A pensioner who is being treated for cancer is facing a $665 fine from Queensland Parks and Wildlife after being accused of taking a crystal from a national park in Far North Queensland.
Harry Ward, an avid bushwalker, said he had not yet entered the national park area when he found the crystal near a creek at Oak Beach, north of Cairns.
The 66-year-old, who has prostate cancer, said he posted about his find on a bushwalking social media site and also mentioned he had taken a walk through the Macalister Range National Park.
The Cairns resident said he was more than a little taken aback to receive a knock on his caravan door from two Queensland Parks and Wildlife rangers two weeks later, when he was issued with a notice stating he was being investigated for “actively fossicking for crystals” and therefore in breach of the section 26 of the Wet Tropics Management Plan.
The notice also stated that Mr Ward may “wish to seek legal advice” while participating in an interview with the Department of Environment and Science and that he could face a $665 fine.
“I am assuming they have seen my post on Facebook because there were no rangers there at the time,” Mr Ward said.
“I was absolutely shocked.
“I was very nervous — I couldn’t even leave the house for a while afterwards.
“I’m being treated for prostate cancer and this is very hard for me to handle.
“I’ve never done anything wrong in my life and suddenly there’s a summons saying I’ve done something illegal and now I’m facing a $665 fine.”
Mr Ward said at no time did he “go into the national park to fossick or dig holes”.
Crystal worth $10, pensioner says
Under section 26 of the Queensland Government’s Wet Tropics Management Plan, it is illegal to “mine, fossick, dredge or carry out destructive mineral exploration”.
Mr Ward, a retired island caretaker and groundskeeper, said he had been fascinated by rocks, crystals and fossils since he was a young boy living in England.
He said the common quartz, which he had planned to display in his home, was probably worth about $10.
He said he was now living on an aged pension and could not afford to pay the fine.
“By the end of my pension I’ve spent every penny,” Mr Ward said.
“That will swallow my whole pension.
“Even if there is a payment plan, it’s still something I can’t afford.
“I will probably have to sell my car to pay it.”
Mr Ward said he had received hundreds of messages of support on social media, with many people offering to chip in to help him pay the fine — but he had declined the offers.
“It is very kind but I won’t accept the money,” he said.
“It is my problem and I will have to sort it out.”
In a statement, Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science confirmed they were investigating an offence in relation to “interference with natural resources” and could not comment further as the investigation was ongoing.
It said rangers monitored social media accounts to identify and investigate alleged “noncompliant activities.”