Madi Maclean, Senior Vice-President, Blue Mountains Conservation Society
This article was first printed in Hut News Issue 398 December 2021. Thanks to BMCS for permission to reprint the article.
Cheers, tears and a storm of emails erupted in celebration within the Society when, on Saturday 13 November, the NSW government at last announced the creation of a new Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area (SCA).
The announcement came in a joint media release from the Premier, Dominic Perrottet, Environment Minister and Treasurer, Matt Kean and Deputy Premier and local MP, Paul Toole.
The decision transfers this spectacular area of pagoda landscapes, cliffs, waterfalls, woodlands and flowering swamps into the national park estate. The new State Conservation Area is made up of most of three state forests (Newnes, Ben Bullen and Wolgan) plus Crown reserve land near Mount Piper. There will also be small additions to the adjoining Gardens of Stone and Wollemi National Parks. The whole area is a combined total of 31,500 hectares.
The existing Gardens of Stone National Park lies immediately north of the new SCA. This park, created in 1994, was an early campaign success. However this left the three state forests unprotected because of active coal mining leases. In 2006 a campaign launched the Gardens of Stone Stage 2 Proposal and this has been the foundation document until today. In 2001 the 3,500 ha Mugii Murum-ban SCA further north was created.
This has been a long campaign going back to Myles Dunphy’s vision for the Greater Blue Mountains in 1932. The name, “Gardens of Stone”, was first used by renowned environmentalist, Haydn Washington. The Society has been involved in the campaign for over twenty years. The Gardens of Stone Alliance, made up of founding members Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Lithgow Environment Group and Blue Mountains Conservation Society, has been the organising force of the campaign. Nature Conservation Council boosted the campaign when it joined in 2020 and the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute joined more recently. We also acknowledge the long-term support of National Parks Association.
The Society in particular thanks Keith Muir from Colong Foundation and Julie Favell, Chris Jonkers and Richard Stiles from Lithgow Environment Group for their incredible persistence and conviction in achieving recognition for the Gardens of Stone The Society also wishes to thank all our members and supporters. You have helped make this happen through raising awareness, signing petitions, submissions, letters to government and supporting our public events.
We recognise some key Society members: Ian Brown, Brian Marshall, Karen McLaughlin, Peter Green, Janine Kitson, Yuri Bolotin, Joel Robinson, Thomas Ebersoll, Tara Cameron and Madi Maclean.
We also thank the many volunteers who contributed by helping plan, organise or run events, such as trips, giant banner drops, tours, stalls, MP tours, film nights, talks and exhibitions, particularly the Gardens of Stone In Focus photo competition and two day exhibition; by publicising and promoting the beauty of Gardens of Stone on facebook and other platforms. We also recognise the film makers who produced glorious and moving videos. It is difficult to acknowledge everyone in one short article.
It has been a long campaign with multiple contributions. A few highlights that stand out for me in the last eight years are:
- The Planning Assessment hearings for the Coalpac open-cut mine proposal where in 2012 the Independent Planning Commission found that “the highest and best use of the area was for conservation purposes”. The mining proposal was refused.
- In mid 2019, Destination Pagoda, the visitor management plan written by Ian Brown, was launched in Lithgow, Katoomba and Sydney. It showed that the SCA could function and support conservation values as well as promote nature-based tourism and diversify the local economy of Lithgow. Destination Pagoda became a new focus in the local campaign, promoted through social media and gaining local support.
- There were a number of rallies in the Gardens of Stone and in Lithgow and they lifted our spirits.
We also thank the parliamentarians who drove this proposal:
- Environment Minister, Matt Kean, for getting it over the line;
- Trish Doyle, our local member, for her long term support and for ensuring the Labor Party added protection of the Gardens of Stone into its platform at the last state election;
- Cate Faehrmann, Greens MLC
- Catherine Cusack, Liberal MLC.
The next step is the establishment of the new SCA with professional park management of the area and consultation on the proposals.
For more detail on the history of the campaign, please read the article by Haydn Washington: campaign timeline (pdf).