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Man Buns and Dunny Lanes

In a decision handed down by the Supreme Court of NSW on 12 August 2020 (Hardy v Sidoti), a man has been successful in claiming ownership over a 3.35 square metre piece of land against his neighbour under the legal principle of adverse possession, commonly referred to as squatter’s rights.

Although the judgment largely involved a technical analysis of the law of adverse possession and its intersection with the torrens title system of land ownership, the following introduction by Justice Kunc provided a very colourful and uniquely Australian slant on the proceedings:- 

‘These proceedings concern two very Australian phenomena: the “dunny” and dedication to home improvement. At issue is the ownership of a 3.35 square metre remnant of a “dunny lane” in Redfern, a suburb of historic significance for First Australians and in the development of Sydney as a city.

 At the end of the 19th century, Redfern suffered from typhoid epidemics “directly attributable to the lack of drainage, airless tenements, and the use of the cesspit system”. Today, according to one writer, the suburb “has succumbed to a tsunami of smashed avocado and man buns”. Whatever the truth of that latter statement, those parts of Redfern which feature exquisitely renovated terrace houses are now highly prized Sydney real estate. The vestigial remains of “dunny lanes” are a reminder of a less sanitary past.’

In short, Mr Hardy who had paved, fenced and used the small parcel of land as a garden was successful in his claim that he had adversely possessed the former ‘dunny lane’ exclusively for 12 years against the legal owner and has attained ownership of this land by adverse possession.   

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