the lane for years.

If successful, he would use part of the money to fix up his great-great grandfather’s grave plot at Rookwood Cemetery. John Shand died a year after the auction in 1891 of pneumonia and pleurisy at the age of 66.

(Adam Shand and his father at his great great grandfather’s grave)

A spokesperson for Hazzard issued the following statement to Crikey late yesterday: “Early this year, the Shand family contacted the Office of Strategic Lands seeking compensation for the land which they claim to own. A legal review is currently under way to determine what obligation the state government may or may not have.”

The spokesperson confirmed Hazzard was treating the plan as a “high priority” and had sent a letter two weeks ago acknowledging a delay in replying to the original ownership claim.

Shand’s lane discovery, which his daughter Noliwe has described as a gift to the family from the gods, is expected to be aired in tomorrow’s Australian Financial Review December magazine.

Peter Fray

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