By Peter Johnston
WOLLONGONG — Illawarra residents are organising to protect what many consider to be the area's most outstanding feature: the escarpment which runs the length of the region.
The most recent threat to the escarpment is the proposal by BHP Collieries to subdivide and develop six hectares for residential use. June Pronk, secretary for the Illawarra Escarpment Coalition, told Green Left Weekly that this proposal is one of about 30 development "hot spots" currently encroaching upon the escarpment and its foothills.
The escarpment has long suffered the destructive impacts of coal mining and logging companies, and road and housing developments. Yet it still contains significant areas of pristine native vegetation and regrowth rainforest.
It is home to many species of native animals, some already endangered, and contains traditional use areas of the local Wadi-wadi people. It is also a popular recreation area for hikers, and is a stunning backdrop for Illawarra residents.
As part of the ongoing campaign, a spirited rally of 300 residents was held on November 22. The South Coast Labour Council has sanctioned a picket line for the proposed development site and has warned that mobile picket lines would be formed to confront any developer under an "Escarpment Watch" campaign.
Pronk told Green Left Weekly that the Gipps Road site, now under threat from BHP, was withdrawn from auction eight years ago after activists circulated leaflets threatening a green ban. Pronk said, "it is essential that Wollongong City Council place a moratorium on any rezoning on escarpment foothills". She added that "the council must review its fair trading policy" which, being run by a council which has close links with local developers, "is like leaving the fox in charge of the chickens". Pronk concluded, "In order to win this battle, many more people need to get involved".
Pam Allen, the NSW minister for the environment, has called on BHP to donate the land for inclusion in the State Recreation Area.
The next meeting of the Illawarra Escarpment Coalition is on December 15 at Wollongong City Council, Level 10 committee rooms. For more information, phone June Pronk on 285971.