Tess Lawrence battles NAB over historic Islay House

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A scheduled auction of Woodend's historic but rundown Islay House, set  for February 11, has been deferred as a battle is played out between owner, [Independent Australia contributing editor-at-large] Tess Lawrence and McKean Park Lawyers and the National  Australia Bank, writes Angela Crawford.

The law firm last year had Ms Lawrence declared bankrupt in her absence in the Supreme Court, however, she is currently appealing what she describes as a "preposterous concoction of debt".

The NAB, piggy-backing on the bankruptcy, made a creditor's petition as the sole creditor.

Ms Lawrence claims that despite appeal processes and hearings being in place, and without her knowledge or consent, the bank placed the property on the market and falsely deemed her possessions to be abandoned.

Following an unsuccessful hearing last Thursday, in which Ms Lawrence was not granted a requested extension of time to prepare her appeal, she proceeded on Friday to graffiti the façade of the house with love hearts and wording including 'not for sale'.

"They can afford a board, I can't. It's not graffiti, it's a statement," she told the Guardian.

"My prime concern was to complete the statements before I was stopped.

There's no way they could arrest me or charge me with anything ... this is a love letter to Islay House that I've put on there."

Ms Lawrence claims she initially wasn't aware she had been made bankrupt.

“I didn't know I had been made bankrupt. No-one has spoken to me about what monies do I have? Am I solvent? In relation to this bogus bankruptcy.

"I just want my day in court."

In December the bank took possession of another of Ms Lawrence's properties in Daylesford, allegedly tossing many of her possessions and family treasures out into the backyard.

Ms Lawrence also alleges documents seized by the NAB include information detailing the bank's dealings with Melbourne gangland figure, Tony Mokbel — information she gathered while conducting research as an investigative journalist.

"I have always used my property as a safe house, mostly for women and children who come from difficult cultural backgrounds, so I've had to stop all that, it just breaks my heart," she said.

Ms Lawrence had planned to restore Islay House as the subject of a reality TV series, called 'Romancing the Stone', and had held discussions with the 'Grey Army' – regional older tradies – working with apprentices.

She will return to the Court of Appeal on February 24.

The agent appointed by the bank, John Keating of Keating's Real Estate, Woodend, confirmed the auction has been postponed pending the finalisation of court proceedings.

Police enquiries are continuing as to whether charges will be laid against Ms Lawrence for criminal damage to the property.

* The NAB had not responded to questions from the Guardian at the time of going to press.

(This story was originally published in the Macedon Ranges Guardian on Friday February 10, 2012 and has been republished with permission.)

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