The ‘shantytown’ on Sydney’s doorstep
"IT'S 10 minutes from the freeway, 11 from the beach and the station's just 100 metres away," Jason Pauls, 47, tells news.com.au standing outside his modest home.
It sounds des res - and it's cheap too. To buy in West Wyee, which lies between Sydney and Newcastle, costs around three times less than in surrounding areas.
But there's a huge catch.
"We don't have water or sewers, paved roads, guttering or street lighting.
"I've got the internet but no sewerage," chuckles Mr Pauls.
Mr Pauls' home shouldn't be here. Neither should almost any of his neighbours'. West Wyee doesn't officially exist and you won't find it on any map. The suburb, and the vast majority of houses on it, are illegal.
Officially, West Wyee is what is known as a "paper subdivision", land where lots are only recognised on paper and few, if any, utilities exist. Yet people still call it home.
Some have other names for it. "We have basically what's an unauthorised shantytown," is how one local politician described the area.
While there are a smattering of solidly built residences here, some sporting solar panels, it doesn't take long to find dwellings that look more like they are in the third world than an hour north of Sydney's ritzy Upper North Shore.
Behind a chain-link fence sit two shipping containers. A wooden door has been fashioned on one side and a tarpaulin slung across the roof line. Until recently someone lived here.
Elsewhere, a forlorn mailbox stands guard before a weed strewn paddock, a decrepit and dirty caravan the only sign of life.
Trains, full of commuters heading to the city, clatter up and down the main line, just a short distance from a scorched lot.
Looking towards the blackened timber lying in the dirt, Mr Pauls says a resident applied to the council to build a home, but as the area doesn't get near minimum habitable standards, he was turned down.
"He got so upset; he got on the goon and burnt the place down."
Mr Pauls makes do as best he can. "Your shower is like a camp shower and your toilet is a chemical toilet. I have three pits it runs off into and it does its own thing," he says of the waste.
Other people, he says, have even more rudimentary ways of disposing of the contents of their portaloo.
"Some people like having a flushing dunny. I have a flushing dunny, I pull the handle up and down a lot and it flushes."
"It's fairly unacceptable," Lake Macquarie City Labor councillor David Belcher tells news.com.au.
"The dwellings that have built are not permitted under current legislation and the residents, while landowners and ratepayers, don't have permission to live on the land."
But he doesn't want them to leave - he wants to bring the area up to scratch.
However, a battle is brewing about who should fork out the millions to bring West Wyee into the modern era.
Mr Pauls, a former welder, has lived in his one storey house, which was trucked fully built into the area decades ago, for four years.
"I had a four bedroom, two bathroom, three level brick home elsewhere which I was paying off on my own after my divorce. But because I've got a slight alcohol problem I went into rehab for nine months.
"That was when I lost my house and I had just enough equity to buy this place outright."
He paid $130,000 for his patch of West Wyee. Across the train tracks, in Wyee proper, a two bedroom house costs north of $600,000.
Mr Belcher said Mr Pauls' route to West Wyee is a familiar one.
"These are, by and large, incredibly marginalised people. There's a history of drug and alcohol addiction, mental health and as series of bad luck in their lives.
"West Wyee becomes the accommodation of last resort."
The story of how West Wyee came into being goes back more than a century.
It was first subdivided in 1914 but not as residential land. As such, aside from some electricity connections, it wasn't connected to urban infrastructure.
Nevertheless, its proximity to transport links and the existing township of Wyee, has seen people set up home, on the fringes, for more than a century.
Mr Belcher worries about the more ramshackle homes.
"Some dwellings require only minimal adjustments to bring them up to code but there are some, that in good conscience, I couldn't allow people to live in."
Spiky Xanthorrhoea grass shoots from the ground just over the road from houses - a reminder the area is bushfire prone.
"Say a dwelling goes up in flames and we hadn't acted to fix this situation, it could cost people their lives."
Liberal councillor Jason Pauling was the local politician who called West Wyee a shantytown at September's council meeting. When contacted by news.com.au, he stood by the portrayal.
"The shantytown description is not intended to cause offence but it is defensible given the lack of formalisation and nature of the 'dwelling' construction."
Like Mr Belcher, he wants to improve West Wyee, a job he said had been put in the "too hard basket" for too long.
"The current situation is unacceptable and should never have been allowed to degenerate".
Connecting up West Wyee could cost as much as $11 million according to some reports, or $50 - $100,000 per lot.
However, Mr Pauling says council can't solely carry the can for improvements that will, at a stroke, increase the value of the current owner's properties.
"This is a 100 year old problem - an appropriate strategy should be formulated before Council starts expending ratepayer funds."
Mr Belcher concedes landowners, who have paid far less than similar homeowners elsewhere, could benefit financially. However, expecting cash strapped residents to cough up $50k upfront was not always feasible.
"My ideal end goal is to develop West Wyee so residents themselves are happy as well as up to the legal standard required.
"If a cost is borne by council, l think that's reasonable, but not the full cost. I think there is a middle ground to find some common ground," he says.
"Yes, there will people wanting to make a profit but the vast majority just want to live there."
Mr Pauls laughs at the suggestion he'll be quids in if he is connected to running water.
"If I had the money to fork out $50k, gees my house might then be worth $300,000 but what I'm I going to find for that amount elsewhere?"
He opens the gate and lets his excitable greyhound Grace out for a run.
"I'm a knockabout bloke; I don't give a rat's arse about too many things," says Mr Pauls.
"A lot of people got offended by the word shantytown but I'm not moving anywhere. It's not overcrowded, it's quiet. I love this place."