The Tasmanian Devil!

Surely family is worth much more than a big house and a flash telly?

Published by: Laura Hinton and Katie Evans
Published on: 26 January 2012

The moment we set eyes on the ‘gingerbread house' as we called it, me and my hubby Roger, 69, just knew we had to live there. The four-bedroom bungalow, in Tasmania, Australia, cost £70,000.
‘It'd be loads more at home,' Roger laughed.
After working hard all our lives, we'd scrimped and saved for years.
Now retired, we'd decided to follow the Australian dream and had been granted a four-year visa.
We'd had a difficult few years, as Roger's sons Dean and Jaeger, from a previous marriage, had both died from a rare genetic blood disorder. We'd been keen to leave the sadness behind.
So when my son Mark, 49, suggested a move from Swansea Valley to Tasmania, we couldn't think of a reason to say no. He'd emigrated there in 1989, had a wife Kali, 43, and three kids, Jonathan, 25, Melissa, 23, and George, 17.
We'd had to watch them grow
up through snatched holidays to Australia and their visits to Wales.
Now we could see them all the time! Roger and Mark were like father and son - Mark had taken Roger's surname by deed poll when he was 16.
Hardly surprising he loved my hubby so much, he'd always been there for him. When he was at school, he'd been into cross-country running, and Roger had taken him to every competition. And he'd helped Mark when he was training to be a merchant sailor.
Nowadays, Mark was a successful money broker. And it was with his help that we were able to find our feet in Tasmania. We'd already sent out £50,000 of life savings for him to invest and, when we arrived, he'd helped with all the paper work - we weren't eligible to buy property in Tasmania in our own names.
‘It's a legal technicality,' he'd explained. ‘Just put the house in my name.'
Soon, me and Roger had moved into the gingerbread house. We saw Mark and the family at least once a week.
‘It's wonderful you're here,' he told me one afternoon.
‘We couldn't be happier. And you're really living the Australian dream,' I gushed to him as workmen wandered past. He was having new carpeting fitted throughout the whole house, must have cost a fortune.
‘Only so I can make this one happy,' he laughed, wrapping his arms around Kali.
‘Mark's doing so well for himself,' I smiled proudly to Roger later that night.
He nodded, smiling. ‘Yeah, every time we go round, he seems to have another flat-screen TV, another 4x4...'
The next four years were wonderful. Every Christmas and birthday was spent with Jonathan, Melissa and George.
So we were gutted when our visa ran out, and we discovered we'd have to move back to the UK before we could apply for another. We had just eight weeks to sell our beloved home.
‘It could be worse,' I sighed, trying to remain positive. ‘At least we'll get a good return on this place... it's gone up in value.'
‘Small comfort,' Roger smiled sadly. ‘Mark's so busy. I keep asking for the documents needed to sell our home, but he's snowed under...
‘I have a terrible feeling Mark's not being honest with us.'
‘What? Don't be silly,' I said. So Roger got a company to look into the deeds of our home. Two days later, he ran into the kitchen.
‘You won't believe it,' he fumed. ‘Mark's lied to us.'
Roger described how Mark had taken our original £50,000, and used it as a deposit for his house. He'd then taken out a £200,000 mortgage on our gingerbread house.
We rushed straight round to Mark's. ‘How could you?' I cried.
‘You knew what I was doing,' he said calmly. We'd had no idea!
Mark reeled off excuse after excuse. Not once had he said sorry. My own son showed no remorse at taking me to the cleaners. I looked around at his fancy house, fancy telly, fancy everything... ‘I just hope it was worth it,' I whispered.
Still, I couldn't leave the country feeling angry. As I said goodbye to Mark and our grandchildren, my son hugged me. ‘We'll sort this out,' he promised.
Back in Wales, we spoke every few weeks. ‘He's hiding something else,' Roger insisted. No, this had been a misunderstanding.
‘You've got a year to pay us back,' I offered one day. ‘Then we can put this behind us.'
Yet it turned out to be far worse than we'd ever imagined. We discovered that Mark had racked up thousands of pounds worth of debt. Now, his house was in the process of being repossessed...
‘And he's using the money from the sale of our home to pay off his debt,' Roger fumed to me. ‘We've lost £300,000.'
Winter arrived - and Roger and me couldn't afford to put the heating on. In the end, Mark's brother Nigel, 47, convinced us to let him help pay for a solicitor. I couldn't believe I was having to sue my own son.
In May last year, we won the case against Mark in the Supreme Court of Tasmania. The judge awarded us £180,000. Realistically, there's little prospect of getting anything back, though. The money from the sale of our house is in Kali's name, so we can't touch it.
We're penniless. We can't even put the heating on for long, and we cut each other's hair to save money for food.
Mark lured us out to Oz with promises of a dream life. What we ended up with was a living nightmare. I thought I had a loving son, but in truth he's the Tasmanian Devil.

Mark says: ‘My parents knew all along about the mortgage I took out on their house to do up mine, and the money owed to them was due to come out of my house, but when they had to leave Australia, my house was repossessed. I understand they're upset.'

Diane Cranage, 68, Ystalyfera, Swansea Valley