"Wilderness Matters" - 25 years of protecting the Hinchinbrook Channel

Display open to the public!

Wilderness Matters Multimedia display

WHERE: Cardwell & District Historical Society (next to police station)
WHEN: Until 16th November 2019

The event is coming to Townsville soon in November - more details to come!


The opening event was wonderful!

In the small town of Cardwell (150 kilometres North of Townsville) 53 of us gathered on Saturday 26th October 2019 to mark 25 years since a Proclamation by the Governor-General of Australia was issued over a section of the Hinchinbrook Channel to give the Commonwealth Government powers to control development activities on the Keith Williams development site on the mainland at Oyster Point. The intent was to prevent impacts on the GBRWHA, including Hinchinbrook Island National Park and the Hinchinbrook Channel. It required the developer to get Commonwealth approval before felling a 40-foot high fringing mangrove forest.  Activists had come to join the Hinchinbrook Campaign from all over Australia.


The Wilderness Matters display was proof of the bitter, highly confrontational and literally muddy battle between conservationists and real estate property developers in the late 1990s. Many newspaper clippings, scrap books and important documents were part of this multimedia display. 



Video footage included Margaret Thorsborne’s lone figure confronting the ‘dozers as they uprooted mangroves along the shore, muddy clashes between dozer drivers and activists on the mud flats with the cops watching from the distance, and the famous boarding of the dredge. There was even a 2 metre long fibreglass "white shoe" on display symbolising the “white shoe brigade” style of development that became rife in Queensland during the 1980s and 1990s!

To mark the occasion, we all gathered under a tent seated in the round, to an open mic session to share stories about the significance of the Hinchinbrook campaign and why it hasn't actually ended yet, with the Qld Government's recent plan to offer private tourism leases on Hinchinbrook Island National Park!  Kenn Parker and Steven Nowakowski were the main speakers.  Steven reminded us that this campaign was not just about stopping an inappropriate marina canal estate that was to be larger than the Cairns marina or resort but the wider impacts of dredging in one of the world's most pristine areas.  It was also about the pressure on the Hinchinbrook Island National Park with talk of scenic flights, high-impact infrastructure, possibly resort development on the Island and higher visitation rates beyond sustainable levels.




The Hinchinbrook campaign sparked the creation of local group, Friends of Hinchinbrook, and became a major issue and caught the attention of many regional organisations like NQCC and its Cairns equivalent, CAFNEC. But it also caught the attention of the larger state and national organisations like Wildlife Preservation Society Qld (WPSQ) and its Branches, Queensland Conservation Council (QCC), the Wilderness Society (TWS) and Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).  Ultimately, the campaign was not won as the development went ahead but there were many successes along the way, one of which was the reason for the Wilderness Matters Event.



Photo : Steven Nowakowksi


Twenty-five years ago, on the 16th November 1994, the Federal Labor Government stepped in. Using his powers under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983 (Cth), Environment Minister Senator John Faulkner issued the proclamation which gave the Commonwealth the power to prevent activities, specifically in this case the clearing of mangroves, which would damage the area’s WH values. A second stop work order was made a few days later to prevent other activities, including dredging, with the potential to damage to these values. This was a ban on certain activities of the Port Hinchinbrook development that would damage World Heritage values such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Hinchinbrook Channel and Hinchinbrook Island. 

The banned activities was the removal of mangroves (to deliver the promised 'million' dollar ocean views from the marina and resort) and the proposed dredging of the channel for marina boat access.  Investigations were established to examine the likely impacts of these activities on the WH values and, despite threats from the developer that he would “walk away” from the project, meetings continued between the developer, the State and Federal governments as to what would be allowed.


On 19th February 1996, as a result of the Mundingburra by-election, the ALP lost power to the National Party led coalition in Queensland. And on the 2nd March the Federal Labor Government lost power to the coalition led by John Howard. In July 1996 the new Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill, gave Commonwealth approval subject to some restrictions (but less stringent than those imposed by his predecessor Senator Faulkner).


The Port Hinchinbrook development went ahead including the removal of mangroves but the dredging of the Hinchinbrook Channel was never approved to proceed.  However, according to an Abc article from May 2019 'During the election campaign, the LNP promised it would spend $1.5 million to dredge Hinchinbrook Channel, which is connected to the muddy marina, if re-elected.'



- Tarquin Moon

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