Ulla Dulla Dreaming: A 12 year battle for economic independence.
NEW SOUTH WALES: There’s two ways you can read this story. One from the ‘glass half empty’ perspective. One from the ‘glass half full’ perspective. Shane Carriage, the CEO of the Ulladulla Local Aboriginal Land Council, is very much a glass half full kind of guy, although after battling 12 years to complete an ambitious land dealing that would provide jobs, an income and independence for his people, he’s keenly aware that what he almost ended up with was a glass neither half full nor empty, just broken. CHRIS GRAHAM reports.
This story begins almost two decades ago, when the NSW Aboriginal Land Council lodged a land claim over a 16-hectare area of bushland on the outskirts of Ulladulla, a small, picturesque town on the South Coast of NSW. The land claim was successful, and the lot – which borders national park, a residential development, and an old dairy – was transferred to Ulladulla Local Aboriginal Land Council (ULALC).
NSWALC secured the block in 1994. By the time the ULALC got it, it had been zoned residential for 25 years.
Says ULALC CEO Shane Carriage: “When we got it, we thought ‘You beauty’. We’re always looking for windows, because there’s a lot of doors, and they’re firmly locked.
“So we started investigating developing it 12 years ago.”
What tipped the LALC off to the potential value of the land was an approach from a developer – Eldersly Property – who had launched plans to develop an adjoining block, which had once served the region as a dairy.
But before that development could be completed, the company went under.
The adjoining land was bought by another company, from Queensland. At the same time, ULALC pushed ahead with its plans.
They put the development out to tender, and chose Malbec Properties, a Sydney-based developer with some serious runs on the board.
Malbec built ‘The Forum’ in northern Sydney, a $750 million mixed-use development created over the St Leonards railway station.
It was by no means a small job, and along with a very professional presentation to the ULALC members, helped forge the relationship between the two groups.
After several years of work, ULALC and Malbec finally won approval from the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) in 2005 to proceed with the development, subject of course to local and state governments signing off.
For the uninitiated, LALCs wanting to develop their land can’t proceed unless they first have the land dealing signed off by NSWALC.
The process ensures that LALCs dot all their ‘I’s’ and cross their ‘T’s’ and protects members from predatory white developers seeking to rip off cash strapped land councils.
But having gained NSWALC approval, that’s where things ran off the rails.
Two government departments – the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the ironically named Department of Planning – had an interest in the proposal. NPWS because the lot was bushland and adjoined National Parks land, and the Department of Planning because no developments happen in NSW without their approval.
ULALC were directed to complete standard studies of the area, to ensure the development wouldn’t harm the environment.
“As part of the process, we did a flora and fauna survey,” says Shane.
“We found some orchids.”
Meet the Leafless Tongue Orchid, a plant listed as vulnerable in NSW. It flowers for two weeks of the year (around Christmas time) and occurs widely on the east coast, from Orbost in East Gippsland, Victoria through coastal NSW and up in to the Tin Can Bay area of southern Queensland.
A total of 12 Leafless Tongue Orchids were found during the LALC survey.
National Parks expressed concern about the threat to the plant, but it was the discovery of a single White-Footed Dunnart – a small native marsupial – that really sent the proposal spinning.
The White-Footed Dunnart occurs throughout most of Tasmania, in a small patch in Far North Queensland, and along the southern coast of Victoria and the south-eastern coast of NSW.
It’s similar in size to a house mouse, and, like the orchid, is listed as a vulnerable species in NSW.
“NPWS didn’t even know it existed in the area,” says Shane, “so they decided that nothing should happen on the entire site.”
That meant 16 hectares of prime real estate adjoining an existing residential development – and butting onto National Park land – was to be locked up.
ULALC appealed on the grounds that the survey had discovered a single dunnart – not a colony of them – and argued for the chance to conduct a second survey.
It took 18 months for NPWS to agree.
“That (second) survey took 2,600 man hours, and it was about 10 times the size of the original survey.
“We found another 130 or 140 orchids on the National Park land, which meant they weren’t too concerned about the orchids on our land.”