THE gazettal yesterday of Dharawal National Park climaxed a community campaign which started in the 1980s.
Premier Barry O’Farrell confirmed the 6500 hectare conservation area on Sydney’s southern fringe would be protected to the centre of the Earth, preventing mining taking place beneath it.
Environmental groups, who had grown nervous by a three-month delay in the proclamation, were delighted.
‘‘Knowing what BHP had planned for Dharawal, I really thought national park status was the impossible dream,’’ said secretary of the Georges River Alliance, Sharyn Cullis.
‘‘Dharawal was virtually an invisible landscape, with rich coking coal underneath already ‘granted’ by lease to BHP.
‘‘Who, honestly, would dare think it had any future [as a national park]?
‘‘It was set to become the shattered and desiccated collateral damage of a mining project.’’
Ms Cullis said that groups such as Oatley Flora and Fauna Conservation Society, the Botany Bay and Catchment Alliance and the National Parks Association, Southern Sydney branch, were very much a part of
‘‘The campaign had everything: the right mix of commitment from the ‘activists’, quality scientific argument, the vindication of findings from an independent inquiry, and most importantly media and political responsiveness,’’ she said.
Ms Cullis said ‘‘continuous coverage’’ by the Leader and sister paper, the Campbelltown-Macarthur Advertiser, had played a significant role in the outcome and she was ‘‘immensely grateful’’ to them.
Also present at the announcement were Environment Minister Robyn Parker and six Liberal MPs, including Mark Coure (Oatley) and Lee Evans (Heathcote), whose electorates take in the new park or are affected by it.
Mr O’Farrell said he was extremely proud a Coalition government had achieved in its first 12 months what the previous Labor Government could not deliver in 16 years.
Plans for new facilities, including a new loop walk from Darkes Forest to the spectacular Maddens Falls, will be exhibited, and a community celebration held on May 5.
BHP’S mining operations on the fringes of the new national park, as well as coal seam gas exploration, could still pose a threat to waterways within it.
Opposition environment spokesman Luke Foley said he was concerned coal seam gas drilling nearby could make Dharawal ‘‘nothing more than a Clayton’s national park’’.
Premier Barry O’Farrell said the Environmental Protection Authority would be aggressive in issuing fines for any damage caused to waterways by nearby mining activity.
Environment Minister Robyn Parker said Mr Foley’s comments amounted to “abject hypocrisy”, as the coal seam gas exploration licences were issued by the former Labor government.