The Queensland Government is currently considering a proposal for five privately owned “eco-accommodation” camps along the Cooloola Great Walk in Great Sandy National Park.
We have previously expressed our concerns about private development in national parks. The opportunity for private, commercial accommodation in national parks was created by the Newman LNP government in 2013. They amended the Nature Conservation Act 1992, firstly to broaden the Object of the Act from simply protecting nature to providing recreation and eco-tourism facilities and then to provide for leasing land within national parks to eco-tourism operators to provide accommodation for paying guests.
The Queensland Ecotourism Trails program was initiated by the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport in 2018 when they called for expressions of interest from private investors in providing ecotourism experiences, including “low-impact structures” at three sites, the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island, the Whitsunday Island Trail and the Cooloola Great Walk. The processes for the Thorsborne Trail and Whitsunday Island Trail have been abandoned as they did not meet the expectations of the community and traditional owners.
The Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project is proceeding apparently with strong support from the government. A preferred proponent, CABN, has been appointed.
Of the five proposed eco-accommodation camps proposed by CABN, two are of particular concern. One is at Lake Poona and the other alongside the Noosa River.
Lake Poona is the only perched lake on sand on the Australian mainland. It is surrounded by rainforest including areas of a Threatened Ecological Community listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The proposed development would construct 10 cabins in the forest just 100 metres from the lake on the hillside overlooking the lake. This would fundamentally destroy what is now an essentially pristine environment — a true wilderness.
A little history of Cooloola
Cooloola is a sand mass essentially equivalent to Fraser Island, Bribie Island, Moreton Island and North and South Stradbroke Islands, but it happens to adjoin the mainland.
Sand-mining companies became interested in the area around 1963 and mining for rutile and zircon began at Inskip Point in 1966. Noosa Parks Association, led by Dr Arthur Harrold, began the campaign against sand mining in 1963.
In 1970, applications were made for 10 sand-mining leases on the dunes of Cooloola. The Bjelke-Petersen government was supportive. Arthur Harrold, with Bill and Mavis Huxley, formed The Cooloola Committee to fight sand mining. A major campaign began, led by Arthur and the Huxleys together with Ca-loundra wildflower artist, Kathleen McArthur, and her friend, Judith Wright, arguably Australia’s greatest poet. The campaign was successful with a small group of Liberal Party members of the government opposing the granting of the new sand-mining leases. Sand mining was still occurring between Double Island Point and Freshwater Creek on the eastern side of Cooloola under the earlier leases. Cooloola National Park was finally declared in 1975 but it excluded the central core which remained as State Forest. It also excluded the western catchment but that was added later as a re-sult of the continued efforts of Arthur Harrold and Bill Huxley. In 1990, the Commission of Inquiry into the Conservation, Management and Use of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Re-gion led by Tony Fitzgerald QC recommended logging cease in the region and as a consequence the State Forest “hole in the heart” was transferred to national park. Tony Fitzgerald recommended the Great Sandy Region be nominated for World Heritage listing and ARCS was commis-sioned by the Queensland and Federal governments to prepare the nomination. The nomination included both Fraser Island and Cooloola but assessment by IUCN recommended Cooloola be excluded essentially because Fraser Island was an easily defined geographical area. There is no dispute that Cooloola is of World Heritage value.
The proposed development
The national park on the Cooloola sand mass was not an initiat-ive of government. It did not become national park because the government recognised its conservation values. It became na-tional park as a result of the devotion of conservationists, Arthur Harrold, Bill and Mavis Huxley, Kathleen McArthur, Judith Wright and many others. It is greatly distressing that their vision of Cooloola permanently set aside for the protection of nature could be destroyed for private profit, accommodation for a wealthy few and a little government revenue. Greg Wood, with whom we worked in the lead up to the SEQ Forests Agreement, is co-ordinating a campaign to try to stop the development. A web site has been set up where you can download postcards to email government ministers and there is a petition on change.org.
Please visit the web site, send an email to ministers and sign the petition. https://www.protectparks.net