Gun owner ruffles feathers at Mt Wilson

Mt Wilson conjures up images of sweeping gardens and elegant houses.

John Haitzler has won a bid to get his guns and licence returned to protect his orchard.

John Haitzler has won a bid to get his guns and licence returned to protect his orchard.

James Stein with shotgun pellets he found in his Mt Wilson backyard.

James Stein with shotgun pellets he found in his Mt Wilson backyard.

But a bitter feud between neighbours has all the hallmarks of the Hatfields versus the McCoys, with claims, counter-claims and legal action proving that there’s more to this sleepy hamlet.

The dispute centres around John Haitzler and his 222 fruit trees. Mr Haitzler, as a primary producer, has a firearms licence which allows him to shoot feral animals, such as rabbits and foxes. He says he also shoots into the air to frighten away birds that eat his cherry, peach and plum trees.

But his neighbours say they have frequently found dead birds — black cockatoos, satin bower birds, crimson rosellas and others — that have fallen foul of Mr Haitzler’s weapons.

They also say they fear for their safety and that of the bushwalkers who regularly stroll nearby, and that the shooting is a frightening and noisy intrusion into their peaceful lives.

Ms Haitzler vehemently denies shooting any birds and says they are being killed by a goshawk which hides in the trees and attacks parrots as they feed on the ground.

The saga reached its zenith on New Year’s Day 2013 when neighbour James Stein reported that an armed Mr Haitzler was walking along his back fence staring at him in a “menacing manner”. Police eventually seized Mr Haitzler’s firearms and suspended his licence.

Mr Haitzler appealed against the suspension and earlier this month magistrate Nancy Hennessy, in the Civil and Administrative Tribunal, found in his favour.

She said she couldn’t be satisfied that Mr Haitzler had been carrying a gun in the New Year’s Day incident, although she did believe he stood in “a defiant manner staring at Mr Stein”. 

She also said she understood that the neighbours felt disturbed and annoyed by the sound of gun fire but it did not “give rise to any risk to safety”.

Considering whether others were at risk by a stray bullet, she said Mr Haitzler told her he never used a gun near the boundary and always fired in the air to scare the birds away.

“I am satisfied that there is virtually no risk of injury or death to a person walking outside Mr Haitzler’s property from the deliberate or accidental discharge of a firearm,” she said.

Ms Hennessy referred to the long history of battles involving Mr Haitzler: “There is a public interest in promoting harmonious relationships among neighbours but, given the extent of neighbourhood disputes in which Mr Haitzler is involved relating to issue other than firearms (which I have not referred to in detail because of their marginal relevance) it is unlikely that revoking his licence will achieve that end.”

Mr Haitzler told the Gazette he was “delighted” with the decision. “In the end, truth prevailed,” he said.

He said “most if not all of the statements of the witnesses were either lies or unfounded allegations and that’s obviously why the magistrate came to the decision she came to”.

Mr Stein said it had been a “15-year saga of shooting” and he could not understand how the gun licence had been returned.

“Everyone is quite frightened when he starts shooting,” he said. “It’s terrifying. You’re quietly gardening and then you hear this gunshot.”

He also contemplated once again losing the birds that had returned to his garden.

“Until 2013 I hardly saw a bird here — I just kept picking up dead ones,” Mr Stein said. “Since January 2013, the return of the birdlife has been overwhelming.”

Mr Haitzler sent his neighbours a note three days after the judgement, alerting them to the return of shooting on his property.

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