Local Environment and Kelly’s Bush

  • June 21, 2021

The electorate of North Sydney is bordered by the beauty of Sydney Harbour, the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers and Middle Harbour. We are a community as we are a city that has been shaped by these incredible waterways. This is a phenomena of not just recent times but ancient as well. The harbour was to have a profound impact on the Indigenous peoples who occupied its foreshores for tens of thousands of years, including the Cammeraygal and Wallumettagal peoples, who lived in the region partly covered by my constituency. Protecting and preserving our harbour environment and its foreshores is a cause that has touched the hearts and minds of so many Sydneysiders.

Residents of my own electorate today, and for so many generations, have a long and rich history of defending our local environment. It’s something I’ve always championed, both as a federal MP and also during my time as a local councillor and as a resident. Today, as a result of the foresight and actions of so many residents, much of my electorate is fringed by beautiful parks and bushland, the value of which was rediscovered by many during the lockdowns of 2020. In my own neighbourhood I never cease to be awe-struck by the beauty of places like Balls Head, so close to our great CBD but yet a place of nature and tranquillity.

Our efforts to protect our harbour foreshores continue as new opportunities arise. Just last week, for example, the New South Wales government made important decisions which will enhance our foreshores. I want to congratulate my state colleague Felicity Wilson, the member for North Shore, on the announcement that private land has been acquired in McMahons Point to expand Blues Point Reserve, one of our city’s great vantage points. Also last week, the New South Wales minister for heritage, Don Harwin, announced the heritage listing of the coal loader in Waverton, which North Sydney Council has transformed into one of our area’s most popular and precious sites.

At the federal level, I have long been a supporter of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. In an earlier life I was proud to have a role in its establishment by the Howard government. The trust will go down as one of John Howard’s greatest legacies for the people of Sydney and Australia. The trust manages some of the jewels in the crown of Sydney Harbour: former Defence sites which have been saved for all Australians. I am very pleased that legislation has now passed both houses of this parliament which will ensure that the role of the trust and the protection of these sites continues in perpetuity.

In my electorate, the trust manages the Woolwich Dock and former Sub Base Platypus on behalf of the Commonwealth. Last week, with the $10.4 million that I worked so hard to secure, the trust was able to announce the final plans for the creation of a new park at Sub Base Platypus. This will be a wonderful addition to harbourside open space on Neutral Bay, which I know will be enjoyed by both local residents and indeed all Sydneysiders.

I also want to reflect on an anniversary being marked this month which is so significant to the history of community activism in protecting our harbour foreshores. It was 50 years ago that a group of 13 women from Hunters Hill accomplished the seemingly impossible by enlisting the BLF and its secretary Jack Mundey to institute a green ban on proposals for the development of an area that is known as Kellys Bush. This was an unlikely alliance between largely Liberal-voting women from one of our most prosperous suburbs in Sydney and what was a radical and militant group of unionists. And yet their actions would go down in history and, most importantly of all, save this incredible area of bushland on the Parramatta River in Hunters Hill.

Led by Betty James, 13 mothers came together to form a group that became known as the ‘Battlers for Kellys Bush’ to fight proposals which would have seen this place of beauty developed into high-density housing, including eight-story apartment blocks. It in fact took the battlers 13 years to achieve their goal of saving Kellys Bush, but they never gave up. That spirit of determination and perseverance has inspired thousands of others, not just in Sydney but in fact across the globe—such was the attention that their actions attracted. One of our local journals, the Village Observer, recently wrote that those women:

… organised campaigns, protests, and courted the media over tea and homemade baked goods. Their well-mannered, conservative and relentless approach was impossible to ignore.

Today their work is continued by the Friends of Kellys Bush, supported by Hunters Hill Council and indeed by the entire Hunters Hill community. It is an anniversary that should be marked for its enduring legacy, not just for local residents but for all of those of us who love and value our great harbour. We are in the debt of those brave, determined women and all they achieved for our city.