Driving a town batty

Charters Towers bats in plague proportions


Megan Fitzgerald, with son Jace Brazier, 9 months, live directly opposite Lissner Park and are effectively prisoners in their own home.

Megan Fitzgerald, with son Jace Brazier, 9 months, live directly opposite Lissner Park and are effectively prisoners in their own home.

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It's a city under siege. Charters Towers residents are suffering from the worst bat plague in living memory, with up to 200,000 flying foxes invading the town.

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It's a city under siege.

Trees in Lissner Park are thick with roosting flying foxes.

Trees in Lissner Park are thick with roosting flying foxes.

Charters Towers residents are suffering from the worst bat plague in living memory, with up to 200,000 flying foxes invading the town.

Two parks and the swimming pool have been closed in the city centre, and residents are prisoners in their own homes.

Charters Towers residents march to reclaim their town from a population of up to 200,000 bats that have invaded the CBD.

Charters Towers residents march to reclaim their town from a population of up to 200,000 bats that have invaded the CBD.

About 170 residents conducted a street march on Saturday, demanding action be taken and a larger protest is planned for this weekend.

Mother-of-five Megan Fitzgerald lives directly opposite Lissner Park and said the bats were making life unbearable.

“The kids can’t go outside and play. There is bat s**t everywhere. I’ve had to throw clothes from the line away, and put a tarp over the washing line. The cars are washed every day, the dog lives inside, it’s crazy,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

Thousands of bats take flight from Lissner Park on dusk.

Thousands of bats take flight from Lissner Park on dusk.

“Come about 6.30pm-7pm when they leave we have to close the house up, the stench makes you want to vomit.

“We used to sit outside and eat dinner, we can’t and don’t even want to mow the grass now.”

Ms Fitzgerald said she feared for her children’s health and if nothing was done she’d be leaving town.

“We’ve all got sinus issues. If nothing is done by February we’ll be leaving. I’ve been here 18 years but I’m not going to risk my kids getting sick.

“If nothing is done, people are going to take matters into their own hands.

“I’m not saying to shoot them all dead, but there needs to be a cull. There has always been a small colony, but this is out of control. 

“Nothing works, my neighbour bangs pots and makes loud noise and they leave then come straight back.

“The trees are all dead.”

Council closed Lissner and Centenary Parks and the local swimming pool due to the infestation last week.

Ms Fitzgerald said there was nothing left for kids to do and she feared families would leave, which would cripple the small town.

“People say why don’t you just move, but why should we?

“It is devaluing houses, there are people who have lived here the whole lives who just want out.”

Jack McDougall started a group on social media to highlight the issue and within days had hundreds of members.

He organised a meeting in town and put together a town submission which will be delivered to the State Government, demanding action.

Charters Towers Mayor Liz Schmidt said she understood the communities angst but council’s hands were tied due to State Government regulations.

She estimated numbers of little red and black flying foxes had reached 200,000 and said people were suffering not only mentally from the constant screeching and stench, but physically also.

“It is more than double what we usually get and no one has ever seen it so bad,” Cr Schmidt said.

“To government I say come and see what we deal with, roll your swag out under the trees.

“If you think it’s easy to live with these things, walk a mile in our shoes and see what we have to contend with every day.”

“I am a healthy, strong, well woman and I get a scratchy throat, my eyes run, and my nose.

“If I leave town, I don’t have the symptoms so only put it down to the bats.

“I worry for the infirm and elderly, and for the young children as no one knows the impacts on their health long term.”

She applauded the community members who were banding together to fight for action and who had cast the international spotlight on the town’s plight.

“I take my hat off to those people, for drawing attention to the cause. There is worldwide interest that only came about because of those people who took the time and have the passion to come out and walk and take a stand.”

Ms Schmidt said she was unsure as to the best solution to rid the town of bats, but said it had to be a long term strategy.

“The majority will be gone in a few months but they’ll be back next year, we need a plan to reduce their impact and eventually manage an outcome that is the best way for the bats and people.

“The difficulty is there are so many limits on what we can and can’t do.

“The environment and heritage protection clause says council can mange the roost… but read the small print and there is so many restrictions on what you can or can’t do.”

Townsville Public Health Unit registrar Dr Julie Mudd said people with respiratory and skin conditions presented at Charters Towers Hospital daily, but they could not directly be linked to bats.

“These conditions can be triggered by a huge range of more likely factors such as allergies, heat or chronic illness,” Dr Mudd said.

“Bats and flying foxes may carry bacteria and viruses which can be harmful and in some cases fatal to humans. These include: Australian Bat Lyssavirus, Hendra Virus, and Leptospirosis. There have been no recent reports of these diseases in Charters Towers.”

Traeger MP Robbie Katter met with council last week and indicated he would work to deliver their message to the State Government.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk did not respond to queries as to how her government would tackle the problem before deadline.

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