I love the land, so it’s time to stand up for our national parks

Inspiration for a green farmer

Inspiration for a green farmer

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?

Tidal River

Tidal River

16 thoughts on “I love the land, so it’s time to stand up for our national parks

    • Thanks Lynne. It’s hard not to take a nice pic of Wilsons Prom, which is breathtaking, whether you’re among ancient beech trees in a moist valley, standing on a sparkling granite outcrop or dawdling along a pristine beach.

  1. Wonderful article Marian. Such a worry, in every national park across Victoria. Very short term gain for a potential loss than can ever be regained.

  2. Great piece Marian; you should send it to The Age as an opinion piece. I’m always torn about The Prom. It’s a cliche to say it’s the jewel in Victoria’s crown, but it is. I’ve camped there many times and stayed in the old and newish huts and maybe there’s scope for a (very) little more development, but we can’t afford to allow too much love. it will spoil the experience and the risk will be that we’ll love it to death. And what’s wrong with developing outside the park boundaries? In that way the money and jobs will stay local.

  3. This is just plain crazy Marian.

    There’s plenty of ‘development room’ through Corner inlet, Shallow Inlet, Sandy Point, Waratah Bay etc etc. It would also put a lot of pressure on local accommodation providers who have had it really tough for some time.

    More pig headed stupidity from the State Government.

    • What should we do about it, Ian? I have rejoined the Victorian National Parks Association (which I first joined when Jeff tried to build his hotel at the Prom back in the 90s). As you know, I’ve also contacted Peter Ryan. Clearly though, as individuals, we need to do a lot, lot more.

      • Talk to politicians, but get the Federal pollies involved as well. I’m surprised it hasn’t received more publicity and I’ll be talking to both my state and fed members. Also need to get other political parties (especially Greens) to start putting pressure on the Libs.

      • If you’re keen on some acronyms, both Shallow inlet and Corner inlet are listed on the JAMBA, CAMBA and ROKAMBA sites lists, protecting migratory birds that commute from Wilsons Prom to Siberia each year.

        More generally, I am ex-DSE, so know a bit about the proposals. Not that there’s much to know, there aren’t any firm plans that I’m aware of. Yes I think Tidal River is proposed for a boutique luxury hotel. Pretty small, and definitely in keeping with the environment, definitely not a resort type thing with swimming pools etc, that’s not the market. It would be ultra-green too – that fits the sort of market. Maybe some small huts, “glamping” at sealers cove or the lighthouse.

        My issue is the concept of 99 year leases. Who the hell gets those sorts of terms in the real world? Unbelievable.

        Wilsons Prom is a bit of a special case because it’s difficult to put all the accom and other services outside the park like they should – limited access.

        • Thanks for the insight, Wilful.

          Luxury lovers can, however, be accommodated outside the park – many already are.

          It strikes me that 99-year leases are a way of “selling off” national park land to developers without the public relations disaster of an actual sale.

  4. “It strikes me that 99-year leases are a way of “selling off” national park land to developers without the public relations disaster of an actual sale.”

    Precisely.

    That’s why HVP the plantation company got 99 year leases rather than simple freehold.

  5. Such a lovely place so close to home for us to treasure. Look out for the soon to be released water quality improvement plan for Corner Inlet.

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