Campaigners fighting the proposed redevelopment of Brunswick Heads public caravan parks and foreshore reserves have been buoyed by the overturning of a conviction against an organiser of a protest group which removed barricades controversially erected on a public road at Brunswick Heads last year.
And the recent discovery of an Aboriginal stone artefact at the Ferry Reserve has led to calls for an archeological assessment of the town’s foreshore which campaigners say is likely to reveal that most of the Brunswick Heads foreshore area is a place of cultural significance.
Byron Shire Council last week also called on minister for the north coast Don Page to support a bid for the parks to be returned to council management. The State government took over the parks from council eight years ago while former disgraced lands minister Tony Kelly was in charge of Crown lands.
On Thursday, mayor Simon Richardson requested that North Coast Holiday Parks (NCHP) hold a formal public meeting on their draft plans with an independent facilitator and the involvement of the Foreshore Protection Group (FPG).
The success on Friday of an appeal in the NSW District Court in Lismore comes in the final weeks of the public display of the contentious draft plans of management for the three Crown land holiday parks and foreshore reserves in the holiday town.
FPG organiser Michele Grant was fined $750 by magistrate Michael Dakin in July last year after he found her guilty of a charge of disposing of stolen property.
Ms Grant was part of a group of more than a dozen Brunswick Heads residents who took part in the community protest action in November 2012, but she was the only one charged over the action which involved removing large barricades on Riverside Crescent at Ferry Reserve and then dropping them off in front of the council chambers in Mullumbimby.
The barricades had been erected on the public road a week before a new licence agreement for the caravan park in that location was adopted by Byron Shire Council, sparking local outrage.
NSW District Court Judge Laura Wells threw out the conviction following a submission from Ms Grant’s lawyer John Weller.
Ms Grant told Echonetdaily today that, ‘the police would have had more success charging NCHP with the illegal obstruction of Riverside Crescent, an allegation they didn’t bother to follow up.
‘Anyway it’s a great outcome, it looks like adults are allowed to be responsibly pro-active and participate in the democratic process,’ she said.
Meanwhile, an Ocean Shores resident last week gave an Indigenous stone tool he found on the Brunswick Heads foreshore to the National Parks and Wildlife Service’s (NPWS) Byron shire office.
Paramedic Duncan Merrell said he found the stone hand tool while fishing near the Ferry Reserve public boat ramp around six weeks ago.
Mr Merrell said he showed the hand tool to an Indigenous workmate ‘who confirmed its identity and described its uses and also the likely place it was found.
‘He described the location of the tool perfectly as probably being a place where it would be comfortable and safe to sit, a place with a good handy food source and probably a nice view. He had described my fishing spot exactly as I imagine it would have been.’
Mr Merrell said other cultural relics are bound to be found in the area and he fears ‘they may be threatened by the proposed expansion and development of the caravan parks in Brunswick Heads.
‘It seems to me as if the Brunswick Head estuary and river banks now threatened by development and denial of public access, have always been a place of beauty, communal gathering and cultural significance.
‘I hope it remains that way for always into the future as well.’
Mr Merrell said the NPWS office was ‘very happy’ to receive the artefact, telling him it was ‘a great specimen and would probably end up being displayed in a local exhibit at some stage’.
Ms Grant, who for years has campaigned with other locals against the encroachment of public lands by the NCHP, says Brunswick Heads has a rich history of Aboriginal culture.
‘Midden sites were damaged near the bowling club when the concrete bike track was constructed a few years ago, and I remember the Arakwal were insisting the concrete be removed (the bike path from roundabout to riverside walking track),’ she said.
‘(Lifelong resident) Darcy O’Meara also talks about large middens that existed in the southern section of Terrace Park and claims the mounds have been destroyed with the shells spread around the park.’
Mr O’Meara’s son, Sean, told Echonetdaily that he had, ‘often heard the little beach in the Terrace Reserve referred to as Midden Beach and if you look around the entrance on top of the bank there is still plenty of midden shells scattered around.
‘Over 50 power poles, taps and fire hoses were installed in the southern section of the Terrace in around 2008,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘These structures that basically appeared overnight were never approved, did not meet “primitive camping” and turned what was once just open parkland where people were allowed to pitch a tent for a few weeks of the year into a designated camping/caravan park as there was then infrastructure every 10 metres.
‘This was the real takeover point of this land, as then campers were there every week, enforcing occupation with locals forced off.
‘All complaints were met with the reply that a plan of management was underway and all would be then rectified.
‘NCHP is using the gradualism approach to fleece us of our land; they had no permission under their licence to do this and should be made to rectify this as their licences still state primitive camping only.’
Ms Grant said the draft plans of management also make no reference to ‘encroachments’ or acquisition of additional lands – and park boundaries (existing or preferred) are not clearly labeled in ‘concept drawings’.
‘Despite a council resolution to review “maps” we again have only inaccurate, misleading “drawings/cartoons” to work with, instead of properly labeled, surveyed plans, which are required of all developers, especially when making boundary adjustments,’ she said.
The proposed boundaries, especially at the Terrace where cabins for permanent residents were erected years ago right on the foreshore that block public access along it, are a very contentious issue.
So is the plan by NCHP, which has outraged locals, to erect a 1.8-metre-high fence around the caravan parks, shutting out residents and their children who ususally walk through the Terrace Reserve park to get to town, school, the beach or estuary.
But Deputy premier Andrew Stoner told media during a visit to the north coast last Thursday the state government was ‘keen’ to maintain access along the foreshore, which suggests the fence plan and foreshore cabins would have to go.
Mr Stoner also suggested the state government was looking at reducing its management of Crown land which he said covered 40 per cent of the state’s land mass, making Byron Council’s bid to have management of the Brunswick Heads parks returned to it not only timely but reasonable.
The deputy premier also said the plans on display (till 21 February) were only drafts and nothing was yet set in concrete.
He also said the Byron council’s bid to have the parks returned to their management would be considered.
In his call for a public meeting on the plans, Cr Richardson said the meeting should allow questions to be asked and ‘myths crushed on all sides of the debate’.
He said the recommendation for the public meeting would also be sent to Mr Stoner.
Cr Richardson said Byron Shire Council was also currently seeking legal advice on a number of issues related to the caravan park licences.
* See editorial ‘Stealing public land’ in Articles
* Also, the documentary video on the issue by Sharon Shostak at: