Douglas Shire Council (DSC) has authorised the public release of its Blue Hole Reserve draft Management Plan, which aims to create a reserve for community purposes at a site of global environmental and cultural heritage significance, at the centre of the Daintree Cape Tribulation rainforest.
The underlying objective, it would seem, is to commandeer a designated area for public swimming and other associated recreational activities.
The draft applies to a portion of land known colloquially as the ‘Blue Hole’ incorporating property on a diversity of tenures surrounding a deep pool situated on a bend in Cooper Creek. It is inextricably connected to Cooper Creek Wilderness within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, which is a pre-existing authorized provider of regulated public access to World Heritage goods and services, including recreational access to Cooper Creek on a user-pays basis.
Interestingly, Queensland’s Parks and Wildlife Service (the State’s principle land manager with over ninety-percent of the area) has opposed the formal sanctioning of such a facility on National Park, because of environmental sensitivities, cultural heritage values and legal liability.
Surely if the Queensland Government wants a venue for unrestricted public swimming in the Daintree Cape Tribulation region, then it should develop one or more, BUT PLEASE on its own lands; National Park in particular, declared for that very purpose and manageable under the provisions of the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and its various regulations.
Cooper Creek Wilderness is a working-model of private-sector management through best-practice ecotourism. It does not have the statutory authority that would allow for management of the public at large. Indeed, having signed a conservation agreement with the Minister for Environment, it is not permitted to allow the public at large to enter its Nature Refuge.
The site is also unsuitable for the proposed use because of its extremely important cultural heritage values to its traditional custodians as a birthing site and spiritual resting place for the unborn, since a time immemorial. As a requirement of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003, the proponent has a duty of care to take all reasonable and practical measures to ensure their activities do not harm cultural heritage.
The Cultural Heritage Report, prepared by Dr. Nicky Horsfall in November 2005, recommends that,
“The proposed reserve should be made to protect the natural and cultural values; it should not become a recreational reserve.”
The environmental report for the draft, prepared by consultant biologist Dr. Robyn Wilson, states;
Dr Wilson observed during her site inspection that a large tree (Ristantia pachysperma) on the northern bank near the tributary, that was helping to stabilize part of the bank, had collapsed and was filling the northern end of the Blue Hole. Dr Wilson surmises that a fact that may have contributed to its collapse was people climbing this tree to access a rope swing. Access to this tree would have compacted the soil at the base, which was eventually eroded and washed away by floodwater.
This proposal to provide unrestricted pedestrian access for recreation will devastate Cooper Creek Wilderness, which was effectively expropriated of development capability when it was compulsorily inscribed within Australia’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, except for the highly regulated provision of public access to World Heritage goods and services on a user-pays basis.
For years Cooper Creek Wilderness has formally requested a seat at the negotiating table to develop a cooperative solution to a complex management issue across multiple tenures, but has hitherto been denied such an invitation. Providing free-entry, unrestricted public access to that which Cooper Creek Wilderness has been compulsorily regulated to provide on a user-pays basis, is unconscionable.
There is a very acceptable solution to this matter that doesn’t involve the destruction of Cooper Creek Wilderness, but it would seem the proponents of this draft are resolutely disinterested.