Last Tuesday (October 23 ) a gathering near the Byron Bay Water Tower celebrated the Paterson Hill heathland victories in 1997 and 2003, which saw the community unite to fight inappropriate development with a great reward.
The date marked 10 years since the passing of Peter Hamilton, who inspired the campaign.
The hilltops are a ‘must see’ on many travellers visit to Byron, and any special sky event or full moon will see a crowd gathering there. The open space above town is a treat to enjoy.
Without this action we would have townhouses and exclusive housing dominating these hilltops and degrading natural areas. Now the dwarf heath and its unique flora is recognised as one of the jewels of the Arakwal National Park.
Byron’s biggest environmental action
The community lobbied and rallied for more than a decade. The meetings and Rallies led in the end to a blockade! Eighteen years ago last Sunday, Pacific Vista Drive saw the biggest environmental action thus far in Byron Bay’s history.
The development had been approved by the NSW Land and Environment Court with many conditions to be met, and a five-year commencement period that was about to expire.
The Paterson Hill Action Group organised a final rally at the site.
Group spokesperson Veda Turner says, ‘The morning was surreal. Ocean mist rolled in and a piper, who had just arrived in Byron and had heard of the rally, played bagpipes in the misty heath. Gentle rain was falling as one of our activists entered the developers’ exclusion zone and addressed the crowd, alerting them to the state of emergency for the heath’
‘The following day dawned hot and sunny. Our lookouts where posted at town access points on watch for an excavator when a call came in that an excavator was seen in Paterson Street. The telephone tree was activated and Bay FM news shared the story with the shire. By the time the truck arrived at Pacific Vista Drive, there was a band of protesters blocking its way.’
Through that day, October 28, 1999, 1,000 campaign supporters attended the blockade, with over 200 arrested and taken to Byron Bay Police Station, six being charged.
As the day wore on, police numbers where boosted with officers from all over the North Coast arriving and activist numbers diminishing, the excavator was nearing its destination.
Veda continues ‘I was arrested and all seemed to be lost. I was held at the Police Station for about an hour before returning to Paterson Street filled with foreboding, expecting to see the development ‘commenced’ by the excavator working. To my surprise, I saw it had not moved, and there was someone perched on the top of it!’
Byron Shire Councillor, Richard Staples attended the blockade, and took decisive action as all else appeared to be failing. He climbed onto the excavator and scrambled up the boom arm. Police followed and grabbed his legs in an effort to remove him. He advised them that he was an elected Councillor, and as such he was allowed to set up office anywhere in the shire. He had his phone and Council notepad with him. They could not remove him.
Council staff arrived some time later with a stop work order, as the developer had failed to meet the conditions of consent. At that point the crowd erupted in cheers and the developers’ workers left the site, never to return!
The police charges were dropped, and it was shown that compliance had been breached, so that in fact the protesters had been on the side of right. Action Group members arranged meetings with developer representatives, which led to the State and Federal Governments purchasing the land for inclusion in the Arakwal National Park. The dwarf heath, its unique orchids, and the Cimbim Margil wetland and Wallum Froglets are protected jewels of Byron Bay.
Peter Hamilton passed away 10 years ago, and so on the anniversary of his passing, admirers met at Paterson Hill and unveiled a plaque in his honour.
The plaque also honours the memory of Byron Council’s first Greens Councillor, Anudhi Wentworth. ‘Anudhi was very successful in preserving much that we value today in Byron Bay’ said organiser Veda Turner. ‘She was instrumental in creating the three-storey height limit, and saved the Community Centre from being sold as a car-park, and much more’
Anudhi’s granddaughters, Woonona and Halo Wentworth-Banfield were on hand to proudly unveil the plaque at the Eric Wright Lookout on the Paterson Street Hilltop Reserve.