There’s a special spot high up on the hill through the forest at the back of our place. It’s a scene that inspires me to be a better custodian of our own land.
You can see right across Corner Inlet all the way to Wilson’s Prom. Under the water lie swaying seaweed forests that sustain life in the irreplaceable bird breeding grounds of this Ramsar-listed site. A little while back, the Catchment Management Authority even arranged a canoe tour to ever-so-gently ram the message home to landholders along the river: we are responsible for these delicate forests and everything that depends on them.
Stepping up to the plate, we’ve been planting trees as environmental buffers, reducing the risk of fertiliser leaching into the river and improving our effluent management. It’s a huge commitment that we’ve made because we treasure our beautiful landscape and its creatures.
The jewel in the centre of all this is Wilson’s Promontory National Park, a magical wilderness studded with granite peaks. Amazingly, its conservation values were recognised by government in the 1800s – a time when land-clearing was the priority. According to Parks Victoria:
“Following campaigns by the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, and lobbying by the Royal Society of Victoria, the Victorian government temporarily reserved most of the Promontory as a national park in 1898. Permanent reservation followed in 1908, although the Yanakie area north of the Darby River was not added until the 1960s.”
Remarkably, it seems the 2013 Victorian government does not share the foresight of those who occupied their honorable seats in 1898. Rather than protecting the Prom, it plans to offer private developers leases of up to 99 years. I asked our local member and leader of the Victorian National Party, Peter Ryan, why the government had chosen this course. Among the material emailed by his office was this explanation:
“The government is keen to attract more international visitors to Victoria. There is growing demand for nature-based tourism and Victoria is keen to compete with other states to meet this demand. The guidelines provide certainty of process for unsolicited projects.”
“The move makes Victoria more competitive with other states in Australia, by supporting sensible and sensitive investment in national parks that complements environmental, heritage and other values and generates a net public benefit.”
To its credit, the government plans to control development in national parks to ensure that it is “sensitive” but lots of other issues bother me:
- Where will the new buildings go? The Tidal River settlement is already very crowded. Will it be enlarged to encroach further onto the park or will it nudge out the low-cost camping that has made the Prom so accessible for generations of Victorian families?
- It opens the door. Remember that multi-storey luxury hotel overlooking the beach Jeff Kennett wanted for the Prom back in the ’90s?
- Why not simply enhance development outside the Park boundary? There’s plenty of tourist accommodation minutes from the park offered by small business owners who deserve the support of the government rather than competition from it.
The Tidal River Strategic Directions Plan 2010-2015 recognises that Wilsons Promontory National Park is already making a huge contribution to the economy of the surrounding region and the state as a whole.
“A 2003 study estimated that in relation to employment and business development it generated economic benefits of about $50 million per year for the region and the state.”
“The Prom receives around 400,000 visits each year, most of them between November and April with peaks during the January and Easter holidays. Visitor facilities and services are concentrated at Tidal River, the largest visitor accommodation centre in a Victorian national park. It provides for a maximum of 4,000 overnight visitors at any one time.”
Why would we risk killing the goose that laid the golden egg?