Celebration for Lithgow’s Future

Janine Kitson, Gardens of Stone Alliance

Over 100 guests came together to celebrate the coal mining unionists and environmentalists Vernon Moffitt (1924-2001) and Joyce Moffitt (1930-1999) at the Lithgow State Heritage Mine Park on Sunday 30 June, 2019.

The Moffitt’s were remembered, as their children, Joanne and Michael Moffitt, unveiled a commemorative plaque to them.

“My parents understood the value of unity and fought tirelessly to combine their three passions – unionism, the environment and their community,” said Joanne Moffitt.

Prior of the ceremony, the local Lithgow bus company, picked up guests at the Lithgow Railway Station and took them to see the spectacular pagoda landscape at Dobbs Drift Lookout, State Mine Gully Road. There Lithgow Highland Pipe Band Bagpipe player, John Cambridge, played hauntingly beautiful Scottish tunes as he stood on a pagoda wearing his Scottish regalia. Returning to Lithgow State Mine Park guests enjoyed eating scones, jam and cream and drinking a hot coffee served by Lithgow coffee mobile van, Mint Brew Coffee.

Wiradjuri Sharon Riley welcomed guests to Country – wearing a kangaroo cape and feathered head dress – speaking in her indigenous language, as she stood under the two huge 30 metre banners. One banner read ‘Protect Gardens of Stone’ and the other read Nganga-dha Walawalang Malang – Respect for Country and People.

Jim Angel, former Mayor of Blue Mountains Council and coal miner, chaired the event. He said, “Vernon Moffitt (1924-2001) was a revered coal miner unionist. His wife Joyce Moffitt (1930-1999) also worked for the coal mining union and is remembered as the ‘face’ of the Lithgow office.  She was a passionate environmentalist calling for the protection of the endangered Bathurst copper wing butterfly.  Together they were a formidable team.  Vern and Joyce Moffitt are forever associated with the long campaign to protect the pagoda landscape around Lithgow, known as the Gardens of Stone that is located within and next to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area”.

Ray Christison, President, The City of Greater Lithgow Mining Museum, began the proceedings by saying “The Lithgow State Mine Heritage Park & Railway is very pleased to support the celebration of the lives and work of Vern and Joyce Moffitt. Both have a strong connection to Lithgow’s mining industry and to the United Mineworkers Union. Vern was an early supporter of the mining museum and provided wise advice to the museum board in its early days. Both are also remembered for their work in protecting the Gardens of Stone. A new interpretive sign recognising their lives and achievements will become a permanent exhibit at the museum”.   

Thomas Ebersoll, Secretary and Treasurer of Lithgow Environment Group (LEG) spoke how LEG continues the work of Joyce Moffitt by advocating for the protection of the Purple Copper Butterfly, the upland swamps and the Newnes Plateau.

Keith Muir, Convenor, Gardens of Stone Alliance (Lithgow Environment Group, Blue Mountains Conservation Society and Colong Foundation for Wilderness) explained how Lithgow could become a world class ecotourist destination through the protection of the Lithgow’s State Forests as a State Conservation Area that still permits responsible underground coal mining.

Keith Muir’s eloquent speech outlined how the celebration was material proof of a growing consensus between business, unions and even political parties that a revival plan is needed for Lithgow – a plan needed to protect the region’s heritage and build its tourism economy. 

Keith Muir said “Destination Pagoda, the recently developed visitors plan, can achieve all of these tourism ambitions in one hit.

In his speech Keith continued, saying “Lithgow can become the gateway to the Gardens of Stone – something the Moffitts would have wanted. Destination Pagoda in a very small way is a first step for Lithgow along the road we must travel to a future beyond coal. As some of you may know, Centennial Coal believes that the coal in this region will be gone in twenty years. The industry may be gone before then; nobody today knows. So there is no time to waste in the development of an alternative economy for the town and Destination Pagoda can be part of that economy. Lithgow’s pagoda landscapes are an outstanding natural asset and Destination Pagoda outlines how the town can become a major tourist destination. Lithgow’s lucky. It has a bright future. Vern and Joyce Moffitt would agree that Lithgow should pursue Destination Pagoda. As you may also know, as the volunteers who work at this Museum do know, tourism is not a power plant to be switched on; it has to be built up over years.”

Keith Muir concluded by saying, “The Moffitts personify the links within Lithgow between those who wish conservation of our natural heritage and the concerns of the union movement to secure good jobs for the town. In other words, protecting people and country as the Wiradjuri.”

John Koch, retired unionist, finished the speeches, wearing his fluro lime green CFMEU shirt, and holding up a large scarf showing Lithgow’s beautiful but rare and endangered Purple Copper Butterfly. He concluded by saying, “The life of Joyce and Vern Moffit is steeped in many stories:  her story and history.  Their dedication remains a model for all trade unionists”.

The ceremony ended with the diverse audience standing in unity singing “Solidarity Forever”.

The Moffitt plaque will now be on permanent display at the Lithgow State Heritage Mine Park.

Throughout the ceremony music was played, including Peter Drinkall, Lithgow poet, playing his guitar and singing the songs “Maiyingu Marrugu” and Gardens of Stone” which have been recently captured on the Tom Zubrycki documentary “Gardens of Stone: Living Landscape” that was launched at the Lithgow Workies Club earlier in the year.

Michael Moffitt, son of Vern and Joyce, along with fellow folk musicians Cate McCarthy, Mark Roebuck and Gary Buchhotz, played violin, mandolin, guitar and banjo. Following the ceremony, they played long into the night, to locals who joined them at the Court House Hotel.

It is now hoped that MP Paul Toole, whose electorate covers the Gardens of Stone region, and Lithgow City Councillors will embrace the visitor plan Destination Pagoda and take the necessary steps needed to create a new Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area. A letter calling for MP Paul Toole’s support can be found by visiting www.gardensofstone.org.au

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