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High-flying pigeons land trio in court

Posted on April 16, 2004

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia — A Devon Meadows pigeon racer and breeder who was growing more than 200 cannabis plants says he only did it for the birds — all 1000 of them.

A court heard yesterday that David Wallace Burgess fed his birds hemp seeds because he had read about their nutritional qualities.

Burgess, 55, pleaded guilty in the County Court to one count of cultivating cannabis in a commercial quantity.

His crop was discovered in March last year after a police helicopter flew over a Worthing Road property in Devon Meadows, near Cranbourne, where Burgess then lived.

A search resulted in the seizure of more than 220 plants, which were growing outdoors near a shed, in a pigeon loft and inside the home.

Prosecutor Michael Tinney said the amount seized would equal 32 kilograms of dry, useable cannabis, or more than $500,000 worth on a per-ounce basis.

Mr Tinney said the prosecution did not accept that Burgess was growing the cannabis for his birds. He said no male plants were found, and female plants required pollination from male plants to produce seeds.

Defence counsel Rob Melasecca said there was no evidence to suggest his client was involved in trafficking cannabis.

He said Burgess, who owned between 800 and 1000 pigeons, had read about the use of hemp seeds as feed for the lucrative business of pigeons.

“Squadrons are like superannuation — whole squadrons of pigeons can be sold en masse for in excess of $100,000,” Mr Melasecca said.

Burgess appeared yesterday with two co-accused, Glenda Joy Balcke, 53, and her son Trevor Richard Balcke, 29, both of Devon Meadows. The pair, who own the Worthing Road property, each pleaded guilty to one count of cultivating cannabis.

Philip Dunn, QC, representing the Balckes, said they were not involved in growing the plants, which they believed were for the birds.

The court was told Glenda Balcke, a clerical assistant, was a pigeon enthusiast who met Burgess through a pigeon racing club in Frankston. Her son, a manager, also counted pigeon racing as a hobby.

Mr Dunn said pigeon fanciers had “their own little quirks” and it was believed that hemp seeds gave them an edge in racing and breeding.

The plea hearing before Judge Elizabeth Curtain continues today.

Copyright © 2004, The Age. All rights reserved.