Letter to the Editor

Save Cooloola

Mainland Australia’s Best Perched Lake earmarked for ‘Eco’ Cabin Development

We received a Letter to the Editor from David Thomas on the threat that lodge development imminently poses in QLD’s Great Sandy NP. It was too long to run in the magazine, and was too important to cut down. Here it is, up online, in full.

Dear Wild,

It sometimes feels like with every issue of Wild there is yet another area of wilderness under threat. First comes the fight to protect an untouched wilderness. Then comes the second fight, to preserve the supposedly protected area. The area of concern this time is in SE Queensland. Driving north up the coast into Queensland from NSW, you could be forgiven for wondering how far the housing developments stretch. In fact, you have to travel to the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park, just north of Noosa, to find the first area of coastal wilderness.

Despite some timber and sand extraction, large parts of this park would still be recognisable to the first European settlers. The Great Sandy National Park consisting of K’Gari (Fraser Island) and Cooloola combine to form the largest and most complete age sequence of vegetated dune system in the world. The vegetation varies from rainforest to wallum heathlands and provides a refuge for many relict populations of flora and fauna including the vulnerable Ground Parrot. It also contains rare perched lakes which sit above the water table. Despite this, the Cooloola section of the national park is now being proposed for commercial development. Yes, it seems that the Queensland Government has decided that national parks are open for business.

Yet even that arch-exploiter of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, wept at the beauty of the landscape after Cooloola National Park was gazetted under his government in 1975. Surely if even Bjelke-Petersen could see that Cooloola should be protected (this was a premier intent on drilling for oil in the Great Barrier Reef!), it must be somewhere special indeed. It is, in fact, special enough to be on the World Heritage Area Tentative List due to its outstanding significance in global terms as a coastal dune system.

Poona Lake is arguably one of mainland Australia's finest perched lakes

The Cooloola area followed the same well-known script or wherever and whenever European settlement occurred. If there was something to be exploited, then it quickly would be; in this case, it was timber and sand mining.  Conservation efforts led by Dr Arthur Harrold and the emerging Noosa Parks Association in the 1970’s eventually led to national park protection. But Arthur Harrold would be turning in his grave with the news that even after national park protection, Cooloola is once more under threat. Not timber or zircon mining this time admittedly, but a plan by the Queensland Government to allow a commercial operator to build five new accommodation sites along the Cooloola Great Walk.

It would be ironic indeed if Joh Bjelke-Petersen reined in the chainsaws and bulldozers in the development-happy 1970’s only for the benign sounding Queensland Government’s Ecotourism Trails program to encourage a tourist development which will include ten ‘eco’ cabins on the shores of Poona Lake, arguably the best example of a perched lake on mainland Australia.

At the moment, this stunning lake sits in a pristine environment, yet is easily accessible to the public. After the development, the lake will no longer be pristine wilderness. This will be a loss for not only for existing hikers and families who currently visit to show their children that nature can easily out-compete technology for their attention given half a chance, but also the proposed users of the cabins themselves. Surely even they will be disappointed to discover their own cabins are spoiling the view!

“We need our national parks for the long term, and their protection needs to be secure from the vagaries of short-term politics.”

The original battle to save Cooloola had the usual suspects to blame: unscrupulous, profit-driven exploiting industries working hand in hand with a ruthless Government which considered conservation to be an obstacle in the path of righteous development. I don’t believe there are any real villains in this latest plan. The current government is trying to encourage responsible eco-tourism. The developers have been encouraged by the government and may well produce a quality product, but the fact remains, it’s simply in the wrong place. If the government is determined to have commercial operators running campsites and cabins in national parks, then at least put them in uncontroversial sites. Even with good intentions, the outcome will still be the same. A loss of wilderness doesn’t necessarily require bulldozers; it only requires a population not paying enough attention to the government they voted in.

We need our national parks for the long term, and their protection needs to be secure from the vagaries of short-term politics. One of the reasons this situation has arisen is through the brief reign of the Campbell Newman Government (2012 – 2015) which amended the Nature Conservation Act in favour of development. It is interesting to note that in 2016, the current Palaszczuk Government’s Environment minister Steven Miles (now Deputy Premier) said that he was delighted to announce reversing a major piece of that legislation, and I quote, “The new law requires the management of National Parks to be guided by the primary goal of conserving nature. That’s quite unlike the previous government’s open slather approach which was inviting intolerable intrusions into our park estate.”

That’s the type of conservation-minded government we need. Hold on a minute—that is the government we have!  It makes the current threat all the more confusing. At a time when we need wilderness more and more to balance the chaotic world we’ve created, each time another area is lost—whether deliberately or not—it is another tragedy, not only for nature but also for ourselves.

David Thomas,

Hervey Bay, Queensland