Pensioner's bitter battle with council over roadside stall

Queensland man Ray Aitkens says he buys high-quality produce from farmers and sells it back to the community with little markup, helping those in need.

Queensland Ray Aitkens is pictured, beside an inset of his fruit stall, which Bundaberg local council is threatening to shut down.
Ray Aitkens is urging Bundaberg council to let him keep his fruit stall. Source: ACA

An Aussie pensioner and fruiterer who sells "a lot of fresh, cheap and affordable" produce to locals from his pop-up grocery stall said he risks going bankrupt thanks to a council demand. Queensland man Ray Aitkens, from Bundaberg in the state's northeast, said he's been buying high-quality fruit directly from local farmers and selling it to residents in the area from his roadside stall, to much success.

Aitkens says he adds little markup to the produce, claiming his business "helps our farmers, it helps our poor community, it helps all our poor pensioners in the area". Shoppers who frequent the disability pensioner's stall insist the produce is "cheaper than the supermarkets" with Aitkens saying he gets people from all around town coming to buy his fruit.

While seemingly popular within the community, Bundaberg Regional Council appear less than impressed with the set-up, warning that Aitkens is operating commercially on council land without a permit. He was already moved on from the spot once last year, but after doing so failed to attract the same success due to the speed limit in the area, which saw few cars stop as they drove by.

Ray Aitkens is pictured handing a bag of oranges to a customer. Bundaberg council is threatening to shut down his stall due to Aitkens not possessing a permit to trade at the spot.
Ray Aitkens says people come from far and wide for his produce, which some say is even cheaper than supermarkets. Source: ACA

"I paid for a permit to go out to Goodwood Road to sell fruit on the side of the road out there," Aitkens told A Current Affair. "I told council at the time I didn't think it'd ever work out there because the traffic speed is 80km/h and a lot of old people don't like pulling off the road at 80km/h."

He said as a result of being forced to move, he lost a whopping $40,000 of his hard-earned.

"I lost all my savings last year, $40,000 that I'd made in fruit over a period of five or six years that I'd saved up and saved up," he said. "It's the most money I've ever had in my whole life and I lost a whole lot of it to fruit."

Now, the retiree's taken matters back into his own hands and moved back to his original spot, despite the knowledge it's against local by-laws — and it didn't take long for council to notice.

"The day they handed me the fine there was three cars here having a crack deal ... and I was getting the fine," he said. "I'm selling mandarins here, not drugs." Aitkens was issued with another fine for operating illegally, and ordered to immediately shut up shop.

Despite understanding that he is "not operating in the rules", the Queenslander feels so strongly that he should be granted a permit to trade, he's even willing to take the battle to court.

"[It's] not just me who's gonna lose out on the deal, the community's gonna lose out," he said. "This rule has been passed by members of council and it needs to be changed."

One customer, Richard, said "he's actually a lot cheaper than what I can buy from the supermarket" and "I don't think it's really fair, he's not doing any harm to anyone."

Yahoo News Australia has contacted Bundaberg Regional Council for comment.

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