Locals Celebrate Protection Of Killalea State Park
Late last year, Shellharbour locals rejoiced when Killalea State Park was taken out of the hands of the existing leaseholders to be managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
On Sunday, the same locals gathered at the hill overlooking The Farm and celebrated the win. As music played, a stall gave away 'Save Killalea' T-shirts for free. "We don't need these anymore!" said the vendor with a smile.
On a rare sunny day, various people spoke about the events that led to the State Government revoking the lease from Reflections Holidays Parks and handing it to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Among the crowd walked NPWS officers in their distinct bottle green jumpers with light green shoulder pads.
Shellharbour MP Anna Watson spoke about being approached by the Save Killalea Alliance who told her what Reflections had in mind. "It was a no brainer," said Watson. "We've got a pristine piece of coast here."
Watson was the first politician to raise the issue of stopping development at the park in the parliament. "It was your collective voices that travelled up the hill to Parliament House, that were heard by every MP in the building," Watson told the crowd.
She said she would work closely with NPWS to make sure the future management of the park met the community's expectations.
Also speaking was Chelsea Mahony, daughter of Ray Mahony who couldn't attend. Ray Mahony opposed the introduction of fee for access in 1995, and then had a hand in every campaign thereafter. The Shellharbour protest movement was generational.
A recurring message was to never take Killalea for granted again. Despite the NPWS assuming control of the land, this battle-hardened cadre of suburban activists swore they'd be alert to any clandestine developments, which is how the Reflections development got so far.
In 2016, the State Government sought to reduce costs by offloading it to the private sector. This raised the eyebrows of a few old hands. "Privatisation by stealth," was how it was described at the time. Sure enough, in 2019 Reflections proposed a 200-seat conference centre, restaurant, and luxury eco cabins.
The old hands kicked into gear - in one way or another they've been fighting this battle since 1995 - and reignited the Save Killalea Alliance. They exercised networks, pushed contacts, and sought coverage wherever they could - including a record-breaking paddle out in May last year that assured them of media coverage.
Many people were involved in the campaign, few of them as much as Chris Homer. On the strength of the campaign, Chris put his hand up to run for council and got elected as Mayor. Raised in Shellharbour, no-one surfs the local reefs as deep as Chris. It's why he's been called the mayor of Shellharbour - a title that's now been formalised.
Taking the stage, the Mayor deferred to all the people involved, saying the victory was the work of many: "Surfers came together, the ecologists came together, the coastal lovers came together."
"We can really see our environment is under threat, an environment on the edge of a major city and we are growing," said Mayor Homer "But people want to come here. They want to come and experience what we have experienced, and we want to leave that for our children, the experience, as well."
As of July 1, the 260-hectare park entered the management of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) as a Regional Park, protected under the NPWS Act. From August, the NPWS will start consultation with the community to develop a new plan of management for the park.