Flashback Friday | Residents rise up in 1968 against plans for airport on Towra Point

The biggest public meeting Sutherland Shire had ever seen helped kill off plans for an airport at Towra Point.

The 1400 people, who packed into a car park at Miranda Fair in 1968, were given a taste of what they could expect if the plans went ahead.

A recording of jet engines under full throttle was played through loud speakers.

It was a repeat dose of what had taken place in the weeks leading up to the meeting when a Sutherland Shire Council station wagon, fitted with amplifiers, cruised shire streets.

“Council’s ganger and former councillor, Jimmy Stansell, in ear-muffs, drove the system over 700 miles around the shire, broadcasting the noise at about 40 times the level of ordinary public address broadcasting,” former shire president Arthur Gietzelt recalled in his memoirs, Sticks and Stones.

“The effect was dramatic. When the vehicle parked in shopping centres and let off a blast, the shopkeepers promptly appeared and signalled the driver on with rude gestures – if only we could get rid of jet noise that easily!

When it parked outside blocks of home units, the reaction was similarly spontaneous – windows and doors slammed shut.

“The minute-and-a-half broadcast of jet noise was followed immediately by an apology from Council and an explanation of the fact that unless a protest was made, the noise could well become a daily occurrence in the life of the shire’s residents.”

The council’s campaign against the proposal also included a letter box drop of a pamphlet to every home in the shire.

The symbol of the campaign was a jet aircraft in stark silhouette and the slogan The Shadow over the Shire.

“Towra Point is a large, wetland peninsula; it is flat and in part, tidal. In other circumstances, it would easily lend itself as a landing place for airplanes,” Mr Gietzelt would write later.

“It is and was, however, critical habitat for shorebirds and an important resting place for migratory birds from the northern hemisphere. It also contains significant vegetation communities such as mangroves; provides a haven for breeding and juvenile fish; and has been described as one of Sydney’s pristine crown jewels on the edge of suburbia.

“The fact that it was a unique ecological haven for birds and aquatic life was not understood by governments or their advisors; it fell to the council, conservationists, and others in the community to be vigilant about the area’s future.”

During the first half of the 1960s, federal and state  governments quietly planned for Towra Point to be the location for a second Sydney airport.

The idea was praised by the Liberal MP for Cronulla Ian Griffith in a media release in 1965, which said the federal Department of Civil Aviation “desired to obtain approximately 1500 acres on the southern shore of Botany Bay bounded by Towra Point in the north to Wanda Recreation Reserve in the south, between Quibray Bay and Woolooware Bay.”

Council and public uproar led to the the idea being put on the back burner, but it resurfaced in a big way in a front page report in the Leader on July 19, 1967.

The east-west flight path would straddle most of Sutherland Shire and the new, exclusive Sylvania Waters estate would be “slap bang on the low point of the proposed flight path”, the report said.

The Leader also reported “a welter of confusion” over the matter, recalling a statement by Cr Gietzelt in 1963 that “construction of an international airport on the Kurnell peninsula would be a great boon to Sutherland Shire.”

Following the council’s campaign, Prime Minister John Gorton backed away from the plans but it was not till the election of the Whitlam government that the plans were officially dropped.

In May 1974, Mr Whitlam announced the federal government would acquire Towra Point and preserve it as a national park, and would sign the International Convention for the Protection of Wetlands of International Significance.

LEADER FLASHBACK 

Every Friday we delve into the Leader archives to embark on some time travel.

We will bring you photographs of a news event from 57 years of Leader news coverage that you may or may not recall.

Flashback Friday submissions are also welcomed.

Feel free to share your recollections with us on our Facebook page @SutherlandShireStGeorgeNews or email leaderletters@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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