ISSN 0311 - 032X Registered by Australia Post - Publication QBH2293 30 April, 1997
It has been a long time since we have been able to report good and positive news in MOONBI. In this issue we have gone out of our way to try to report on some of the more positive stories around Fraser Island. It hasn't been easy, especially as more and more people are assessing Fraser Island as probably Australia's worst managed World Heritage site.
Ministerial Council for Fraser Island: The best news came with the rapid response from the Federal Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill to establish a Ministerial Council. Hopefully such a body and the attendant Board of Management will help to avoid the unilateral actions of the Queensland Premier whose only financial contribution to Fraser Island has been $250,000 to reinstate a dangerous and unjustified airstrip in contravention of the Management Plan. The story of achieving better management structures is on page 2.
Light Rail ó A Positive Move: We keep bringing up the topic of the light rail but this is because it would do so much to solve so many of Fraser Island's problems, and improve its carrying capacity. The rationale for our strong advocacy for light rail and the hows and whys of FIDO's actions to get a Fraser Island light rail system operational are discussed on page 3.
DoE Right of Reply: MOONBI 90 certainly drew a lot of flak from the Department of Environment (DoE). Some was defensive; some valid. The DoE Regional Director felt that FIDO had been unfair to one of his staff in MOONBI 90. This resulted in lengthy correspondence which we briefly précis in this issue. Keith Twyford, former OIC Fraser Island, has taken up a position on Kangaroo Island (at almost the same level). He felt some of FIDO'S criticism of the DoE was unjustified. We correct that in this issue. (Story p. 12)
Decisions? FIDO carried out a comprehensive inspection in February. Unfortunately, since Keith Twyford left, no other DoE representative was available to discuss the matters we observed as reported in this issue in "Degradation by 1000 Indecisions". (Stories pp 4-6).
Continuity of Observations: FIDO has a much longer memory than most other people concerned with the management of Fraser Island. We had thought that there would be some continuity with the DoE but there have been so many personnel changes that before most newcomers develop a grasp of the issue they have moved on. FIDO thought that by developing a cooperative project to record the photographic history of Fraser Island it would serve to establish a sort of shared memory. While the project will go ahead the DoE doesn't want to participate with it. (Story on Back Page)
Dingos have made a lot of news as more people (of all ages have been attacked. (Story p. 6)
The Orchid Beach History: In order to help overcome the lack of experience and sense of history, MOONBI 91 has developed a very comprehensive history of the Orchid Beach resort, village and airstrip. It is absolutely essential to understanding the most complex and vexed issue now confronting Fraser Island. Every casual independent observer who views Orchid Beach admits that it is a planning mess which is attributable to the DoE and the Hervey Bay City Council which have had the exclusive responsibility. They are now trying to shut the stable door but they seem to be further compounding the mess. (Story pp. 7-12)
Political Inputs: The actions of the politicians like Premier Borbidge which are contrary to the public interest are not helping. However, it was easier for the premier to reinstate the airstrip when the DoE had never done anything seriously about closing it off. It was easy to reinstate the Fishing Expo to Orchid Beach when for 18 months the DoE had not even taken down the Toyota sign and continued to mow the lawn in readiness for the event to return to its old site. (Fishing Expo story p 13) It is easier for politicians to counter the Management Plan on closing roads and beaches if the DoE is not in a hurry to take action. The new Ministerial Council should mean that future political actions by the Queensland Government can't be taken unilaterally.
DCP: A DCP being developed for Fraser Island has to be approved by the same Hervey Bay planners who approved the incompatible buildings there and who are unwilling to admit their mistakes. There is a lot about Orchid Beach which FIDO members need to know and make as widely known as possible. When the DCP becomes public FIDO members need to heavily counter the pressure from Orchid Beach property investors who have until now successfully out-shouted any other voices who want a say on how Fraser Island is developed.
Positive Management for a Better Fraser Island 2
The Light Rail Alternative 3
Degradation by 1000 Indecisions 4
Dingos Are Dangerous 6
History of Orchid Beach Village & Airstrip 7
Airstrip Implications and Impacts 11
No Reasons for the Airstrip 12
Airstrip Safety Record 13
Fraser Island Fishing Expo 13
Local Government / Corrections and Comments 14
News In Brief 15
Then & Now ó FIDO's Silver Jubilee Project 16
FIDO's 1997 Annual General Meeting 16
Fraser Island was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1992, but in the four years since the Queensland Government adopted a Management Plan for the whole of the Great Sandy Region, little has been done to implement that plan.
The only funds that are currently being committed to the management of the Fraser Island are being provided either by the Commonwealth Government or from access fees paid by visitors. The Queensland Government is contributing nothing of its own towards the management of this outstanding natural property.
Although committing none of its own resources to Fraser Island's better management, the Queensland Government has exercised its prerogative to undermine the Management Plan by reopening the Orchid Beach airstrip and allowing the Fraser Island Fishing Expo which had been relocated away from Orchid Beach by the previous government to be re-staged there despite the acknowledged environmental impacts and the increasing public disquiet over this event.
That such options can be exercised so blatantly is only possible because there has been no Ministerial Council and most importantly no Board of Management to temper the Queensland Government decisions on such matters.
FIDO in frustration finally sought and had a meeting with the new Federal Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill. The very day after John Sinclair met Senator Hill in Canberra on 6 March, Senator Hill met Brian Littleproud, the third Queensland Environment Minister to have to address Fraser Island management since the adoption of the Management Plan. In view of the impasse for over four years, FIDO hadn't expected such immediate action to follow, especially after it had been too hard for two former Queensland and two former Commonwealth Environment Ministers to settle.
The two Ministers agreed on the following :
* A Ministerial Council for the Fraser Island World Heritage area. This will provide more effective coordination and cooperation between the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments. It will first meet in June by which time the other management bodies will be in place. These include:
* A Board of Management which "will oversee the implementation of the Management Plan and include representatives of the Commonwealth, Queensland and local governments responsible for Fraser Island." (This does not look as if it will include anyone else at this stage.)
* The Scientific Advisory Committee "will provide expert independent advice on scientific and technical issues".
* A new Community Advisory Committee. The statement said that this "will allow for stakeholder input and will include representatives from tourism industry, local landholders, conservation groups, Aboriginal people and recreational associations." (The former Community Advisory Committee will be reconstituted. It is not clear to FIDO whether the new Community Advisory Committee will cover the whole of the Great Sandy Region or just Fraser Island as the Ministerial Council does.)
Both the committees will report directly to the Board.
Having dealt with every Federal Environment Minister since Moss Cass in 1973 and this is the swiftest and most positive response FIDO has ever had from any Federal Environment Minister. FIDO has conveyed its appreciation to both Brian Littleproud and Senator Hill for their resolve in settling this issue. Politicians are rarely given full-some thanks for the decisions they have to take, but on this occasion FIDO congratulated both.
While the Queensland Government may not be digging into their coffers to meet any of the expenditure on Fraser Island, the Commonwealth Government are digging much deeper. They have increased their contribution from $317,000 in 1995/96 to $700,000 in 1996/97. While this isn't as good an increase as for the Australian Fossil mammal sites (Riversleigh and Naracoorte which jumped from $185,000 to $570,000 or Shark Bay ($169,000 to $490,000) it is a substantial improvement which has to be strongly applauded. It would be good if the Queensland Government matched the Commonwealth.
The new Ministerial Council for the Fraser Island World Heritage area comprising Brian Littleproud (Queensland) and Senator Robert Hill (Commonwealth) will meet in Queensland during the period from 13 to 15 June.
Prior to that during some time in May the six (6) member Board of Management for Fraser Island will meet. This will consist of two representatives of the Commonwealth Government, (a senior Officer from Department of the Environment, Sport, and Territories, and a senior Officer from Tourism), two representatives of the Queensland Government and two Local Government representatives (one from Hervey Bay and one from Maryborough). While the composition of this may be improved on it represents a positive start. We understand that the Regional Director of the DoE which has the administration of Fraser Island will chair the Board of Management.
A new Community Advisory Committee specifically for Fraser Island is expected to be appointed. (Currently the Community Advisory Committee deals with the whole of the Great Sandy Region). The composition of this is yet to be announced but it will include stronger conservation representation and we like what has been foreshadowed to us. The CAC will have direct access to the Board of Management with the chair sitting as an observer at Board of Management meetings. Further the CAC will be able to make firm recommendations to the Board. It is expected to convene in late June or July.
Similarly a restructured Scientific Advisory Committee to replace the sidelined SAC for the Great Sandy Region will have the same rights and status as the CAC and each committee may be able to refer matters from one to another.
MOONBI 92 should be able to report more fully on developments.
Fraser Island already attracts more than 300,000 visitors annually. All are presently carried by four wheel drive vehicles. 138,299 of these visitors were carried on commercial day tours in 1995-96. Of the day trippers, more than 80% (about 110,000) travelled from the city of Hervey Bay to the western side of Fraser Island and across the island in a rough bus ride. If there was a light rail on Fraser Island it is anticipated that more than 80,000 people annually would opt to travel on it. With good marketing and promotion this number could be expected to grow significantly and rapidly as more people travelled to Fraser Island to ride on the rail, knowing that rail is a more comfortable alternative to a bus. Light rail would be the first move in developing sustainable tourism in this significant growth area.
Fraser Island had a network of light rail operating between 1905 and the mid 1930's. This precedent adds a historic interest to what is a very practical proposal to minimize the environmental impact of vehicles in this fragile environment. Recent observations are now revealing that the current use of off-road motor vehicles in this sand environment is unsustainable and causing a very adverse environmental impact mainly as a result of erosion and run-off from the heavily used sand tracks. A light rail people mover would provide a practical, more comfortable alternative to the existing fleet of four wheel drive buses. A light rail would add to the already strong appeal of visiting Fraser Island and would in itself be an attraction.
FIDO's observations indicate that vehicles over 2 tonnes in weight (which includes all tourist buses on Fraser Island) are having a very adverse impact on the internal roads. Heavier vehicles accelerate surface erosion and down-cutting of the road surfaces and destabilization of adjacent vegetation. The continued destabilization of the banks of Wanggoolba Creek, which FIDO now recognizes as having occurred even during the logging days, is strong testimony to the impact of heavier vehicles.
The impact on the roads themselves is not as severe as the less obvious impacts away from the roads where the sediment eroded has been deposited. Some lakes are filling as a result. The impact becomes exponentially much heavier vehicles on the sand surface.
As a result of our environmental monitoring of the roads, this organization has become more convinced of the urgency of phasing out at least the use of internal Fraser Island tracks by heavier vehicles. That is why we are advocating more actively the construction of a light rail alternative as an option to enable vehicles over 2 tonnes to be phased out from using these tracks.
Currently about 150,000 Fraser Island visitors per annum are carried by buses and if most of this traffic could be transferred to light rail, we are convinced that the quality of their experience would be improved through better quality interpretation while reducing the impact of the tracks.
In 1991, an independent feasibility study by consulting engineers, Gutteridge, Haskins and Davey, has established (prima facie) the potential profitability of this project to a private investor. They concluded that the light rail proposal would be feasible if it carried 80,000 visitors per annum at a very modest price.
We have had other advice from light rail experts which indicate that the proposal is both potentially very viable and attractive financially. The viability would be improved by the support of government placing a tonnage limit on vehicles using Fraser Island's internal track system.
During the FIDO inspection in February we inspected the route of the tramline through Bogimbah Scrub. This route has many advantages over the other two alternative old tramline routes on Fraser Island as a people mover. The road it follows is little used. It has a much better grade from its former eastern terminus to the eastern beach in Poyungan Valley. Poyungan Valley would allow easier dispersal of passengers on the beach both north and south. (It is within walking distance of Rainbow Gorge). The western terminus could be easily brought to sea level whereas there is a very steep gradient from the old McKenzie's terminus to the McKenzie's Jetty level. The disadvantage is that it traverses less rainforest and aesthetically may not have as much appeal as the Wanggoolba Creek to Eurong route. However the open scribbly gum forest section was most attractive. We also inspected some of the McKenzie's line including the site of the old loco shed and mill.
FIDO's priority now is to find a private investor, determine the route, do a more detailed costing and analysis, and prepare a preliminary environmental impact assessment (in that order) and then put a proposal to government. We accept that no government in Australia is willing to construct such a proposal itself.
FIDO has pursued a number of leads to attract an investor. We are advised that finance would be available but the Fraser Island light rail needs now an investor who would be in the business of being the operator. We have been advised that the small scale of the operation would be best managed by Queensland based investor to minimize overheads. However, to ensure that FIDO gets the project advanced the next critical step we will need more resources than we have available. After missing out from any source of financial support from either Queensland or Commonwealth Governments for the past two years and receiving no financial support from any voluntary conservation organization recipient of any grants, FIDO is left with a great idea and a lot of information but ...... !
It is not unfair to say that Fraser Island is amongst (if it isn't) Australia's worst managed World Heritage area. While there are no longer the big headline catching issues such as sandmining and logging, we can cite the accumulation of many small issues where the lack of responsible decisions has resulted in the degradation. Although all of these issues were noted during FIDO's Inspection on the weekend of 1-2 February, and precede the Ministerial announcements on 7 March of a new management regime for the Fraser Island, they epitomize just how the area is being degraded, and the fact that the Department of Environment hasn't had to be accountable to anyone for this has enabled them to avoid facing the serious issues.
It is this which has led FIDO to describe Fraser Island's indecisive management regime as being the major contributing factor to its decline.
Eli Creek: For more than a year the Eli Creek bridge and some of the boardwalk were partially submerged. As a result of summer storms the water level has dropped below the bridge. The relocation of Eli Creek's mouth brought about the result. However, the creek is still undermining some of the boardwalk on the northern side about 15 metres from the bridge where some piles are suspended and hanging precariously. The boardwalk is technically unsafe for the public. The Department of Environment response to do nothing about the water level was justified but to do nothing about the state of the boardwalk where it has been undermined is indefensible.
Ocean Lake: While little has changed at the lake and its near environs, the degradation resulting from intense camping pressure near the entrance to Ocean Lake was most noticeable. The natural algal bloom which had been there has abated with the summer rain. Many webs of the lethal funnel web spiders were seen.
The beach area just east of Ocean Lake is increasingly used intensively by campers. Fresh bush timber was seen protruding from a fireplace. There is no indication of where the limit of camping is (500 metres from the lake). Rather than coming up with a formula to stop the area being so intensively used, the DoE plans instead to encourage more campers into this area by hardening the tracks and developing permanent sites and amenities here. They have refused to accept conservationists as having a legitimate viewpoint here and they are ignoring the Fitzgerald report and the principles of the Management Plan.
Orchid Beach: The Orchid Beach shop is still operating in its current location within the Great Sandy National Park. Despite conservationists strongest objections that any shop in the Orchid Beach should be on freehold land, the DoE plans to keep the shop in its current location is to enable it to refuel aircraft when (and if) the airstrip re-opens. The track past the shop is just as untrafficable as in the past. The DoE plans to spend more of its scarce money to harden that track.
The old Fishing Expo site is being maintained ready for the resumption of the 1997 event at that site. Even the Toyota sign has remained in situ in the National Park for more than 18 months after the organizers were told that the site would not be used again for the Expo. However, it seems that the DoE have just been maintaining it in readiness for the resumption of the old Expo.
Beach rocks have been exposed for the first time ever at the northern end of the airstrip indicating that new erosion is about to threaten the long term use of the airstrip.
Several new houses have been constructed during the last 6 months. These include some even bigger monsters and the visual impact is even more obvious. One gigantic pole house had 9 visible outlets running into its septic system. Most of the architecture looked very inappropriate for Fraser Island. Most houses seemed to be available for rent with many houses being of the size and design which seemed to suggest that they were being rented as separate units or apartments, contrary to the zoning of this land.
Brumbies: There was much evidence of brumbies in the Orchid Beach area. This is the last mob left on Fraser Island. Many landholders had erected either barbed wire or electric fences to keep them out of their properties. Despite the impact of brumbies, especially on the airstrip, residents are opposed to their removal as called for in the Management Plan. The DoE has acquiesced to their wishes.
Garbage Dump: FIDO noted that the DoE is actually dumping aluminium cans and glass bottles at its rubbish tip at Orchid Beach. This was later confirmed by a ranger who said that while most containers were removed, if the bins overflowed prematurely, the surplus cans and bottles were dumped. The management of the transfer station site left a lot to be desired. Putresible garbage had been dumped in the container and someone had placed sticks to enable any goannas or dingos which entered the container to climb back out. Also in the dump there was much plastic and other rubbish which had been blown out of the container and this litter was dispersed over a wide area, with no fence to contain it.
Waddy Point: The number of permanent tents at Waddy Point seems to have increased. The ranger spoken to said that over the Christmas period the number of tents had been 80 to 100 along the beach and 30 in the sheltered camping area. The area was at capacity. During our visit there were a number of backpackers using this area. We did comment to a ranger on the fact that the new interpretative material for Fraser Island World Heritage was already at the Eurong Shop but was not yet at the Visitor Centre at Waddy Point.
Camping Restrictions: One more positive note was that there were many more signs on the beach which indicated further restriction of free range camping along the beach travelled from Hook Point to Ocean Lake. The closed section of beach included some distance each side of every stream on the beach. This was particularly noticeable in the southern section of the island. This is to be applauded. The scope for free range camping has shrunk but the areas still open for free range camping are degrading faster than the closed areas are healing.
Pied Oyster Catchers: The number of pied Oyster catchers observed on the beach continues to decline. There were only 2 birds seen immediately south of Indian Head but a flock of seven (7) was seen between Dilli Village and Eurong. Both represent a drop in numbers. There is a person pursuing a Ph. D. at University of Queensland, Lawes, with Mark Hockings who is continuing Fiona Fisher's study with monthly monitoring of the numbers.
Residents Reject the Fishing Expo: Norma Hannant, Secretary of the Fraser Island Association, expressed the view that there were many things on which the Fraser Island Association and FIDO agreed. "FIDO is right on issues about 95% of the time", she said.
She and husband Geoff had decided that the Fishing Expo was not in the best interests of Fraser Island and thus after negotiations with Keith Leach to relocate the Fishing Expo to Cathedral Beach, they had rejected the proposal.
The Fraser Island Association had been involved in the mediation over Olga Miller's native title land claim during the week preceding and she reported in depth on that and other pending claims by John Lee Jones.
Residents on "No Go" Beach: During the week ending 31 January eight (8) Orchid Beach residents had been caught driving along Platypus Bay and were due to be prosecuted. (This has been confirmed by the Manager, Great Sandy since who said that "Action is being taken".)
Thoorgine: FIDO understands that the Thoorgine Educational and Cultural Centre was in considerable financial difficulty. The site cannot be used for anything else or operated by any non Aboriginal group. The site is in mothballs although it is ready to operate as a fully serviced campground. Someone recently visited the site investigating opening up the currently closed camping ground again. (We hope that it is soon.)
Eurong Inspection: The inspection of the Williams Development at Eurong resolved that any intensification of the density of the development as proposed in the Rezoning Application would be contrary to the public interest and FIDO should lodge an objection. It was noted that an observation platform had been recently erected on what appeared to be public land (It has been since been discovered that the viewing platform has had no approval from the Department of Environment.
Other Eurong developments: At Eurong and a drive was taken through the second valley which contains much inappropriate architecture. Another matter of concern was the industrial use for transport depot and workshops within the centre of residential areas which is a non-conforming use which has not been sanctioned. A similar position was noted at Happy Valley.
More Banksia Killing: In following the tramline we noted some much worse road widening in the "wallum" areas where dozing had eliminated all trees and shrubs within 10 metres of the road. This was done some time ago but there has been almost no healing of the scars. From our observations the Banksia serial killing had been much more widespread than we had thought. Trees continue to be chain sawed down by the DoE. They say this is to prevent them falling over the road or spreading fire across the road.
Wood: While there is to be no more bush timber gathered on Fraser Island there has been an unwarranted extravagance on the part of the DoE in supplying what looked like a semi trailer load of firewood at Lake Boomanjin just for the indulgence of campers, many of whom can be demonstrated to have used this wood supply to accelerate the degradation there. While every wood supply was not inspected it seems on the model of Lake Boomanjin that the DoE is not helping limit the degradation but rather assisting it.
Bogimbah Creek: Bogimbah Creek has been targetted as a potential source for a future urban water supply for Hervey Bay. It was the site of a Government Aboriginal Mission of some infamy and two cemeteries where over 100 Aborigines were buried in less than 7 years. Bogimbah Creek may figure significantly in a future tramline route.
Backpackers use of Fraser Island: Many backpackers were encountered during this weekend. Fraser Island is now high on the agenda of overseas backpackers visiting Australia. Further, at times of low domestic tourism such as February, they constitute the bulk of visitors to Fraser Island. It is estimated that they account for about 200-300 visitors who are on Fraser Island at any one time and that they almost uniformly spend three days on Fraser Island.
Backpackers fall into two types. Those who are members of guided supervised groups and those hire-drive backpacker groups with no guidance and no supervision, and who indulge in free range camping. It is this latter group which is composed of inexperienced drivers, people lacking knowledge of Fraser Island, and who are unguided who give rise to most of the more general complaints about "backpackers". This latter group accounts for more than 70% of the backpacker traffic to Fraser Island. The complaints generally are focussed on noisy parties which extend late into the night which affects anyone near them, problems of washing bodies and utensils in inappropriate sites, and problems when they seek shelter in bad weather because they have inadequate tents and camping equipment.
One suggestion offered is that specially designated camp grounds exclusively for backpackers be built which in addition to general amenities would include a cooking shelter. Any hire drive backpackers would be required to use only these camping grounds away from other campers. This concept has some merit.
Woodchips on the Roads: The volume of woodchips washing off roads down steeper slopes has become a serious environmental problem. FIDO wants to limit the use of woodchips on any slopes steeper than 5% to avoid woodchips migrating down slopes needlessly which has resulted in a huge alluvial plume of woodchip sediments in Lake McKenzie and many build up of large depositions in other sites which, although not as sensitive, are being accumulated at such a rate as to cause alarm.
The greatest woodchip washouts occurs near places regularly used by heavier vehicles such as buses. The buildup of these accumulations is yet another reason for FIDO advocating a tonnage limit on internal tracks as well as a limit on the use of woodchips on slopes greater than 5 %. (See Light Rail Alternative).
Unfortunately the DoE has failed to even allow any discussion of the roads and the road standards for Fraser Island at the Community Advisory Committee for more than 3 years. After shunting the topic to a working party of the committee, they then failed to convene the Working Party for more than 2 years. It doesn't seem to matter that there is no conservation representation on the nominal "Working Group" because the DoE has been pursuing its own agenda and seems to be oblivious of any criticism of its roads management except for vocal tour operators worried about the upkeep on their buses or the agitators who won't accept the road closures proposed under the Management Plan.
It is no longer preposterous to suggest that anyone walking alone on Fraser Island should carry a stick or be otherwise prepared to fend off a dingo attack. In the last 6 months the number and severity of attacks by Fraser Island dingoes on people have increased significantly.
While attacks on children have received most publicity and there are claims of provocation by children, the fact remains that many adults have been attacked while walking alone on the Fraser Island beach. One overseas visitor was bailed up in the surf by a dingo for some time before being rescued.
Fraser Island dingos have lost their fear of humans and are becoming increasingly bold. It is now the humans turn to be cautious and guarded and prepared to beat a quick retreat.
While the focus of the media debate about Fraser Island dingos still revolves around the question of whether their brazen behaviour is associated with them being fed or not, FIDO believes that most of the behaviour results from efforts to "tame" the dingos until they have lost their fear of humans. Attempts to entice dingos to come closer for photographic purposes have probably contributed more to the behavioral change than feeding them.
The DoE is still focussed on the question of feeding but FIDO advocates the following rules to address the problem:
1. Whenever a dingo approaches close vigorously chase it away. Make a mock charge, throw a stick or scream at it but do not allow dingos to become too familiar.
2. Carry a stick if walking alone and be prepared to fend off dingos. While dingos are potentially dangerous they are opportunistic and will not attack , even in a pack, if confronted with aggression.
3. Do not leave small children unattended outside where a dingo might approach them, and bear in mind that lone adult pedestrians have been attacked on Fraser Island with more frequency than reported in the media.
4. Do not tolerate anyone enticing dingos to come closer for photographic purposes. Scream and shout and spoil the photo if necessary.
5. Finally don't tolerate anyone feeding dingos. It is interesting that almost everyone who visits Fraser Island has witnessed someone feeding dingos except apparently DoE staff.
Dingos are part of the natural environment. The Fraser Island dingos are amongst the purest to be found. We are putting ourselves in their territory but we must be prepared to accept that they are wild and should remain so and kept at a distance.
In view of the many impacts of Orchid Beach on Fraser Island, particularly of the wilderness and natural values of the northern end of the island, and the management of the island and the considerable political machinactions now associated with this settlement, this MOONBI presents a detailed and comprehensive summary of the series of events which have led to the state of affairs in Orchid Beach. The history of the current freehold land is that it was created as a result of a scam in 1907. The land title has migrated from the western side of Fraser Island to the Ocean Beach. A number of questionable deals and political intrigues have surrounded the land since 1907.
Few people who have seen the ad hoc, hotch potch of development which now exists there have been impressed by it. It stands as testimony to appalling planning and oversight. Because Orchid Beach now represents a potentially larger impact on Fraser Island than any other community there, this issue of MOONBI devotes four pages of background so the FIDO members and supporters can fully appreciate the issues and be in a stronger position to advocate a change of direction and to ensure some political censure is administered for those responsible for this mess.
The history of Orchid Beach is linked with a parcel of freehold land at Wathumba Creek which was in fact the subject of a 19th century scam. A series of subsequent scams have continued since the infamous Captain Kent's land was sold off to try to satisfy a number of creditors.
1907: Captain Kent obtained freehold land at Wathumba Creek and a lot of public funds to establish a "shark factory" at Wathumba Creek on Fraser Island. Some machinery was taken to the island but the factory was never built and the entrepreneur absconded with the bulk of the money. No shark was caught. The freehold land subsequently became a centre of a long land use conflict.
1962: Sir Reginald Barnwall had recently moved to Hervey Bay. This hereditary baronet had a private aircraft and a passion for flying (particularly commercially) and had just returned from Samoa where he was involved in some business ventures. Don Adams, a former Childers cane farmer also with a passion for flying, had begun an agricultural aerial service, Queensland Airplanters which was engaged increasingly in providing air charters to Fraser Island. Adams and Barnwall formed Island Airways and developed this.
Based on his Samoan experience, Barnwall wanted to develop a resort on Fraser Island and flew the length of it seeking a site where he could locate an airstrip next to the beach. He chose Orchid Beach because of its proximity to Waddy Point which was then a major magnet to the few privileged fishers who had seen it. It was remote and exclusive. Barnwall was then mainly interested in its appeal to fishers. He then pleaded his case to be allowed a large lease in the Fraser Island State Forest. He had an ally in the local Parliamentary Member for Isis, Jack Pizzey, a senior cabinet Minister and future Premier.
Barnwall's application for land within State Forest 3 reserve coincided with many other land applications up and down the east coast of Fraser Island and so the Forestry Department which was not keen to get involved in such matters sought to rid itself of the eastern strip.
1962-63: The Lands Department surveyed off two villages Happy Valley and Eurong to better regulate the demand for residential blocks and to restrict all future land releases to these two villages. At the same time the Lands Department surveyed off the Orchid Beach area for the mooted resort.
1963: The land subdivision and survey was completed by Geoff Andrews. The first new subdivisions at Eurong and Happy Valley (where a number of fishing shacks were already located) were auctioned off in Maryborough. Any lessees of other blocks beach outside the villages were allowed to legitimize them. (This resulted in blocks remaining at Poyungan Valley, The Oaks, and Yidney Rocks). Orchid Beach became a reality and work almost immediately began to start building.
1964-68: Barnwall's first project after completing the airstrip was to build two "Angler's Lodges" which would enable anglers to fly in and fly out. He later built more smaller units to cater for other visitors. All of the buildings were for self catering groups (i.e. all tenants had to do their own cooking). Because it was virtually impossible to reach Orchid Beach along the beach from the south due to the steep and loose surface at Middle Rocks, all construction material was taken from Maryborough to Wathumba Creek and then trucked across the island. Much of the freight was carried by Sid Melksham in the "Lady Fraser", a boat he had salvaged from the bottom of the sea.
1968: Barnwall decided to advance his grand plans further and to move from the small self catering units to a big resort. He had decided to build his buildings based on the shape of the Samoan fales. The new central building, the "fono fale", served as the dining room, bar and central amenities area.
1969: The new enlarged and extended resort opened. Beryl and Charlie Sinclair (as well as their daughter Margaret) were working there at the time. Larry Anthony (brother of Doug Anthony, then Deputy Prime Minister) was publicity officer.
1971: With the imminent threat of sandmining, Barnwall was keeping his options open as to who he would support. The miners had more money than the conservationists and were major clients for Island Airways. As a result of the conservation controversy which had only just begun, the first installment of the Fraser Island National Park was declared from Sandy Cape to just behind Indian Head. It was more than a kilometre from the eastern surfing beach at any stage. The National Park surrounded the freehold block adjacent to Wathumba Creek on the western side of the island. The whole estuary was included in the park.
About 1972-73: Barnwall sold out and a new syndicate began to run Orchid Beach Resort. The resort began to deteriorate. The biggest problem was erosion as the Zeta Curve from Waddy Point to Sandy Cape. Cyclone Dinah (February, 72) sliced away more than 50 metres the foredune in front of the resort. The swimming pool was left perched precariously over a precipice. (After more than a year it cracked and dropped to the beach.) The ambiance of Orchid Beach was rapidly degrading.
1973: A subdivider applied to rezone 160 acres of freehold land at Wathumba Creek into 425 residential blocks. The proposal was supported by an environmental impact study prepared by Ted Coaldrake who had recently left CSIRO and subsequently prospered by putting his name to such documents for "developers". The subdivision was bitterly opposed by FIDO.
August: FIDO managed to get the Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate to visit Fraser Island. The committee spent 4 days in August inspecting the whole island. As a result of their intervention the subdivision was stalled. The Conservator of Forests, Allan Trist, who was then responsible for the National Park Service in Queensland was offered money from the Commonwealth Government to acquire this block of land to be added to the National Park. He refused to acquire it because he believed the price to be offered was unreasonably high and too generous. Details of his rejection were suppressed for many years. As a result of FIDO opposition the Wathumba Creek block remained undeveloped.
By 1975: A lease on the Orchid Beach Resort as well as the former Island Airways business had been acquired by a Toowoomba entrepreneur, Mr. Snow Richards, who ran Island Air (a successor to Island Airways). Despite its decay, Orchid Beach Resort still presented itself in marketing as an up-market resort. It was the only place on Fraser Island where there was any casual accommodation available with catering included.
1975: Island Air prospered during the brief term of sandmining by Dillingham-Murphyores because Island Air had the contract for taking workers between Fraser Island and the mainland with the change of every shift.
1976: 18 February: The owner of the land at Wathumba Creek offers it for sale by auction. FIDO advises the auctioneer to alert any prospective buyers that any applications for rezoning will be vigourously opposed as well as other impediments to any development for speculative reasons. Notwithstanding this the land is acquired by Mr. Snow Richards of Island Air Pty Ltd for $158,000. The new owners then immediately submitted a proposition to exchange the land for vacant crown land next to the Orchid Beach resort. The release of the final report of the Fraser Island Environmental Inquiry and the end of sandmining dominate the headlines but FIDO continued to closely watch any land development.
1977: The proposed land swap was surreptitiously approved by the Queensland Government. The land at Wathumba Creek became the basis for the future township of Orchid Beach.
1978: Following the cessation of sandmining on Fraser Island, the Queensland Government prepares its first Recreation Management Plan for Fraser Island. No mention is made of the land swap nor its impact on the recreation on Fraser Island. The Management Plan recommends the acquisition of freehold blocks at North White Cliffs and Moon Point but then fails to provide any funds for the implementation of any recommendations of the Plan. Thus the plan fails on a very critical point.
1979: The Queensland Lands Minister advised FIDO that Portion 2, Parish of Wathumba had been exchanged for Portion 19. FIDO later learnt that Deputy Director-General of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Clive Price, negotiated with Snow Richards to swap the 67 hectares of swampy, mosquito and sandfly infested land adjacent to Wathumba Creek on the western side of Fraser Island for 69.9 hectares adjacent to Orchid Beach which Richards then controlled. The NPWS which had no money to acquire the land did not want the inholding at Wathumba Creek. (Richards received almost an extra 3 hectares as a bonus as well as land with much greater amenity). Richards said that he wanted the land to be at Orchid Beach "for possible future expansion".
New Hervey Bay City Council by-laws requiring all rezoning applications to be advertised came into being. Island Air sought to rezone Portion 19 and avoid having to answer anticipated objections from FIDO by post-dating the application with the Council's concurrence.
1980: FIDO challenged the validity of the post-dated application. FIDO had first to establish legal "standing". This we succeed in because we were in the business of running safaris to Fraser Island.
1982: 7 April: A new application for rezoning was lodged by Belgravia Hotels Pty ltd. FIDO objected. The Hervey Bay City Council predictably approves and FIDO objected to the Local Government Court. Island Air lodges another application for rezoning but the application is invalid because of the appeal still pending for the same land. The application was therefore rejected.
11 June: The Queensland Supreme Court rules in FIDO's favour on the above matter. The subdivision application was illegal and a new application has to be lodged.
10 September: Island Air advertises a new application for rezoning. FIDO objects. Council approves. FIDO lodges appeal with Local Government Court.
1983: 12 April: While the appeal to the Local Government Court was still pending, FIDO was alerted by a "deep throat" that Island Air had substantial legal debts and that Local Government Minister, Russell Hinze, was planning a ministerial rezoning to bail them out.
23 April: The Deputy Commissioner for Taxation petitions for the winding up of Island Air. (Maybe 1975 and sandmining had been too good!)
FIDO takes expensive action in the Queensland Supreme Court seeking an injunction to restrain Minister Hinze on the grounds that he is not acting in the public interest. After a 3 day hearing the Court refuses the injunction and the ministerial rezoning goes ahead. Minister Hinze seeks to recover over $4000 of Crown costs from FIDO.
The ministerial rezoning allowed for about 75% of the area to be rezoned as Residential with the conditions as proposed by the council that there would be corduroy roads throughout the subdivision, and that no water power or sewage services would be required to be provided. 29 hectares were zoned for Special Facilities ó Resort.
1984-1991: Most of the subdivided land is sold off. Very little has any ocean view. more than half is in a closed valley which has little air circulation to the west of Orchid Beach.
1990: The Commission of Inquiry into the Conservation, Management and Use of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Region was conducted.
1991: Commissioner Fitzgerald in the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Conservation, Management and Use of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Region observed (page 58, paragraph 1) that :"Any development on the island should be directed away from the northern half which has extremely high conservation values and is already substantially national park. To the maximum extent practical, the northern half of the Island should be preserved in its natural condition, and activities there confined to wilderness experiences". The Queensland Government commissioned a study of the options to implement this part of the Fitzgerald Report. The consultants recommended that of the options available, the small resort was the least intrusive on the wilderness qualities and even if a second resort were built (as was threatened) it would not be as intrusive as the more extensive subdivision which was the only alternative without a rezoning.
1992: Having spent $6 million acquiring an unprofitable and dilapidated and from every account an unviable resort, the Department of Environment then sneakily negotiated to have the remaining 16 hectares on the hill behind the resort which had been zoned for "Resort" rezoned to Residential. The DoE didn't explain to any stakeholder groups, other than the beneficiaries (the subdividers) just how they were going to accomplish this by private negotiation with the Hervey Bay City Council. If they had we may have been able to stop it.
The Fitzgerald report is said to be the reason behind the Goss Government's actions although they turned out to be ill-advised thanks to the machinations of the Queensland white shoe brigade which is still alive and well. But as Tom Barton explained: "The Government spent $6 million in 1992 to prevent resort development at Orchid Beach and since that time, Orchid Beach has developed into a small holiday/residential township in a wilderness setting." (Oh Tom! If you could only see the mess at Orchid Beach now you would know that it is anything but "a small holiday/residential township in a wilderness setting.")
Environment Minister, Pat Comben described the negotiations by the DEH Director-General to acquire the former Orchid Beach Resort as normal "wheeling and dealing". The QRRP subdividers were required to contribute $1 million as they sold off the new allotments.
1994: Great Sandy Region Management Plan is released which stated: "The townships of Orchid Beach, Happy Valley and Eurong primarily a holiday community with small resident populations providing accommodation and support services for visitors to Fraser Island. (p 85)
"... future development could include development required to serve the visitor population and the residential community associated with visitor activity. It would not include residential development unrelated to economic activity generated by Fraser Island. (p87)
"... The ... airstrip will be taken out of service and part of the area redeveloped as a public helipad." (p99)
October: The airstrip closes because the strip is dangerous and the cost of public liability insurance could not be economically justified. The DoE only placed two white crosses indicating that it is closed. They didn't physically prevent planes from landing by digging up the strip, replanting it or placing bollards across it. The airstrip continued to be illegally used.
1995: During the Queensland Election Campaign Opposition Leader Borbidge (who is well known to the vendors of the land at Orchid Beach) promises that if elected, he will reopen Orchid Beach airstrip. While he also promised to spend $10 million on improving the infrastructure on Fraser Island he has weaseled on this commitment and makes one wonder why he has been so adamantly committed to the airstrip project.
Monday, 2 October: GO BUSH safarists witnessed a light aircraft landing on the airstrip in the twilight. Although safarists were prepared to make a statement, nobody from the DoE sought any corroboration.
1996: January: Even while the Mundingburra By-Election campaign is proceeding, the Department of Environment has begun to move to explore the reopening of the airstrip in contravention of Management Plan recommendations and policy of the then Minister. Consultants were engaged to prepare a report on reopening the airstrip.
February: The newly installed Borbidge Government immediately began to press for reopening Orchid Beach airstrip. This was a surprising priority for a new Premier.
May: Orchid Beach residents acknowledge that it has been used but claim that they never saw the registration numbers of the planes which landed there. In Parliament the member for Hervey Bay was told that notwithstanding the closure the DoE could be subject for litigation arising even from the illegal use of the airstrip.
7 May: Brian Littleproud wrote to the Premier advising that funding was not available within the DoE budget.
24 June: The Premier's Department wrote to reassert the Premier's determination to re-open the strip.
16 September: The DoE listed three options to overcome the legal problems mainly associated with the aspects of legal liability in order of preference:
1. Exclude the airstrip from the national park for redesignation under another tenure (Resource reserve) and issue a special lease to the Hervey Bay City Council. (Hervey Bay Council wouldn't wear this.)
2. Exclude the airstrip from the national park as above with a special lease to the Fraser Island Association for management.
3. Retain the airstrip within the national park and the Department issue a lease to either the Hervey Bay City Council or FIA for management.
25 September: The DoE Regional Director advised Diamondpark Hotel Management of Surfers Paradise in respect of a new proposal for Orchid Beach, that "tourism infrastructure will not be encouraged in (the northern part) of the island. The Department purchased the former Orchid Beach resort at considerable expense with the express purpose of removing it. ... It is expected that the Department will be seeking expressions of interest in private tourism developments in coming months". (FIDO's emphasis).
The Premier's Department' Director-General, Peter Ellis wrote to the DoE Director General on 10 October, 1996 advising, "... The Honourable the Premier is keen for the project to progress as quickly as possible and has indicated to me that, for an official opening of the facility, he would like to arrive at the airstrip in the new Government aircraft. The Air Wing expects to take delivery of the new aircraft in late December ...."
1997: In the wake of the Wik decision plans to hand over the airstrip to Orchid Beach residents was put on hold. Queensland reaction to Wik has benefitted Fraser.
March: The "Chronicle" reported that $195,000 had been spent reinstating the strip, that the grass is growing well and that the airstrip is usable, and that an Orchid Beach Aerodrome Landing Association (Inc.) had been formed which was awaiting only a lease from Environment Minister, Brian Littleproud. FIDO understands that one of the directors of the ALA is the General Manager of a charter aircraft company which is interested in building new hostel/resort accommodation adjacent to the airstrip in what is now National Park. This is a proposal already put to the Environment Minister as part of the proposed privatization within National Parks. (See MOONBI 90)
Opposition Leader Peter Beattie gave the Premier notice of a number of questions to be answered when Parliament resumed.
10 April: A person connected with Orchid Beach and some strong political connections in Queensland rang John Sinclair to tell him "to call off his dogs" in pursuing the Orchid Beach issue.
20 April: FIDO learns rthat the airstrip is too narrow and must be widened to meet proper CASA safety standards and that as long as the DoE allows the airstrip to be used it remains legally liable.
An article based on the Borbidge Government's handling of the Orchid Beach issue is being prepared for Australia's new national indepenendent weekly newspaper, "The Republican". This newspaper can be obtained from newsagents around Australia for $2.50 per week.
There are still a number of unsold allotments in the Orchid Beach subdivision. Already a proposal has been put before the Queensland Government which proposes to exchange some freehold land (which is virtually unsaleable) for National Park land adjacent to the Orchid Beach airstrip and the Fishing Expo site. There is a linked proposal to establish a backpackers resort/ hostel there and use the airstrip to fly guests in and out using the revived airstrip. The stalemate over the reopening of the airstrip continues.
The future remains uncertain but FIDO continues to pursue every angle of this very complex plot.
In the meantime $250,000 of taxpayers money has been squandered on a project which has still to receive the green light and which may wash away with the next cyclone. FIDO can't divulge all of the information we have received without risking litigation. Some reports remain unconfirmed and some would be litigible. However, we can point out how the reopening of the airstrip will impact on the future of Fraser Island much more heavily than if a community of the same scale was located near Happy Valley or Eurong or Dilli Village.
The most serious implication of the Orchid Beach airstrip reopening is that the Queensland Parliament will be presented with a Bill this year to revoke part of the Great Sandy National Park.
Park Revocation will allow the airstrip to be granted in freehold thus exempting the Government from any legal liability for any mishap involving the strip. A lease in the National Park would not exempt the government from being sued. In other words, in addition to paying already $250,000 for an airstrip (which is still not legally operational), the Australian public is being asked to sacrifice a significant and fragile part of a precious National Park for fewer than 20 permanent residents but many property-owners.
Public Liability: If the airstrip is allowed to operate legally under any form of tenure where the Queensland Government still has ownership for the airstrip, it will share the liability with any lessees should any litigation result. The Crown can't absolve itself. It is therefore in the public interest not to reopen the airstrip. That is what the Goss Government had decided.
Enlarging the Scale: The airstrip is the central factor in transforming what the Goss Government had hoped would be "a small holiday/residential township in a wilderness setting" into an up-market multi-unit residential mish-mash which most people with any sense of planning or aesthetics deplore.
Poor Planning: The Orchid Beach Village and airstrip now impacts on Fraser Island more than any other community. Under the poor supervision of the Hervey Bay City Council, it has become a blight on the Fraser Island landscape. The negligent council has knowingly allowed single buildings to be used as multiple residences in a Residential A area while retaining over $100,000 of Fraser Island revenue more than it spends. The airstrip will aid the expansion of this largest urban area and population on Fraser Island.
Infrastructure Demand: A larger community at Orchid Beach creates a considerably greater impact on the Fraser Island infrastructure particularly roads and waste disposal than if the community were located closer to the centre of the island.
Longer Communication Lines: Because most of the more popular features of Fraser Island are in the central and southern sections, Orchid Beach will generate more traffic than if the same population were located closer to those features. The greater distance will be more difficult to service. The DoE has already spent more money on the track between Indian Head and the village than any other equivalent length of road on Fraser Island.
More expensive to service: The cost of garbage removal is greater and has been demonstrated by the piles of rubbish accumulating at the dump to be already inadequate. Reopening the airstrip is costing the taxpayers more than $250,000. The cost of providing rescue services is enormous. The cost of flying helicopters and other aircraft to there is much greater than elsewhere. All public services are dearer to provide there than elsewhere on Fraser Island.
Wilderness: The most devastating impact is on the wilderness. This is a precious and rapidly diminishing commodity and any intrusions erode the value. Already there are admissions of widespread use of the closed beach on Platypus Bay by Orchid Beach property owners. The impact on the camping area near Ocean lake is connected with the greater use of the Orchid Beach village. The over-flying of aircraft and the demands to have more vehicular access to more areas and the resistance to the removal of feral horses are all associated with the erosion of wilderness values and maximizing property values to the detriment of the public interest and the best management of Fraser Island as a whole.
FIDO does not want the airstrip because it encourages growth of a cancer in what had been the most natural area of Fraser Island and which had been identified by Commissioner Fitzgerald, who recommended: "To the maximum extent practical, the northern half of the Island should be preserved in its natural condition, and activities there confined to wilderness experiences".
Airstrip Adjunct to Expo: The airstrip is supposed to justify the relocation of the Fishing Expo back to Orchid Beach and the Fishing Expo at Orchid Beach is supposed to justify re-opening the strip. It is a circular but invalid argument. The airstrip will not be legally open for the Fishing Expo at the end of May. It remains to be seen how many illegal landings may be attempted. (See Fish Expo Story p. 11).
Fish Stocks: The demand to hold the Fishing Expo back at Orchid Beach was also based on the fact that Orchid Beach attracts a much larger yobbo element than when it was staged at Eurong. The yobbo element feels happier further from civilization. The impact on fish stocks by this concentration of fishing effort both from the Expo and the residents in this area, which happens to be recognized as the most important tailor breeding area, is becoming increasingly significant.
Visual Impact: The visual impact of Orchid Beach now extends from Ngkala Rocks to Sandy Cape. The impact with the airstrip and rubbish dump and Telstra installations more than doubles the area of freehold land. The DoE now proposes to extend that by placing a shop and other urban infrastructure in what is currently National Park. Orchid Beach is a blight which has be brought under control and all of the above impacts minimized.
More Aircraft Noise: The airstrip entices indeed generates more air traffic over-flying the Fraser Island wilderness zone.
Management Plan Degraded: Orchid Beach Village has become the tail to wag the dog. It has also been the centre of advocacy for abrogating the Great Sandy Region Management Plan. Property-owners there (as many as 52 each have shares in some properties valued at over $1 million) are now dictating the variations to the Management Plan. Orchid Beach property-owners are the main economic beneficiaries from the State subsidized re-opening of this atrocity of poor urban planning which has not been adequately supervised by the Hervey Bay City Council. The fewer than 20 permanent residents will share a subsidy worth over $10,000 each. Premier Borbidge's commitment to underwrite future costs is estimated to be worth another $3,000 per annum for residents, much more than the taxes they pay.
The reasons for closing the Orchid Beach airstrip and not reopening it as expressed by the DoE, Wayne Goss and Tom Barton have been proven to be valid.
The question has to be asked just why the Borbidge Government is so intent on re-opening the Orchid Beach airstrip. Most indicators seem to indicate that the premier's only justification is to enhance the real estate value of privately owned Orchid Beach properties, some of which are owned by friends of the premier. The question needs to be posed: "Why should taxpayers money be used to subsidize an airstrip whose only practical function is to enhance private property valuations?"
Not for Medical Evacuations: FIDO's Freedom of Information (FOI) indicated that the airstrip was unjustified for medical evacuation. In December, 1995, jut a few months before Premier Goss resigned his commission, he was being advised by the Department of Environment:
The Orchid Beach area and Fraser Island as a whole were well served in cases of medical emergency.... a better response than would be available for most residents of suburbia ( is available for serious medical emergencies). The helicopter rescue service can land a medical evacuation team at Orchid Beach within an hour.
The Orchid Beach airstrip was only ever suitable for light aircraft and could not be used by an air ambulance or an aircraft fitted out for medical evacuations. The response time for a local light aircraft would also be about one hour and the doctor would not have the capacity to bring any life support system with them.
Premier Borbidges's Private Secretary was echoing this advice in 1996 indicating the nature of the advice the Premier was then receiving.
In February 96, the Environment Minister. Tom Barton, wrote: "The decision to close Orchid Beach airstrip was taken during the process of preparing the Great Sandy Region Management Plan. The process involved comprehensive community consultation over a two year period and included input from community, conservation and Aboriginal organizations."
Premier Goss wrote to the local member and pointed out, "The retention of the airstrip would have the potential to strongly influence the future use of the Orchid Beach area in a manner inconsistent with the protection of the area's wilderness qualities." He was so right. The reasons he gave against reopening of the strip are the reasons why Premier Borbidge wants the strip re-opened.
Wayne Goss also gave the following reasons for closure:
* the airstrip is difficult to maintain, especially in dry conditions;
* dangerous soft sand patches and undulations form easily on this airstrip;
* the airstrip is subject to wind shear problems; and
* the airstrip is too short for an air ambulance.
Not for Law Enforcement/Emergencies: Orchid Beach property owners then took another tack claiming that the airstrip and access to the Platypus Bay were essential for drugs surveillance.
In February, 1996 Tom Barton wrote: The Director of Coastal surveillance, Customs Department, Canberra has advised that whilst his Department is keen to have local communities assist in monitoring and reporting illegal activity, they do not have any requirement for the Orchid Beach airstrip to be reopened. .... a grass strip does not meet the standards required for use by Coastwatch aircraft.
"The Officer in Charge of Hervey Bay police advises that the Queensland Police Service does not require the Orchid Beach airstrip to be re-opened, as it has access to a number of suitable alternatives for the conduct of search and rescue pertains in the northern half of Fraser Island. While it would be convenient at times to have the airstrip re-opened and well maintained, it would be limited to use by small aircraft which would not significantly improve the search and rescue capability above that already available."
The Department of Environment in advising the Environment Minister said the case for the reopening could be limited to
a the community desire to have more direct air access to their properties;
b possible provision of medical services in light aircraft; (but not aerial ambulance);
c benefits to the organizers of the Fishing Expo.
Was the latter another underlying part of Premier Borbidge's stance? The Fishing Expo and property valuations at Orchid Beach are also linked.
The DoE's arguments against were
a perpetuation of the disturbance of the site and the continued reduction of the scenic values of the area;
b promoting further development of Orchid Beach;
c ongoing management issues with the airstrip administration;
d the potential for public liability claims and excessively high insurance costs
Not on Economic Grounds: The estimates of population of Orchid Beach vary. In a submission on the DCP the DoE senior Officer at Waddy Point said that it was less than 20. The Manager, Great Sandy say that it is less than 25. The Premier is offering $190,000 for capital works to bring the airstrip up to standard and $65,000 for each of the next few years. This certainly can't be justified on economic grounds.
Notwithstanding the professed position of both the former Labor Premier and the Environment Minister, while both were involved in the infamous Mundingburra By-Election campaign the DoE commissioned a private consultant, Aerodrome Operation Support, to prepare a report on what had to be done to reopen the airstrip on 22 January. The final report was dated March, 1996. On 6 March, the responsible DoE Officers wrote that he had spent considerable time preparing a report on costs for acquiring appropriate equipment to reopen the strip.
The report outlined the difficulty of establish a healthy grass cover due to desiccation and salt spray. The report said: "The estimated running costs are very high. Economies could be made but overall condition of the strip would suffer and the potential for litigation increased. The majority of time and effort would be spent in irrigating the surface to preserve an effective counter to wind erosion of dry sand .... The beach front is under constant pressure from big seas and could be undermined and collapse at any time taking up to 50% of the aerodrome with it and this could never be reclaimed."
FIDO is aware of a proposal to swap some inaccessible Orchid Beach freehold for an equivalent part of the National Park adjacent to the airstrip so that a new resort can be built there taking advantage of the airstrip!
FIDO will continue its watchdog role.
The following information obtained by FOI by FIDO details the more serious accidents at the Orchid Beach airstrip which have been documented:
From 1971 to 1991 there were 13 major aircraft accidents. 8 were due in whole or in part to the strip surface. Others were due to the wind conditions. No amount of upgrading of the strip, (and it can't be made longer or wider) can avoid the prevalent dangerous cross-winds.
28/9/86: Substantial damage to a plane landing from a scenic flight. The official report said, "There were horses on the strip. ... the strip surface was undulating and the landing was attempted in gusty crosswind conditions. ..." The OB residents want to keep the remaining brumbies and the DoE has acquiesced to this request.
29/12/86: There was minor damage to an aircraft.
21/3/87: Pilot landed flat or nose down. There was minor damage to the aircraft.
11/5/87: The nose wheel became bogged in a loose soft patch and the propeller hit the sand.
27/5/89: The aircraft was destroyed and there were four fatalities. The report said, "The wind at the time was easterly at about 35 knots, and this would have generated considerable mechanical turbulence in the vicinity of the aerodrome due to local topography." The topography around the airstrip remains unchanged and easterly winds of about 35 knots are not uncommon.
14/9/89: Substantial damage. The pilot was not informed the surface of the strip was undulating and had soft sandy areas. The wind was calm .... The aircraft bounced and floated ..During the landing roll the nosegear leg failed .....
5/12/90: Substantial damage when "nose wheel landing gear dug into soft runway and tore off."
23/9/91: Substantial damage resulted when "the nose landing gear collapsed on touchdown and the aircraft slid for approximately 30 m along the strip."
13/12/91: An aircraft taxied to a marked unserviceable are and the propeller struck the ground.
FIDO is not alone in opposing the Fishing Expo. While many members of the Fraser Island Association are strongly opposed to the holding of the Fishing Expo. Cathedral Beach Resort proprietors, the Hannant family, passed up potentially $16,000 to $20,000 when they declined to host the event on environmental grounds. However, Orchid Beach residents willing to cash in on such a windfall have no such scruples. Other FIA members are alarmed that 1,500 competitors with friends and families arriving in 600 to 700 vehicles of which 75 to 100 would be towing 5 to 7.5 metre boats and others towing trailers will have an unacceptable impact on a World Heritage area. This as well as concern for the fishing stock leads many FIA members to oppose allowing the Fishing Expo to continue on Fraser Island.
Since MOONBI 90 FIDO has been upset to discover that the Fraser Island Fishing Expo was moved from Eurong back to Orchid Beach. It had been shifted from there after 1995 following a decade of demonstrable adverse impacts on Fraser Island. Queensland Premier Borbidge personally pushed the DoE to reverse its position on Orchid Beach.
The Fraser Island Fishing Expo began at Orchid Beach in the early 1980s. It grew in scale and impact over the next decade. By 1991, FIDO had recognized that the impact was unacceptable.
During 1994, FIDO tried unsuccessfully to persuade Toyota, the only major sponsor of the Fishing Expo to withdraw its support on environmental grounds. Toyota has exploited Fraser Island to market its range of four wheel drive vehicles. More of its 4WD sales are based on its Fraser Island promotion than any part of the Australian coast. Toyota absolved itself from responsibility claiming the staging of the Fishing Expo was one for the organizer, Kgari Events' Keith Leach.
Because 1995 was scheduled to be the last Fishing Expo held at Orchid Beach, FIDO didn't pursue publicly exposing Toyota. FIDO was very unhappy when the 1996 event was relocated to Eurong. We assumed that it would have ended on Fraser Island We accepted it as yet another regrettable decision of the Government. Through FOI, FIDO discovered many documents relating to that decision. We are now trying to find out how the 1997 decision was reached but the Government has delayed the release of information beyond the statutory time.
The 1996 event was less glitzy, less "yobboish", and less patronized. Toyota received less publicity as a result. Following a legal wrangle with Eurong's Sid Melksham, Keith Leach withdrew from organizing future Fraser Island Fishing Expos. Leach sold Toyota "his rights" to hold the event for the next four years (presumably at Eurong).
Toyota is now wholly and solely responsible for the Fishing Expo (organizer and sponsor). Toyota had opposed the creation of northern Fraser Island as a remote area and by hook or by crook wanted the event to return to Orchid Beach. It ruthlessly lobbied the Premier and threatened to take the event from Queensland if it did not get its way and back to Orchid Beach.
The DoE recognized the impacts on the beach and beach fauna as well as the roads and the amount of garbage generated and the cost of its removal and also wilderness values. Because Premier Borbidge believed "the event and its significant economic benefits would be lost to the State," he over-rode DoE objections to relocate the event.
The matter of the future of fishing competitions is under review as a part of the development of a Management Plan for Queensland Subtropical Inshore Fishery. The QFMA reported that in the 1992 Fraser Island Fishing Expo 129,000 fish were taken of which 45% were released during just one week. This left a take during the Fishing Expo estimated at 35.5 tonnes. This is not sustainable.
Since 1994 when FIDO made its first major effort to have the Fishing Expo taken off Fraser Island, there has been a major shift in public opinion. Most Fraser Island residents except for those who see a short term profit (such as the landlords and shopkeepers at Orchid Beach) are strongly opposed to such an event in a World Heritage area. FIDO will continue to pressure to end Fishing Expos on Fraser Island.
Boundaries Unchanged: On 16 December, the Queensland Cabinet endorsed a decision to reject all recommendations of the Local Government Commissioner with reference to the boundaries of the authorities in the Great Sandy Region. The Borbidge Government has ignored Fitzgerald. Local Government boundaries will remain unchanged. Commissioner Hoffman's position has now been abolished. He recommended that all of Fraser Island be included in Hervey Bay. While this was not FIDO's preferred option, it was certainly preferable to leaving Fraser Island split between two different local authorities where each council has pocketed more than $100,000 from the rates collected from Fraser Island each year.
Council Election Outcomes: The Local Government elections in Hervey Bay and Maryborough has produced a new crop of Councillors in the former and re-elected most of the old ones in Maryborough. Despite this, FIDO hopes that both Councils and the planners, now better understand the issues relating to Fraser Island and will manage it better and more generously than they have done in the past.
Representation: As noted on p.2, both councils will be represented on the new Board of Management, with representatives. Because the Board of Management doesn't cover Cooloola, FIDO accepts two council representatives. However, we hope that when Cooloola is included on the World Heritage List, there may be some reconsideration of the number of authorities with a finger in the Great Sandy Region and the number on the Board.
The DCP: One instrument in managing Fraser Island will be the adoption of the Development Control Plan. The process has been painfully stalled for some time but any DCP which applies to decisions of all four councils in the Great Sandy Region will be an improvement. The Councils though are trying to water down many of the provisions of the DCP which are trying to implement the Management Plan. Unfortunately the Local Government Elections in Queensland on the Ides of March stalled the release of the DCP for the Great Sandy Region. Now that event is out of the way we hope there will be some positive progress in getting a Draft DCP released. Given the urgency of the problem, the progress has been appallingly slow and give reason to believe that many vested interests would like the whole DCP process to die.
New Developments: While the DCP is languishing, a spate of new development applications have tried to pre-empt it. FIDO has objected to an application at Eurong. Another was for Yidney rocks redevelopment. The Maryborough City Council approved a two story redevelopment application as illustrated below.
MOONBI 90 generated many responses. We can't print them all in full here but here are some:
From Bill Fisher, Regional Director, DoE, Central Coast, in Rockhampton strongly objected to our article, "Conflict of Interest?" which questioned the commitment of a particular Fraser Island ranger. We had lengthy correspondence. This is part of what he said:
"...My purpose (in writing) is to seek to avoid having differences on issues which may arise organizationally being transposed into the personal. I believe I have a responsibility to Officers under my control , who do not have the opportunity to defend themselves publicly.
In all sincerity it is not reasonable to hold an individual ranger responsible for outcomes of advocacy at a political level. The additional step in the MOONBI article of questioning the commitment of rangers generally is ... sad. The particular article could have portrayed FIDO's message without the last paragraph and with a different title. ...
From Keith Twyford, former OIC DoE, Fraser Island reported that the DoE had not been given credit for some of its positive work. On the Fens he reported: The first stage of a comprehensive survey into the distribution and ecology of the fens on Fraser Island and northern Cooloola was completed as part of a collaborative project involving the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Griffith University, Queensland University of Technology, Queensland museum, International Marine Conservation Group, Queensland Wader Study Group and DoE.
On fire management (Story: "A Burning Issue") Keith advised that burning from the roadside was essentially correct and points out the difficulty of burning during some periods of high fuel moisture whether from the roadsides or inside the burn area. He went on to elaborate details of the Draft Fire management Strategy for Fraser Island which specifies that "prescribed burns should aim to produce a mosaic pattern of burnt and unburnt habitat .... The strategy also states that a policy of maximizing the diversity of fire regimes applied to vegetation communities (i.e. frequency, intensity, season) will be adopted. This will be achieved through a mosaic pattern of burning."
The "Courier Mail" on 29/12/96 published a short item under the headline "FIDO hounds Fraser drivers", reported. "The Fraser Island Defenders Organization, FIDO, has called for four wheel drivers to be banned from popular Fraser Island beaches and on the mainland near Rainbow Beach. 'In the interests of public safety, all traffic must be excluded from major beach recreation areas such as Eurong,' a spokesman said."
This had FIDO ringing around to learn what we had said to the media. What we discovered was a small item in MOONBI 90 under the headline "Wanggoolba Creek Disgrace" when discussing "Beach traffic" MOONBI had said: The need to segregate traffic from pedestrians recreating on beaches is becoming more critical. ..... The Cooloola Council rather than close the beach just reduced the speed limit. In the interests of public safety ... etc.). It will mean that these beaches will soon need to be by-passed. There is no monopoly in getting the sense and context right or wrong!
FIDO has been confronted by a fiasco. Fishing for files under FOI in the Premier's Department has produced only a farce. We have sought to understand the Premier's preoccupation and obsession with Orchid Beach; re-opening the airstrip, returning the Fishing Expo back there, and developments there generally. Up until this MOONBI went to press only four documents had been produced well after the statutory deadline. Either the filing system is deplorable or someone is trying to hide a political embarrassment.
Hervey Bay Population is predicted to double in 15 years to be 76,000 by 2011. Between 1991 and 1996 the annual average growth rate in Hervey Bay was 7.6%. This is expected to slow down to 4.8%, but it is still twice the state average.
Extend Trawl Bans: In the leadup to the Local Government Elections in Hervey Bay, one of the strongest issues of the campaign was advocacy for stopping all commercial fishing in Hervey Bay south of a line from Burrum Heads to Rooneys Point. The current proposal is to limit only offshore trawling in a line from Arch Cliffs to Theodolite Creek which would extend the ban on trawling which currently only applies south of the line from Point Vernon to Moon Point. The demand for a five year moratorium over a wider area was justified by claims of "wholesale destruction of seagrass beds and fish stocks which took years to rectify."
Illegal Fishers Fined: Two men caught illegally fishing near Indian Head on Fraser Island in an area closed for the month of September during the tailor spawning season were found guilty by the magistrate and each fined $600. Curiously the magistrate ordered that "no conviction be recorded " but that the defendants fishing gear be forfeited to the Crown. After all it was in Queensland where a jury once acquitted a man charged with cattle rustling but with a provision that he give the stolen cattle back!
A group of nine Hervey Bay residents turned up on Fraser Island at Lake McKenzie at the beginning of March and displayed such obnoxious behaviour during their binge drinking that they caused a number of visitors to truncate their visits. The men, who seemed to be in their 30s, set off fire crackers day and night, made sexist remarks to fellow female campers, vomited in the camping area and washed clothes in Lake McKenzie. It is reported that rangers who tried to intervene were intimidated.
Cyclone Justin whipped up enormous seas on both east and west coast beaches of Fraser Island in early March. A massive surge with 2 metre tides made beach traffic at high tide right up to the grass impossible. If another cyclone follows soon more sand will be dragged from the Fraser Island beaches to bedrock.
Although there are no mining leases left on Fraser Island, there are two large stockpiles of mining tailings which contain potentially lucrative reserves of ilmenite and other by-products. The Queensland Department of Energy and Resources was recently approached about removing these buried treasures in that part of Fraser Island which is still not National Park. Because the operations and infrastructure would involve result in unacceptable impacts, the Department said that they were not keen to allow such exploitation. FIDO reasserted our position. However, there were some submissions from Fraser Island residents including the Eurong Resort supporting the reopening of the tailings pits.
FIDO plans to produce a an article on the impact of Four Wheel Drives on Fraser Island. Society cautions kids about playing on the roads, but what happens when we have vehicles in a fragile National Park?
Aborigines incorrectly estimate that the tourist levy to Fraser Island is worth $6 million and want it handed over to them. This seems unreasonable but it will be up to the courts to decide if the $5 billion compensation claim ever reaches a court. In the meantime the FIA has been questioning the only legitimate land claim on Fraser Island in the Native Titles Tribunal.
The proposed introduction of Park Passes in Queensland fell into a black hole. They will not be introduced. This will mean that funding for the National Park management will continue to be inadequate. However, Access Fees for Fraser Island have been significantly increased. This increase is overdue and was supported by FIDO. However we are alarmed that the Queensland Government is prepared to subsidize the protection of other great aesthetic treasures in Queensland including works of arts, but are being absolutely miserable in contributing curatorial care to a precious World Heritage site such as Fraser Island.
While the DoE doesn't have enough money to even consider establishing a toilet near Wabby Lakes it has sought $120,000 to cover the cost of demolition and removal of the old Orchid Beach Resort acquired for $6 million. It makes us wonder about priorities!
Paid permits issued to visit Fraser Island increased from 264,231 in 94/95 to 266,733 in 95/96. The growth in Fraser Island visitation is slowing but it continues.
When MOONBI 90 went to press we were under the impression that the Environment Minister's assurance that the DoE would cooperate with FIDO's Silver Jubilee "Then and Now" project; that it would become the repository for relevant old photographs we assembled in Maryborough. At the 11th hour the DoE changed its (and the Minister's) mind, but instead of advising FIDO immediately, they dillied and dallied until after the material had been sent to the printers. The DoE Officer sent a fax at 8.30 am, just two hours after the material had left for the printers. Had he rung or faxed the night before, the MOONBI 90 could have been corrected. If the officer (who "was taking another call" when we subsequently rang) had returned our call then, instead of a day later, we may have been able to correct the impression that the project had the cooperation of the DoE.
The Minister advised on 7 February that the John Oxley Library ... has the necessary curatorial staff to access and maintain valuable records. This has not been FIDO's experience. We had hoped that the more ready access by the relevant DoE managers in Maryborough would have made the photographs much more useful as working references rather than merely accumulating age in an archive in Brisbane which doesn't have a good record for being able to retrieve Fraser Island data and photographs.
Notwithstanding the DoE rejection of our offer, FIDO had decided to press ahead with the project. There will be more details in MOONBI 92. However, on 20 February Brian Littleproud announced that he was giving $5,000 to the Rosewood Scrub Historical Society to provide a pictorial history and display documents and maps of the Rosewood Scrub near Marburg. It is ironic that the Queensland Government has funded and supported this project while shunning FIDO's proposal.
Perhaps recognizing the Borbidge Government's double standard, the DoE has granted FIDO $3,000 under the provisions of the 1996/97 Grants to non-Government Conservation Organizations Program. However, FIDO can't use any of this money for advocacy and can only use it for the specific purpose, the "Then and Now" project. The Borbidge Government doesn't want to help its critics.
FIDO is starved for funds to advance our program of community education and public advocacy. Unlike other World Heritage watchdog groups, FIDO hasn't received any funding from State or Federal Governments for more than 2 years. Prior to that we received only a tokenistic grant from the Queensland DoE. Neither has FIDO received support in cash or kind from any Queensland Conservation Council which received generous government grants. The prolonged campaigns against sandmining and logging and for better management over 26 years has exhausted the energies of many FIDO volunteers and the surplus resources of many benefactors of the past. We need new sources of income.
FIDO continues to attempt to qualify for both Federal and DoE grants but the latter has been more generous towards voluntary conservation organizations which mute criticism of that Department.
FIDO wants to appoint a professional (or semi professional Project
Officer to pursue particular projects such as the establishment
of a photographic archive and the enticement of a tourist operator
to invest in the Light Rail Project (see story p 3)
NOTICE is hereby given that the Twenty First Annual General Meeting of the Fraser Island Defenders Organization Limited will be held at the Australian Services Union Building, 32 Peel Street, South Brisbane, 6.30 pm, Wednesday, 27 August, 1997.
1. To receive a Report from John Sinclair Snr, Honorary Project Officer, who will be returning from 16 days on Fraser Island.
2. To receive the Profit and Loss Statement, Balance Sheets and Reports of the Directors and Auditors
3. To elect Directors for the ensuing term in accordance with the Articles of Association.
4. General Business.
being a financial member of the Fraser Island Defenders Organization Limited do hereby appoint
................................................................. or failing him/her
...................................................... as my proxy, to vote on my behalf at the Twenty-first Annual General Meeting, to be held at the Australian Services Union Building, 32 Peel Street, South Brisbane, 6.30 pm, Wednesday, 27 August, 1997, at 6.30 pm. and at any adjournment thereof.
Signed this .......................... day of ..................., 1997
NOTE: In the event of members desiring to vote for or against any resolution they should instruct their Proxy accordingly because unless otherwise instructed the proxy may vote as they think fit.
This form or a copy of it should be completed and posted to reach Secretary, FIDO, PO Box 70, BALD HILLS QLD 4036, on or before 27 August, 1997 to be valid under Article 31 of the constitution. Please photocopy this form and return it promptly.
Section 248 of the Companies (Queensland) Code provides that all members be given 21 days notice of any meeting (including A.G.M.s) at which they are entitled to vote. It is important that as many proxies as possible are received. The Proxy Form is also taken as your apology for non attendance.