A rare and sacred Tucki Bora Ring – an important part of secret men’s business in the local area –is in the middle of a proposed extension to Champion’s Quarry at Tucki Tucki near Lismore, the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) was told during a hearing at Lismore Turf Club yesterday.
Two Lismore councillors and a local Aboriginal elder were among 33 speakers to address the two-person panel, which will make the final decision following a recommendation by the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI) to approve the proposal.
Both the Lismore City Council (LCC) and the Land and Environment Court (LEC) have voted against the proposed expansion from 64,000 tonnes to 200,000 tonnes per year. Speakers opposing the expansion cited noise and dust pollution, damage to koala populations, Aboriginal site significance, road degradation and water contamination as some of the areas of concerns.
Those speaking for the expansion believe that the quarry is needed for Pacific Highway and roadfill and local construction servicing. Current Lismore councillors Graham Meineke and Simon Clough spoke respectively for and against the expansion.
Cr Clough was the first speaker off the ranks and proposed that the project be rejected on a few grounds. He identified acoustic impacts as a major area of concern and referred to cases of non-compliance by the proponent’s not responding to either council requests or noise complaints.
He concluded by saying, ‘as these matters will now be dealt with in Sydney or Grafton, it really removes this whole issue from the local residents, which is a huge concern. I would contend that if the commission accepts the department’s report they will be acting without the consideration of the environmental impacts on the local wildlife and water purity… the LEC have basically described this as insufficient public benefit to outweigh the adverse impacts.’
Cr Meineke followed by showing approval for the project. He has a background in geology and town planning and has previously assessed quarries on behalf of Richmond Valley Council (RVC) and has been involved with quarries in the Tweed and Ballina shires.
‘Quarries are essential in any region,’ he said. ‘Strategically, I am aware that transport of material of more than 50 to 60km makes quarrying unviable. Quarries are mentioned in the Far North Coast Regional Strategy, which says that they are part of the regional economy and require careful management. I believe that strategically this quarry is important.’
Jeff McLaren, a solicitor who practises from home and has followed the case closely, lives within 700m of the quarry and claims he is one of four houses that have not been identified in the 800m buffer zone.
Mr McLaren advised the commission that the ‘proponent has failed to satisfactorily address the issues of soil and water, air quality, noise and degradation of significant Aboriginal sites that were of such concern to LCC and the LEC’.
He is also concerned about the DPI’s ‘carte blanche’ acceptance of the proposal.
‘Two examples of this are the missing four homes and the Bund A, which has supposedly been approved by the proponent. To my knowledge Bund A has never been accepted and if the DPI accepts this as correct without question, then I am concerned with what else the DPI have overlooked when recommending this approval.’
Mr McLaren then moved on to the personal impacts he experiences with operations pre-expansion.
‘I am already significantly affected by the noise level from the quarry on a regular basis. The noise varies in intensity from a low distant hum to an intrusive noise that rattles the windows of my home and makes conversation difficult.’
Mr McLaren relies on rain and bore water and has concerns over groundwater contamination and the dust that settles on his roof that ends up in his rainwater tanks. His concerns extend to treatment of the Tucki Bora Ring.
‘The Tucki Bora Ring and quarry site cannot be separated into units like housing blocks.’
John Roberts, a Widjabul Indigenous man, shared some knowledge about the Bora Ring and its uniqueness as the only one of its kind in this country.
‘There were originally two rings at this site. The small ring and the big ring. The only reason that the big ring is still left there is because a white man’s cemetery is right next to it, otherwise it would have been gone. The little ring is where they took the tree and turned it upside down and tied its roots to the surrounding trees.
‘This place is so sacred that all the Bundjalung tribes came there to be initiated, the young men. If you go further around the swamp you will see Young Mens Creek. This is where they painted all the young men to bring them back to that hill to be initiated.
‘Initiation in traditional laws and customs is very, very serious business. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you damage it, you take away the spirit, the energy, the whole thing.’
Uncle Lyle Roberts was the eldest son of Mr Roberts’s grandfather. He was the last man of this tribe to be initiated at this site, which Mr Roberts held a photograph of.
Mr Roberts also explained that archaeologists and planning departments fail to acknowledge Indigenous laws.
‘We have men’s business and women’s business. What happened in this case, a lady was consulted about the Ring, which is men’s business. This has caused trouble amongst Aboriginals. In all my teachings, if I go to an area of women’s business, I will take older women with me, for example.’
Mr Roberts believes that Champion’s Quarry are totally aware of the Aboriginal heritage and landscape of Tucki Tucki ‘but still want to push ahead’.
‘Somebody has to listen and protect. This is not just for Aboriginal people. White people should know about Aboriginal culture and heritage. I wanted to invite schools out there and teach them about how the Bora Ring operates. There is as much knowledge and respect in that Ring as a courtroom. It is very, very deep.
‘That Ring out there sits in my country, the Widjabul and Big Scrub people. We are the keepers of that ring and have the responsibility to look after it.’
Gary Punch legally represents Champion’s Quarry and used his time to counter what was previously stated. The chair of the proceedings, Mr Garry Payne, had previously made it clear the meeting was not to be used for debate.
Mr Punch questioned the validity of undermining the expertise of so many departments such as the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), internal DPI experts, NPWS, EPA, Office of Environment and Heritage, and internal LCC planning staff.
‘So what you are saying that this vast body of public servants across five or six government agencies and LCC planning staff have all got it wrong. And with some implication they are all dishonest. In the real world, with bodies such as ICAC, it just doesn’t happen.’
The crowd responded with laughter as many of them had identified errors throughout these processes.
Mr Punch advised the audience that his client had been through the ‘strictest conditions he had seen in his period in this area of law’ and the reason why the case keeps coming up is ‘because this resource has been, since September 2008, labelled of state and regional significance.’
Mr Punch also took the opportunity to counter Mr Roberts on the cultural significance of this site.
‘There is a deep and bitter division amongst the Aboriginal community about this issue; it is attached to a land-rights issue. In one part we have Mr Roberts, on the other side we have five experts, three Aboriginal elders who have tendered affidavits and twenty-eight Aboriginal stakeholders consulted on this.
‘Let me say unequivocally that the vast majority of Aboriginal opinion is in favour of this and does not agree that it relates in any way to the Tucki Bora Ring.’
Mr Roberts exclaimed from the audience that this was ‘a lie and you know it’. Mr Punch, after going past his extended time, reminded Mr Roberts that he did not interrupt him. The chair, Mr Payne, had also made it clear there were to be no interruptions.
Mr Punch continued by disclaiming Mr Roberts as having any right to make opinions
‘The DPI’s own documents state that the clan that Mr Roberts is speaking on behalf of is not one of the three clans that the DPI recognises as having right to speak of this country.’
Speaking on behalf of Friends of the Koala (FOK) was Dr Ros Irwin, who says they have serious concerns over the extension of the quarry and that if approval is sought then there will be significant impacts on koalas and their habitat.
‘This is partly because we consider there to be questionable information regarding koalas and their habitat, which has been used by the developer and used by the DPI’s report.
‘In our opinion the research was dated and limited… The anecdotal evidence of residents and FOK see koalas on a daily basis and their evidence needs to be acknowledged.
‘From FOK records it shows that the biggest threat to these koalas is vehicles and yet there has been insufficient attention given to this in the recommendations.
‘What has been approved is 100 truck movements a day, or one every six minutes along a road known to be a significant koala pathway.’
Margaret Flack bought into the area in 1983, before the Champion family, who came in 1984.
‘After buying the land, the Champions then went and subdivided and sold blocks. They then applied for a 5000 cubic metre quarry in 1985. We did not object to this as we thought it would not affect us. Over the years the noise has increased with its expansion. The noise is already bad and nobody comes to stop it. If further expansion goes ahead, the noise will be extreme.’
Mrs Flack believes that the quarry is trying to capitalise on the highway upgrade at the expense of local residents.
‘The rules should be obeyed. No quarries within 800m of our homes.’
The issue of decreasing land values was presented to the commission by a few residents. One of those, Ray Hunter, a longtime resident of Tucki, declared that his ‘land is his superannuation for when he has to move into care arrangements’. He has concerns of current and future investment into the area with known impacts to rural amenity.
Mrs Janine Wilson spoke on behalf of the Lismore Community Action Network Inc and the wider Lismore community. She raised the concerns about the local voice of LCC not being heard, in addition to the LEC.
‘We are also concerned that more than one million dollars of ratepayer money has been used to oppose this, and we are still not being listened to. We will have more costs associated with the increased pressure on roads that are already some of the worst in the state.’
David Robertson, a resident of 22 years, questioned the DPI’s statement of insignificance for the removal of a hill and insufficient groundwater measurements.
‘The visual impact of removing an entire hill 50m high in the southern extraction area cannot be considered as insignificant. Afterwards, it would be impossible to mimic the natural landform as stated.’
The issue of moral integrity was also raised by many residents who believe the developer had misled the community when they purchased their rural lifestyle residential blocks, only to have the same developer turn his neighbouring farm quarry into an industrial operation, with intention to expand.
Tina Robertson questioned the suspect history of the earlier subdivision of land and then subsequent expansion of the quarry.
‘The developer gained financially in the mid 1980s by subdividing his land and selling blocks. Seven families bought these in good faith and an eighth block was later added to become Hazelmount Lane, a rural community at Tucki. The developer then obtained permission to expand the original quarry although he didn’t fulfil the council guidelines.
‘Some families bought directly from the developer. It is not okay to have misled and taken advantage of community members. It is not okay to further develop the quarry now.’
Mrs Robertson is also concerned about existing traffic using Wyrallah Road, particularly coming from Woodburn and Evans Head – school buses and local traffic that will be in contact with extra truck movements on an already dangerous road.
Mrs Robertson has a background in mental health and is aware of the impacts of noise, particularly incessant noise on people’s stress levels.
‘Constant stress is not healthy. I see a quarry within 500m of your home as a major stressor.’
Simon Griffiths has little faith in the DPI document as the executive summary begins with an incorrect statement.
‘It starts with untruths, saying that the quarry has been in place since the 1950s. It is incorrect and can only be justified by saying there was a small sandstone quarry within a 2km radius of the site in question. The fact that the existing quarry is not in the original position was admitted in the LEC.’
Mick Santin owns Santin Quarry Products in Lismore and has two basalt quarries in the Lismore area, and spoke in support of the quarry. He uses materials from the Champion quarry to blend with basalt to make RTA-approved road base. He suggested that people may not be aware of the shortage of sand and sandstone products in the Lismore and Ballina region.
‘Everybody wants road-construction material but they don’t want it near them. Quarries have always been part of the rural landscape. Dairies have increased in size; so too have quarries.’
Mr Santin is concerned that if this expansion is not approved purchasers will have to source from outside the area.
‘They will have to drive double the distance to source from companies who do not contribute road levies to LCC. This increases the demand on roads and increases greenhouse emissions.’
Impact models for the expansion were questioned by many speakers. These included weather patterns and rain measurements taken from Lismore Airport and not the quarry area. Acoustic measurements were said to have not included wind and reflection, which many residents and experts claim dramatically increases the amplification of noise.
The commission is hoping to have an outcome from as early as three to four weeks, but this could extend.