Bouquets to the NSW Government for giving the world the fabulous Dharawal National Park. It’s easy to find things to complain about, but the protection of this genuinely beautiful and important part of Australian natural and cultural heritage is something to celebrate.
The Dharawal National Park is 6500ha of the upper Georges River catchment, bridging Darkes Forest north of Wollongong to Wedderburn in Campbelltown, and with two-thirds of the park in Wollondilly. It is tucked away between parts of the water supply catchments for Sydney and Wollongong, taking in some of the wild and scenic country of the O’Hares Creek gorge and Minerva Pool waterfalls.
The park includes about 20 threatened animal species, three nationally significant plant species, and the largest koala population in the Sydney basin. It contains pristine creeks and large numbers of internationally significant upland swamps with some of the highest densities of species in the world.
Not only does the park contain all this biodiversity, but it is also part of a greater green corridor linking Royal National Park with Budderoo and Morton national parks, and the Nattai and Blue Mountains reserve areas. Green corridors are vital for the long-term survival of species, because they allow plants and animals to re-colonise after fires, and to gradually adapt and move to new areas in response to environmental changes.
As well as being jam-packed with native species and ecosystems, the Dharawal National Park area is culturally significant to the Dharawal people. It is rich with nationally listed Aboriginal cultural sites, containing drawings, stencils, paintings and axe-grinding grooves. The land, water, plants and animals in the park are all important to Aboriginal culture.
The environment and culture of Dharawal National Park have now been protected from mining and development thanks to the dedication and hard work of conservationists and the many active environmental groups.
These truly heroic people have put in years of their lives working to benefit us all. They’ve researched, educated, lobbied and gained growing support over the years, for no financial gain.
Surprisingly, most of Wollongong’s well-loved, green backdrop of the Illawarra Escarpment, and the vital water catchment lands adjoining the escarpment, are not protected in the reserve system.
The escarpment is largely in private ownership and remains at risk to development pressures and mining. Even large areas of land that are in state reserves and the catchment ‘Special Areas’, remain open to coal and coal seam gas mining. The subsidence caused by mining has caused damage to riverbeds and water in the catchment, cracking riverbeds, draining water from the rivers, and polluting the water with methane and other chemicals.
Importantly, the Dharawal National Park is now protected from these mining impacts. It’s a wonderful first step for the NSW Government, showing that it’s listened to what many people in the Illawarra have been demanding - the protection of a beautiful natural area of high Aboriginal significance.
It has shown that it’s possible to change our priorities, and it opens the way for the Government to honour another commitment by also protecting our water catchments and farmlands from coal and gas mining.
Jill Merrin is a Wollongong City Councillor and a member of the Greens.