With a proposed rezoning of land for a housing development at Kariong expected to go out for public comment later this month, the controversial Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council (DLALC) proposal is back in the spotlight.
Environmental groups had renewed calls for the proposal to be scrapped, with DLALC saying the development is “conscious and ecologically sustainable”.
The proposed 50-home development would see much of the 13ha block preserved in its bushland state, DLALC says.
But the Save Kariong Sacred Lands group says the region is “looking down the barrel of the destruction” of the land at 300 Woy Woy Rd and has called on the Central Coast Greens to make a stand against the proposal.
“We stand with traditional custodians, Coast Environmental Alliance and other local environmental groups who are deeply concerned about the proposed housing development … on this site – a site currently zoned C2, the highest protection for land outside of a National Park, for its ecological and cultural significance,” a spokesperson said.
“We are in no way against First Nation People’s right to do what they want with their land or further themselves economically.
“However, the land at Kariong is totally unsuitable for a housing development for so many reasons, least of all the fact of it being home to endangered species.
“The biodiversity report consigned by DLALC for the ‘project area’ confirms there will be an ‘unavoidable loss of biodiversity’, including endangered uphill swamp lands, plants and wildlife, which they intend to offset using the highly ineffectual and suspect scheme of biodiversity credits.
“This biodiversity credits scheme will see 195 credits to offset the death and habitat destruction of the endangered Eastern Pygmy Possum, 141 credits for the endangered large-eared pied-bats and 31 credits for the Southern Myotis.”
The group says The Greens are “natural allies” and is calling on the party to bring the situation to the attention of State Parliament.
“We are calling on The Greens to back-up their strong stance made in a statement in February this year requesting a resolution that will ensure the Land Council is provided with land appropriate for development, land they can develop without destroying important ecological and cultural heritage,” the spokesperson said.
Coast Environmental Alliance (CEA) has also renewed calls for the proposal to be scrapped.
“While we fully appreciate the need for more housing, there is nothing conscious or sustainable about gutting an area that has been zoned by the government to not allow any development due to the extremely important ecological values and cultural significance of the area,” spokesperson Jake Cassar said.
“The government specifically zoned this parcel of land C2 – Environmental Conservation, which is the highest protection private land can receive.
“The C2 zone was put in place to ensure that land with cultural heritage and threatened flora and fauna is protected.
“The zoning is also given to areas such as this to ensure that endangered wetlands which are critically important to primary industries, including the oyster leases in Brisbane Water, remain in their pristine state.”
Cassar said rezoning the land and opening it up to bulldozers would set a precedent, with no Crown Land being safe.
Indigenous spokesperson for CEA, Kirt Mallie, said as a Torres Strait Islander she found having to battle to preserve sacred sites “absolutely heartbreaking”.
“After nearly a decade-long battle to protect the famous grandmother tree and her surrounds at Bambara, both the Aboriginal community and the broader community actually worked with DLALC to have the area officially registered as ‘Kariong Sacred Lands Aboriginal Place’, due to the enormous amount of cultural heritage in the area,” she said.
“How can DLALC fully acknowledge the cultural significance of Kariong Sacred Lands, but continue to push forward with their development proposal?
“It makes no sense.
“I was born and raised in the Gosford area, whereas the vast majority of people on DLALC are not originally from the Central Coast; they certainly don’t speak on behalf of the broader indigenous community.”
Mallie said DLALC’s entire membership represented less than four per cent of the overall Central Coast Aboriginal population.
“We have confirmed with government agencies that there are indeed known and registered cultural sites on the land they are planning to develop,” she said.
“These ancient treasures will be destroyed if this goes ahead, which is deeply distressing to many people in the Aboriginal community.
“It simply should not be allowed to happen, and irrespective of who the developer is.”
Mallie said the development would open up nearby sacred sites to vandalism and graffiti and endanger koala populations.
Cassar said the proposed development was only a short walk from the famous grandmother tree and controversial Egyptian hieroglyphs.
“This iconic destination is visited by thousands of tourists each year including international guests,” he said.
“A development in this unique and much-loved area will completely change the face of this very popular attraction, which could significantly impact tourism and our local economy.”
CEA is urging the community to write to the Member for Gosford Liesl Tesch, to gain her support in finding a resolution that protects Kariong Sacred Lands, while ensuring that DLALC is compensated or given other developable land to meet its economic goals.
But DLALC Chair Tina West said caring for Country was at the core of the not-for profit organisation’s mission and that misinformation had been circulating.
“We exist to protect and conserve the environment and Aboriginal cultural heritage for generations to enjoy, while also creating tangible social and wellbeing benefits for the broader community,” she said.
“Under Darkinjung LALC’s proposed use of the site, more than half of the 13ha will be zoned under Environmental Conservation (C2), preserving the landscape in its bushland state as well as the few identified Aboriginal cultural sites within the zone.
“This environmental conservation zone of more than 7ha borders Brisbane Water National Park, with the national park containing sites like the grandmother tree and Kariong sacred land.
“Darkinjung LALC has been careful not to harm any existing cultural sites within or even in the vicinity of the proposed development, including what has been referred to as the grandmother tree, which is located more than 1km away from the site, or ‘Kariong Sacred Land’, which is to the south of the 13ha area.”
West said the remaining part of the site, which bordered the existing Kariong village, would be developed into a residential community inspired by conscious design principles that incorporated native vegetation, deep-soil planting areas and 50 low-density homes within large blocks.
The development will also feature a 0.4ha area under Environmental Management (C3) zoning, serving as parkland facilities for the enjoyment of the community.
The Land Council says it has followed rigorous processes to design a development that supports sustainable outcomes, including sourcing various independent reports to meet requirements under both the NSW Planning System and the Planning Systems SEPP (Aboriginal Lands).
The Biodiversity Certification Assessment Report and the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment report have addressed the potential inadvertent impacts of the proposed development and provide excellent conservation outcomes for known Aboriginal sites as well as any remnants, sites or cultural artefacts that may be discovered during the development, it says.
The Land Council says the impacts on the biodiversity of the area have been assessed extensively and determined to be acceptable and manageable with appropriate mitigation measures in place.
“We have taken a thorough and considered approach to ensure we achieve positive outcomes for Country and the community,” West said.
“All Aboriginal community-controlled organisations on the Central Coast, and by extension a majority of Aboriginal people on the Central Coast, have supported the progression of this rezoning through the NSW Planning System for almost a decade.”
The proposed site complements both the natural bush surroundings and the existing Kariong housing community, West said.