After succumbing to a forced acquisition in the 1990s and fighting off another in 2016, Charters Towers cattleman Bob Hicks has just about had enough of negotiating property buyouts with governments in Australia.
He's one of four Greenvale landowners who successfully concluded negotiations for the sale of their property with the Department of Defence at the end of February.
The others are John and Sally Turley, who have sold Pandanus, James and Lisa Atkinson at Wade, and Mark and Kim Vaughan at Veenee. A fifth is still undertaking contract negotiations.
The intense eight-month negotiation follows news last December that contracts had been exchanged to enable the department to acquire sufficient land to establish the Australia-Singapore Military Training Initiative at Greenvale.
Assistant Minister for Defence, Senator David Fawcett said the latest milestone marked the continuation of a long and enduring relationship with communities in North Queensland.
The relationship nearly broke down at the end of 2015 when the department announced it was compulsorily acquiring property around Charters Towers and Shoalwater Bay for the $2.25b project.
It was the worst news Bob Hicks could have received.
His property, Mirambeena, one of those targeted in the Charters Towers region, was bought after the Queensland government forced him off his Torrens Creek country, Shirley, in 1993 for a national park.
"That country was leasehold and there's nothing you can do when the government wants it," he said.
"I bought Mirambeena instead but it was less than half the size of Shirley so I'd downsized once.
"I fought the compulsory acquisition very vigorously - I had freehold land this time; it was important to me that I be able to stay."
The vocal campaign against the plan, by himself and others at both Charters Towers and Marlborough, saw then-defence minister Marise Payne back down, saying that only land from willing sellers would be purchased.
It may even have been a suggestion put to Senator Matt Canavan that the government change its direction and buy his Greenvale property, Lucky Springs, and surrounding land advertised for sale, that triggered the change of heart.
"I said, I'll give you my breeder country if you leave my bullock country alone," Bob said.
What followed was what he described as a very drawn-out process involving valuations and price negotiations.
The Greenvale properties have been purchased for an undisclosed price and Bob and the other sellers now have two-and-a-half years to vacate the land, with a complex agistment agreement in the meantime.
"I believe we had to factor that into the selling price," Bob said. "I lived up to my word but the fight to get to this point has taken a real toll."
He said the purchase price wouldn't let him replace the land he'd sold.
Pandanus seller, Sally Turley, said they had been approached by the defence department.
"We weren't planning to sell but they made us a pretty good offer and we thought we'd be mad to knock it back," she said.
"We will miss it though - it's a good breeder block and there's not a lot of land for sale at the moment.
"We'll just have to wait and see what we do next."
According to Townsville lawyer Ian Conrad, the end result for the Charters Towers-Greenvale landholders was thanks to a gutsy group of graziers, media interest and a slim parliamentary majority.
"Defence clearly had no idea to begin with that the land they were originally targeting was prime grazing land, or if they did, they didn’t care," he said.
"The land was next to their existing training area. They had to go through the motions of 'public consultation' but there was very little real 'consultation'."
He described the initial negotiations as typical of people living in the 'Canberra bubble', who didn't understand the motivations and commercial drivers of the people they were dealing with.
"At the end of the day they finally got it right," he said.
"The land they have bought is not as productive and the loss of that land will not affect the regional economy to anywhere the extent it would have if they had taken the original targeted land. I expect the final cost was far less.
"Hopefully this will provide the model for future broad scale land acquisition if ever required again."
Shoalwater plans advanced
Mr Fawcett said land acquisition was well advanced at the Shoalwater Bay Area.
"We can establish an expansion area there with early works due to commence later this year," he said.
Negotiation with landowners in both locations for the project is expected to continue throughout 2019.
“I would like to personally thank the landholders and community members of north and central Queensland for their goodwill and patience throughout this process,” he said.
"We understand the impact this has on people’s lives and businesses, which is why we have negotiated transition arrangements with graziers to allow them sufficient time to relocate and establish themselves elsewhere."
Singapore is investing $2.25 billion to establish the training area in Greenvale and expand Shoalwater Bay Training Area for their use. The training areas are Commonwealth property and the ADF will have priority use.