Leading a community movement was never part of the plan for Hayley Paddon but she couldn't stand by as fertile land was taken.
Leading a community movement was never part of the plan for Hayley Paddon but she couldn't stand by as fertile land was taken. Scott Powick

From farmer's wife to movement leader

SEVEN months ago, Hayley Paddon had no idea her life would soon be thrown upside down.

Mrs Paddon was looking after the logistics of her husband, James's, sweet potato farm when it was announced the new $534 million Tweed Valley Hospital would be located on the red dirt of Cudgen.

The announcement saw Mrs Paddon thrown into the limelight as she passionately led the charge to have the site relocated from what is classified as State Significant Farmland.

But Mrs Paddon never expected to be such a polarising figure.

Born in Ipswich, Mrs Paddon moved to Kingscliff at the age of six and attended Kingscliff Public School and Kingscliff High.

Hayley Paddon aged 12.
Hayley Paddon at age 12.

Her father Brian opened up the Kingscliff Bakery next to Zanzibar Cafe and also started Tweed Perfect Pies at Tweed Heads South and Tweed City.

Her mother, Glenda, was the secretary to Max Boyd while he was mayor of the Tweed Shire Council.

Mrs Paddon said some of her fondest memories while growing up were helping her parents slice bread before and after school while she and her older brother Travis often slept on flour bags in the shop as her parents worked long hours to build up the business.

In her free time, Mrs Paddon did what every other kid in Kingscliff would do, she'd ride down to the beach or jump off the bridge at Cudgen Creek.

After graduating from school, Mrs Paddon studied business and administration while working at Coles in Tweed Heads.

In 1995, Mrs Paddon met her future husband James and the two married at Murwillumbah in 2000. They now have two children, Taylor and Ellie, and live at Banora Point while farming in Cudgen.

Hayley and James Paddon married at Murwillumbah in 2000.
Hayley and James Paddon married at Murwillumbah in 2000.

Before she met James, Mrs Paddon had little knowledge of farming but always knew about the fertile red soil of Cudgen.

"The soil in Cudgen is fantastic, you stand back and throw a handful of seeds in and just watch it grow,” Mrs Paddon said.

Always passionate about the environment and wildlife, it was during her time working with James and his family that she experienced how hard farmers work.

"I drove tractors and also used to help with the family office duties,” she said.

"The family has worked extremely hard to keep the farm running and producing to its highest standard.”

So when it was announced the $534 million Tweed Valley Hospital would be located on the same soil on which she had spent so much time working, Mrs Paddon was in complete shock.

"The decision was very unsettling for our family as all of our family except for James and myself live in Cudgen,” she said.

"The upsetting part was you can build a hospital anywhere but you can't just pick up and farm anywhere. To see this land that has fed and given back to the people for over 150 years be concreted over is just devastating.”

Tweed Life - Hayley and James Paddon.
Hayley and husband James Paddon on their sweet potato farm at Cudgen. Scott Powick

Soon after the announcement, Mrs Paddon started a Facebook page titled Relocate Tweed Valley Hospital from State Significant Farmland, which immediately took off.

"The response was overwhelming,” she said.

"It exploded in a matter of days and rapidly grew to 5000 members.

"At the time there was no thought process, we were just on auto-pilot. It was all about just pushing back and putting the pressure on, that's what it was from the moment we grabbed the baton, to let the State Government know that this isn't just about a couple of NIMBY farmers, it's about a whole area of people that weren't happy to have a hospital built on State Significant Farmland.”

Not long after, State Labor chose Kings Forest as its site for the new hospital which was later backed by Team Relocate, something Mrs Paddon said she was always hesitant to do.

"The only regrets I have in this journey is when the expression of interest process was reopened by the State Government, the Relocate Team should never have picked a site,” she said.

"I still wish to this day I had stuck to my guns and went with my gut instinct as we didn't foresee that this would hinder us at the time.

"For James, myself and all of the Relocate Team, we're all about just getting it moved off the farmlands.”

Tweed Life - Hayley and James Paddon.
Hayley says she has always been passionate about the environment including the fertile red soil of Cudgen. Scott Powick

Mrs Paddon said a petition to have their plight heard in Parliament had now reached 7000 signatures, largely due to Mrs Paddon's work in the community.

"Out of this entire experience, the thing I've enjoyed and loved the most is meeting people and getting out in the community, talking and meeting people even when others' opinions differ from my own,” she said.

Mrs Paddon said she still felt overwhelmed by how much her life had changed in seven months.

"I have always been quite a private person,” she said.

"It's overwhelming when people recognise you while you're getting groceries, or in a restaurant eating with family and friends.

"It's changed the whole dynamic of my life.”

As for the future, Mrs Paddon says she wants to continue working with the community and may even get involved in politics.

"I really wouldn't mind being involved somewhere with local issues and the community,” she said.

"Politics isn't something I would have in the past considered, and at the moment I'm just trying to take a step back and think about all the possibilities I've opened up for myself by starting this fight.

"My love for this area is abundant. I love where we live and I will forever call this the greatest place on earth.”