Sydney’s epic neighbour dispute that began with a staircase

On Sydney’s southern tip at Burraneer, Harry Magiros and Vicki Weeks are engaged in what could be, statistically, Sydney’s most epic neighbourly dispute.

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“We get calls every single day,” said the Mayor of Sutherland Shire Council, Carmelo Pesce.

This is rare understatement in council politics.

“We’ve had 1140 incidents logged with council since [he’s] moved in,” says Ms Weeks.

She can speak precisely because Ms Weeks recently requested a copy of the council’s incident log for the purposes of a court case involving Mr Magiros.

“They said: ‘We can’t possibly give you all that, it’s going to take too long’,” she said.

At that point they had been neighbours for fewer than 18 months.

Aside from routine squabbles about the subtleties of the Dividing Fences Act and thecouncil’s local environment plan, this feud has also been sustained by allegedly poisoned candy canes.

This week has been a milestone in a conflict that began with a staircase.

Ms Weeks felt that her neighbour had moved too quickly to turn jackhammers on a cliff in front of his house, particularly as it had heritage status in an area that the council said had high potential for indigenous archaeological significance.

Mr Magiros’ version of events differs.

He says the jackhammers merely shaved the course of a pre-existing staircase built into the rock, renewing the sandstone and bringing it into line with standards.

This week a visit from state government heritage officers and the local Aboriginal land council found no indigenous heritage had been destroyed.

But the council did find some work on the lower cliff face exceeded development consent and issued fines of $6000.

Mr Magiros says the council has failed to account for the fact that all work had been approved by planners and that he will appeal against that fine and another fine related to alleged river pollution emanating from the building site.

“Keep this out of the newspaper,” he also added. “If you publish anything you’ll be in the middle of [ongoing legal action]”.

But Mr Magiros has complaints of his own, starting with the time he offered to fix what he said was a protruding fence; one, he argues, the council gave him approval to rebuild.

“We offered to build a nice lovely new fence for $50,000. She said: “Don’t touch my f—ing fence!”.

Ms Weeks denies swearing or even speaking to Mr Magiros for at least year because she says confrontations have taken a toll on her and her elderly mother who owns the home.

She has paid lawyers $80,000 to argue her side of the story: that the fence doesn’t need fixing and that she is very annoyed about electricity to her house being cut off in the course of constructing a new one.

Mr Magiros says those cables were 300 millimetres inside his boundary and only garden lights were affected. Ms Weeks said power cuts were extensive.

Mr Magiros says tensions have arisen with a handful of neighbours after he lodged plans for $1.5 million of rebuilding at the $2 million plus property and suspects one of them is seeking to intimidate him. He says he received a flyer depicting the nouveau riche Lebanese family at the centre of the Channel 9 sitcom Here Come the Habibs and a clear subtext.

“It is not about a heritage cliff,” said Mr Magiros, who has Greek heritage. “It is all about the racial hatred and tall poppy syndrome that is so entrenched in the Sutherland Shire.”

Those signals became more pointed, he said, when he discovered dead rats and, later, poisoned birdseed and candy canes on his building site.

Ms Weeks says rats have been more common since her cat died and she does not know how to poison candy canes.

Sutherland Local Court is expected to rule on the fence dispute in coming weeks.