Aboriginal heritage, rare habitat bulldozed at Bulahdelah

July 8, 2011

The NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) is continuing to build the Bulahdelah bypass, north of Newcastle, despite a community campaign to halt the project.

The bypass road was first proposed in 2000. Three main routes were canvassed: one to the west of the town, passing through several flat paddocks; another to the east, cutting through the foot of the Alum mountain; and an option that involved widening the existing road.

The safer, more geologically stable and slightly western route was ditched in favour of the mountain route.

Following this decision in mid-2000, about 500 of the town’s 1300 residents submitted letters to the RTA opposing the chosen route. Their concerns were ignored.

The bushland that is being cleared to make way for the road was, until recently, home to many Aboriginal historic and cultural sites.

Campaigner Estelle Carrall told Green Left Weekly the RTA had bulldozed “scarred trees, canoe trees, shield trees, and a big artefact scatter site” as well as “the guardian tree, which was a hugely sacred site”.

The cultural heritage of the site is contested. A group representing the Karuah Local Aboriginal Lands Council signed off on the bypass despite the concerns of other Aboriginal people from the Worimi and Birupai countries.

A report prepared for the National Parks and Wildlife Service by Umwelt consultants in 2003 recommended the site be protected as an Aboriginal place, however this recommendation has been put “on hold”.

Similarly, a section 10 application lodged in 2009 under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act has been put “on hold” also.

The latest Aboriginal place to be threatened is frog rock, a traditional meeting place.

The RTA is blasting very close to the rock. Despite prior claims it will not be damaged, it is doubtful it will survive the blasting.

Campaigners against the bypass have also raised safety concerns about the route. Unlike the western route, they say the mountain route presents the risk of landslides and slope failures.

The area immediately in the path of the bypass is also home to 90 of Australia’s 800 species of orchids, including a rare type of orchid which flowers underground.

There are only three known species of orchid like this anywhere on Earth and the roadwork has eliminated the “type site” or main base of this particular genus.

Campaigners have also faced physical violence and intimidation in their efforts to have the site protected.

The project is another example of the legacy of the former NSW ALP government’s notorious part 3A planning laws.

The new Liberal government was elected on a promise of scrapping part 3A. But it has not undertaken a review of projects such as the Bulahdelah bypass that were approved under part 3A and are still in a relatively early phase of construction.

Community activists say they will keep up their campaign to halt the project and protect the remaining sacred sites.

[For more information on the campaign visit http://bulahdelahbypass.wordpress.com ]


RTA records from the EIS Main Volume page 8.2.5:- ‘THERE ARE RISKS TO DRIVERS on the proposed Upgrade, AND TO RESIDENTS of Bulahdelah associated with boulders falling from the cliffs and slopes upslope from the proposed Upgrade’. ‘THERE ARE ALSO RISKS OF SLOPE FAILURE of the colluvial material [i.e. soils, rocks and gravel etc. of the already occurred landslide in which a section of the roadway would be located] DURING both CONSTRUCTION AND the OPERATION of the proposal’. These risks do not exist with a western route.

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