RELATED: Racing’s shifting sands
A letter threatening horse trainers with fines of more than $1 million stopped the racing industry in its tracks this week.
The letter to more than 50 Warrnambool and district trainers outlined concerns horses ridden in sand dunes at Levys Point damaged Aboriginal heritage, including shell middens and artefacts scatters.
Aboriginal Victoria’s authorised officer for Aboriginal heritage, Matthew Phelan, said a recent inspection by staff “identified evidence of harm occurring to Aboriginal places”.
He warned trainers and staff faced hefty penalties for breaches, including fines of $1.5 million for businesses and almost $280,000 for individuals damaging cultural heritage.
“Authorised officers from Aboriginal Victoria will be making random inspections of the reserve to monitor compliance with the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006,” he said.
The letter noted the Southwest Owners, Trainers and Riders Association was working with Parks Victoria and other agencies on management of commercial horse training and was happy to assist.
The warning forced Warrnambool City Council to close Levys Point to trainers from Tuesday, complicating Moyne Shire’s plan to ban horses at Killarney. Instead of authorities working to find one solution, they are now grappling with what to do with trainers looking to work horses in dunes.
Belfast Coastal Reserve Action Group applauded the Levys Point ban, saying fragile dunes and cultural heritage needed to be protected.
But the group is now calling for horse training to be banned on all beaches.
Spokesman Bill Yates said Moyne council and Parks Victoria needed to prevent dune training in other areas within the coastal reserve.
“Commercial horse training on the coast impinges on multiple environmental laws to such an extent that the activity is simply not viable,” Mr Yates said.
He opposed Moyne’s plan to allow horses on Port Fairy’s East Beach.
“The proposed move to East Beach will run straight into a quagmire of Commonwealth approvals,” he said.
“It’s a dead duck. To say otherwise is giving false hope.”
He said the plan could be blocked by legal action “if they attempt to railroad through the legalising of commercial horse training” on protected public land.
“Unfortunately for the horse trainers, and without any fault on their part, they have been let go without any rules for far too long by the authorities. Now they are understandably angry at losing access to the beach,” he said.
“It is only appropriate that the authorities provide a replicated sand training area away from the coast, such as an upgrade to facilities at the Warrnambool Racing Club.”