Vacant block vigilante: The man keeping crime off a Mandurah street

Gavin Coyle took a dangerously overgrown drug den and turned it into a vibrant garden in the middle of Mandurah, and he's fighting to keep it that way.

The 47-year-old has been living in a tent on the vacant block off Anstruther Road with his two dogs for the past month, but has now been given a verbal warning by the City of Mandurah that his presence isn't permitted.

He was given permission by the land's owner - an elderly man living in Bicton - to live on the block after helping him clear out the space which he says was "contaminated" and "littered with thousands of used needles."

The owner of the block had originally hired a bobcat to clear out the land, but the machine's operator refused to do the job after realising needles were flicking up at his feet as he drove it over the ground.

Knives, pipes and needles are just some of the items Gavin found while recovering the block. Photo: Justin Rake.

Knives, pipes and needles are just some of the items Gavin found while recovering the block. Photo: Justin Rake.

That's when Gavin offered to pitch in.

He spent two months working seven days a week using a bladeless ride-on mower and a rope to tow items like fridges and washing machines - which had all been dumped on the property - out of the scrub.

A horticulturalist by trade, he then used a singular iron rake to scour the ground and collect needles, weapons and other drug paraphernalia that had been left there.

Once the ground was hospitable enough, he got to work planting frangipani trees and agaves around the border.

He then used scrap fencing he found in the area to cordon it off, and built himself a fully-functioning shelter.

The block now boasts a tent to sleep in, a compostable toilet, a shower, a fridge and a barbecue.

The shelter set-up Gavin Coyle calls home. Photo: Justin Rake.

The shelter set-up Gavin Coyle calls home. Photo: Justin Rake.

Tremendously, he carried out all of this work while suffering from terminal brain cancer.

Gavin was diagnosed with the disease about two years ago, with doctors saying he wouldn't make it past last Christmas.

He's comfortably beaten that deadline, and says working on the block gives him a sense of achievement that propels him forward.

"It's mind over matter," he said.

"People always ask me how I keep pushing on given the pain I'm in, but the work is really the only thing that takes my mind off it.

"I'd rather be here than in a hospital bed."

Gavin has planted frangipani trees around the border of the block, after clearing a mass of drug paraphernalia from the land. Photo: Justin Rake.

Gavin has planted frangipani trees around the border of the block, after clearing a mass of drug paraphernalia from the land. Photo: Justin Rake.

But while he may have cleaned out the needles, the criminals themselves are not so easily removed.

Gavin now spends almost every night being threatened by drug addicts, and he's taken it on himself to deny them their Anstruther Road playground.

"It's pretty much daily that they'll jump the fence and threaten to kill me," he said.

"I just tell them that I'm already on a ticking clock. All they'll be doing is putting me out of my misery.

"Most of them see the dogs and jump back over the fence."

Chatting with Gavin at the block on Friday morning, I just couldn't stop wondering why.

Why would a man with limited time left in the world subject himself to this life? Why spend your last days putting yourself at risk in a hot spot of violent criminals?

His answer gave me the measure of the man.

"I care about the people in this community," he said.

Gavin Coyle. Photo: Justin Rake.

Gavin Coyle. Photo: Justin Rake.

The block Gavin now calls home is surrounded by elderly residents and young families.

Prior to him taking up residence their homes were frequently broken into, their possessions often stolen.

Now, with the block open for all to see, he says crime has taken a deep dive in the area.

"Before, people could come here and do all the drugs they wanted. They'd jump fences, rob people, assault people, all because you couldn't see them off the road," he said.

"Now it's completely open, and the neighbours all say they feel much more comfortable."

Gavin clearly has their support.

Many have offered to cook him meals, and one neighbour lets him run an extension cord from their property to the block to power a bug zapper.

He even holds community barbecues.

Gavin says he's spoken to police who have no issue with how he lives, but now he's facing the prospect of being moved on.

City of Mandurah chief executive officer Mark Newman confirmed on Monday that Gavin had been told his shelter was illegal, but he is yet to be issued with an official move-on notice.

"The City is currently investigating this situation and also seeing how we could assist the man with any relevant agencies," Mr Newman said.

"A move-on notice has not yet been issued, however the man has been advised that this type of camping is not permitted."

But Gavin takes a different view.

"I just don't see how this can be a drug den where criminals come and endanger the community for years and nothing gets done about it, but now I am here camping and gardening it's an issue all of a sudden," he said.

"I was told the block is now a hazard to the community, but I reckon it's a fair bit safer without thousands of needles and knives buried under the soil."

Should he be vacated, Gavin is adamant he would find someone else to help during his final days.

"I don't have much time left, and I just want to do some good for people while I'm still here," he said.

"If anyone else needs a garden planted, or some land cleared, I'm your man."