Have you ever gazed out over a pristine beach and felt both awed and calmed by its beauty?
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a forest, breathing in a sense of peace?
Have you ever wondered what it is about natural places that causes them to speak to us in this profound way? That changes us every time we interact with them? That draws us in and gives us a sense of connectedness and belonging?
These are the reasons we preserve these magical places in National Parks. According to the Australian government:
“National parks are usually large areas of land that are protected because they have unspoilt landscapes and a diverse number of native plants and animals. This means that commercial activities such as farming are prohibited and human activity is strictly monitored.
Like zoos, national parks have several purposes. The foremost of these is to protect native flora and fauna. But national parks are also there so Australians and foreign visitors can enjoy and learn about our unique environment, heritage and culture.”
Unfortunately somebody will need to update this – it is becoming increasingly clear that national parks are now nothing more than commercial opportunities. After all, we wouldn’t want our forests “locked up”, would we, Mr Abbott? The Federal government plans to put a coal port slap bang in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef – not merely a national park, but a world heritage area. An irreplaceable treasure.
And now the Victorian government plans to excise a huge chunk of the Point Nepean National Park for commercial development.
Pt Nepean was declared a National Park in 2009, after years of vigorous campaigning by the local community.
Understandably, they believed this meant that the park was now protected, open to the public for ever more, to be preserved and maintained as a national treasure. Point Nepean includes the old Quarantine Station, and if you have never visited, I urge you to make the time to go while you still can, because it is an amazing site – a wonderful combination of stunning scenery and the incredibly moving stories of those early settlers, brought off ships and housed in quarantine on this wild and remote patch of coast.
See it while you can, because if the State government has its way it will be rezoned, stripped of its environmental and heritage protections, and access restricted to wealthy clients of the “Wellness Centre” and “Geothermal Spa”. Of course, there is no geothermal spa at the site, but it’s only a matter of drilling around one kilometre into the earth, and with any luck they will find some nice hotsprings to bring to the surface – without damaging the surrounding bushland, you understand, because of course drilling one kilometre (one thousand metres! Can they really be serious?) into the earth is so easy to do in a non-disruptive, non-destructive fashion.
The proposed development includes a jetty designed to allow easy access for speedboats coming from around the bay. Which sounds all very fine until you realise that the jetty would be right in the middle of an integral section of Port Phillip Heads Marine National Park, and a known dolphin nursery. According to Parks Victoria, the thinking behind the park is this:
“By keeping some of these marine areas in a natural state, free from potentially damaging human activities, we will protect these environments into the future. Victorians will also benefit from the positive effects that this protection will have on recreation and tourism, community education and scientific research.”
Which seems rather at odds with a high-traffic jetty encouraging speed boats and jet skis through an already fragile area. The development is being fast tracked and deliberately placed outside normal planning controls and public scrutiny, which is always a red flag. If it is truly of benefit to the community why try to hide it, and avoid public discussion and debate?
I often think that the measure of a truly civilized society is the value it places on intangible things that don’t fit in traditional economic models. On community, on nature, on sustainability, on relationships. On things we can’t easily label with a price tag. Our relationships with these wild places are irreplaceable. As we break down our connection with the natural world and base our lifestyles on foundations of ipads and concrete, we lose a vital part of ourselves.
I often walk on the beach at Pt Nepean, and I frequently see dolphins playing in the shallows. My family and I pick up rubbish along the beach, most of it washed up from other areas of the bay. When I told my girls, aged 11 and 7, that there was a big development proposed for the area, they were horrified. “There’s too much rubbish there already!” they cried. Sums it up, really.
PS. If you want to protect our history and our national parks, you can contact your member of Parliament and urge them to act.