Tuesday, 2 May 2017

This War Memorial Park Is Under Siege.

  Manly Warringah War Memorial Park is a living monument of national heritage listed bushland –a tribute to Australians who have served in times of war..

The fragile mantle of rare biodiversity surrounds a body of water known as Manly Dam (originally acting as the water supply for the settlement of Manly). What makes it even more significant is that this beautiful and sacred place, rich also in Aboriginal heritage, is only 5 km's from central Sydney's concrete heart.

At the beginning of this century there was a momentous, but losing, struggle to save some of the bushland catchment from being bulldozed for a housing development. Check out a short video history here:

  Sadly...fifteen years later the sanctity of this special area is again being threatened on four fronts .

1/  Primary School expansion threatens threatened species.

 The Department of Education has lodged a Development Application with Warringah Council (now Northern Beaches Council) (View Documents Here - to build a new school in bushland behind the current Manly Vale school in Sunshine St. There are currently 400 plus students at the school..this would be expanded to over 1,000. The on-line documents show that the school's "footprint" would grow five fold and that 4.37 hectares would be "removed" primarily for Fire Asset Protection Zones. This bushland is a mixture of "Coastal Sandstone Heath Mallee, Sandstone Gully Forest and Sydney Sandstone Woodland  and is rated "very high" conservation value on Warringah Council maps). To comply with fire regulations the bushland would need to be cleared across the boundary into the Manly Warringah War Memorial Park and also into Condover Reserve, these are both natural places which are much valued by the community. The online documents show amazingly that the Eastern Pygmy Possum has been located on site (this unusual creature doesn't even appear as existing in the current Manly Warringah War Memorial Park Plan of Management!)  The Dept of Education's environmental consultant (Kleinfelder) has listed 327 trees which are planned for 'removal' as part of the development. These include Blackbutts, Silvertop ash, Bloodwoods, Grey Gums, Sydney Peppermint, Stringybark..all the beautiful endemic species that make the McComb Hill escarpment so special. Of course innumerable smaller shrubs will also be cleared and, in the process, the unique biodiversity of the hilltop- which is re-emerging after ecological burns, will be trampled and lost. (Many native trees have already been removed around the current school building for fire safety purposes) Check out the Final Species Impact Statement from Klienfelder and the response from Warringah Council's Natural Environment Unit. Keinfelder's report notes that the majority of potential habitat for the Eastern Pygmy Possum in the study area is considered to be of "high relative condition". It also notes that "No recovery plan has been prepared for this species. However, OEH is developing a targeted strategy for this species under the Saving Our Species program. This species has been assigned to the ‘landscape species management stream’ under the program as threats to this species are generally at the landscape scale (e.g. habitat loss and degradation)." The report admits that "potential deaths of resident individuals could occur during vegetation clearing".

 Adult Eastern Pygmy Possum 
(photo Gavin Smith)
In addition to this, at least four other endangered fauna species ( the Powerful Owl, the Eastern Bentwing Bat and the Grey Headed Flying Fox). Other iconic species animals such as Swamp Wallabies, Lace Monitors and Bandicoots also call this ridge-top location home. In fact surveys conducted (after a prescribed burn) have located 44 fauna species and 131 native plant species on site. Flora and Fauna Consultants, Total Earth Care conclude that  the proposal is "likely to have a 'significant impact' on the following threatened species:  Prostanthera marifolia  Tetratheca glandulosa  Pimelea curviflora var. curviflora  Red-crowned Toadlet  Southern Brown Bandicoot. The Consulting Company 'Kleinfelder' in its Preliminary Species Impact Statement remarks that the proposal would "contribute to ongoing incremental loss and degradation of habitat for (the listed endangered species) in the Warringah LGA".  Importantly, Keinfelder's survey somehow failed to detect the presence of the Red Crowned Toadlet which is listed as "vulnerable" and has been recently recorded by others (more than once) in the "asset protection zone" and logged on the NSW Office of Environment website

Check this link for rare and endangered animals in Warringah going going....

(Australia has undergone an extraordinary rate of mammal fauna decline in the last 200 years, with over 10% of our endemic terrestrial species lost forever and a further 21% of fauna currently threatened. This is a stark comparison
to the world’s modern day extinction rate of 1.5%. 28 Australian mammal species that have gone extinct since 1788

The development plans also include substantial excavations for stormwater ponds, pipes and roads in a fragile catchment area that drains ultimately into Manly Creek via Mermaid Pool the site of an important ongoing restoration project Mermaid Pool Restoration Blog   

Kleinfelder’s own SIS report details numerous other adverse effects that the proposed development will have on this ecologically sensitive site:-Sediment, pollutant and nutrient run-off; Soil erosion, Habitat fragmentation/isolation; Altered hydrology regimes;Weed invasion;  Introduction and spread of pathogens (e.g. Dieback Fungus (Phytophthora) and Myrtle Rust (Uredo rangelii);  Noise;  Dust; Light pollution; and Increased human activity adjacent to sensitive vegetation/habitat. Their report also  says that "it is assumed that all native vegetation within the proposed development site would be removed, including all vegetation strata".

What makes this matter worse is that the community managed to save much of this same land in 1995 when a plan by Landcom to build a medium density housing project here was rejected and the land was ultimately incorporated into
Manly Warringah War Memorial Park.  This is in an area currently earmarked for  the fire buffer zone clearing. Development across the site has the potential to  also disturb  Aboriginal cultural heritage items.

The irony is that this school was once designated as a NSW “Centre of Excellence in Environmental Education”. Even their own designated "conservation" area is scheduled for destruction ! Despite this the school's website proclaims that "the school has maintained an ongoing commitment to environmental education which is integrated into daily life" Surely there is a better way to improve this facility without sacrificing an area of such high natural values!  Why can't the school use their current building footprint and build up instead of out
Google Map

[NB Apparently alternatives were explored through a feasibility study: Manly Vale Public School Upgrade - Gateway Business Case (2014). But this document is considered classified information and is not available for public view].

This is the environmental Education Bill as introduced by Dr Terry Metherall (NSW Liberal Government) in 1992 Hansard

Below is a link to a short film clip and some images of the fragile bushland that borders the school grounds and Manly Warringah War Memorial Park.

And below is another short video by David Sawyer which highlights the habitat values of the area.

On 29th March 2016.Warringah Council voted unanimously NOT to willingly agree to a request from the Department of Education to acquire crown land in Manly Warringah War Memorial Park and Condover Reserve to enable a massive fire break to be established. Mayor Michael Regan said this in the Manly Daily on2.4.16 " Manly Vale Public School desperately needs an upgrade and the precious bushland of Manly Dam War Memorial Park (sic) needs to be protected. I was proud of Councillors this week who unanimously voted to oppose the sale of 16,000 sqm of Manly Dam wildlife corridor to the Department of Education for its school redevelopment plans. But why did we have to fight in the first place? Why can't the Department of Education find a design for the school that preserves the environment? Surely an investment in good design now, would reap enormous benefits for all in the long term-including teachers and students. Councillors and I call on the Department to rethink its plans. 

Sadly moves to compulsorily acquire (and clear) land in Manly Dam Reserve and Condover Reserve are now proceeding.

(Sept 2016) After intense community and Council pressure the Department of Education is now modifying the plans and a new D.A. will be submitted soon. There are fears that the redesign will be of a minor and superficial nature.  If the new school was built on the original footprint as was originally conceived, then the environmental destruction would be kept to a minimum. 

(Nov 2016) I turns out that the modified plans will save only 0.35 hectares of bushland and will intensify the impact on the School's Outdoor Learning area.  In fact new buildings will sit on top of the Eastern Pygmy Possum habitat !  Lobbying against this damaging proposal continues as we await a date for the Joint Regional Planning Panel review.

(Dec 2016) On 19.12.16 at the Northern Beaches Council Chambers in Dee Why, the Sydney North Planning Panel ruled 3 to 2 in favour of the Department of Education's destructive expansion plan for Manly Vale School. There were 28 speakers against the proposal (inc Council Administrator, Dick Persson) and 3 speakers for. The wheels are now in motion for ongoing land clearing, tree felling and habitat destruction in this area of rich natural heritage.


(DEC 19th 2016)

The Sydney North Planning Panel (ina public meeting at Northern Beaches Council Chambers Dee Why)..voted 3-2 to approve the contentious Manly Vale School Development.

Dillwynia Retorta
Epacris Longiflora
Xanthorrhoea (Grass Trees)
Lambertia Formosa (Mountain Devil)
Lobelia Dentata
Woollsia Pungens
Rocky Overhang
Sundew (Drosera Binata) Carniverous Plant
Xanthorrhoeas (Grass Trees)
Views Looking West Across to Manly Dam
(Manly Warringah War Memorial Park)

2/ Sydney Water land belongs in park

 A parcel of Sydney Water bushland at Kirkwood St, Seaforth was deemed surplus to requirements and consequently advertised for sale and subsequent development. This former Crown land had inexplicably been zoned R2 (low density housing) by Warringah Council (despite being surrounded by the park on three sides. After a flurry of protests, the land has currently been withdrawn from auction. The community is asking the NSW Premier and the Minister for Land and Water to transfer this land for incorporation in the War Memorial Park. Below is the property as advertised by Blackleys Estate Agents:- 

A newspaper article,31.5.16, reports that the sale of this land has been put on hold "indefinitely" .Manly Daily   The community will continue to work towards ensuring that the land is encompassed within the War Memorial Park. 

3/  Will Council compromise the catchment?

  Warringah Council has (very questionably) withdrawn the entire Warringah Aquatic Centre precinct from the War Memorial Park Management Plan and has an elaborate 'Master Plan" to develop and commercialise the area.  At this stage there seems to be no consideration of the fact that this land is at the top of the sensitive Manly Dam catchment and that expansive areas of rare vegetation would need to be cleared to comply with modern fire safety regulations. It is also believed that this is still technically Crown land, and therefore, outside the jurisdiction of council to sub lease it. Council has now concurred that a much needed environmental impact study needs to be instigated before further action is taken  (surely the high conservation value of the area has already been well documented)  More details here:-


The new Northern Beaches Council is currently assessing tender submissions.

This area is now being earmarked for Frenchs Forest school..which would mean more extensive land clearing for fire safety.

4/ Massive New Roadways are Destroying Wildlife Corridors.

Check out the plans for immense new freeways past the new French's Forest Hospital (which in itself has replaced a site of incredibly high ecological significance. 

Another 6.1 hectares of bushland is earmarked to be flattened here, important wildlife corridors are being replaced by increased roadkill and the fragile Manly Dam Catchment will be exposed to increased siltation and stormwater pollution.

View the Biodiversity Assessment Report.
Must the community have to continually strive to protect Manly Warringah War Memorial park from assault or can government step in and provide the long term conservation it deserves?

Manly Warringah War Memorial Park is the largest single area of bushland managed by a local council in Sydney’s northern beaches. It is a valuable natural area for the protection of native flora and fauna. Linkages to other reserves (both Council managed and National Parks) through bushland corridors, provides an important genetic exchange and contributes to a more sustainable biodiversity for the wider region. Its role in the region is unique and its attributes are highly valued by the community and visitors to the Park.

(From MWWMP Plan of Management)

Check out this Guardian article on habitat loss and extinction

Monday, 1 May 2017

Art for Nature's Sake

  It always seems to me that artists, photographers and musicians appear to have a special connection to the natural world. Maybe, because of their creative empathy, they have a heightened sensitivity to the world's, beauty, wonder and awe.

  Whenever a fundraiser is organised to protect forests, bushland or marine environments, guess who always put their hands up first to contribute time and talent? Yes the financially challenged artists. And when my local paper, the Manly Daily, asks for photographic contributions from the readership...the subsequent published works invariably seem to be of seashores, birds, animals or trees.

  It’s a strange compulsion that beckons humanity to paint but, like many others, I too was drawn to examine and attempt to represent some of the miracles of nature through art. I could never hope to do any of it justice of course. In fact to me, nature, at every level, is already in a state of perfection (although human behaviour is probably the exception to that general rule).  In an era when the world is losing so much of its precious wild things and wild places...just capturing it on canvass, began to seem a futile waste of time.  

  So, I decided to try and convey an environmental message through the imagery. At least that way it seemed slightly more constructive. Maybe I could, in a very minor way, help communicate the urgent plight of our world to a new audience and gradually, bit by bit, collective consciousness might work to turn things around?  OK OK its a ridiculous concept but it’s all I've got to work on at the moment!!

 Here are a few examples of my small scale environmental campaigning through art.

This piece, titled "Ascension" represents the view, looking up to the sky, through trees in a forest clearing. Conversely, others feel it is more indicative of looking down into a deep ocean. The materials used are acrylics, inks and bitumen on sheet aluminium 

This work, using similar materials,is titled "Feeling a bit Fragile". It represents a frenzied planet earth under intense stress in a volatile universe.

 There is an old English proverb that states, 'the eyes are the window to the soul.' This saying stems from a passage in the Bible, Matthew 6:22-23. According to Scientists, patterns in the iris can give an indication of whether we are warm and trusting or neurotic and impulsive. I'm fascinated by the deep and inscrutable eyes of reptiles. There seems to be an ancient but impenetrable wisdom emanating from those dark pools of life. This image was painted on canvas using acrylic paint,inks and bitumen.

A highly regarded local environmentalist used to hold an annual fundraiser to help protect Tasmania's ancient forests from industrial logging. This painting is called "The Last Tree Standing" and represents a devastated landscape with one sole tree surviving...a casualty of such rapacious logging practices. In Tasmania, large areas of forests are clear-felled, bulldozed and burnt- the trees being wood-chipped and sent to Japan to be made into paper. In recent times some of the high conservation forests were given World Heritage status and protected as part of a momentous agreement between the logging industry and environmentalists.

The Australian government wants to log these ancient trees once more.
 Australia's Prime Minister (and local MP), Tony Abbott, sought to de-list 74,000 hectares of these unique forests from the World Heritage register, making them once more accessible for logging and taking us back to the dark ages.

This painting represents the precious ocean environment that encircles Sydney. In fact there are more marine species found inside Sydney Harbour than around the whole coastline of Britain!  The NSW government is currently working to reduce marine sanctuary protection and has put a moratorium on declaring any new Marine Parks.  

Recently on Manly Beach, community members gathered to protest against weakening marine sanctuary protection.

This piece, called "Green Confessions" was exhibited in the 2013 Warringah Art prize within the "Waste to Art" category. It was produced using paper, paint and inks on an sheet aluminium base.  Warringah Council replaced their Flannel Flower logo (representing our local native flora) with a soulless stylized W shape. This work included numerous Flannel Flowers with the word "sold" emblazoned across them. This was to represent the ongoing loss of our beautiful, and colourful, bushland with the ugly sprawl of encroaching housing developments. The change of logo, without community consultation seemed to epitomise this bleak scenario.

This piece was hung in the Warringah Art Exhibition in 2000. At that time there was a huge community campaign to stop the "Ardel" housing development at Frenchs Forest destroying pristine bushland in the Manly Dam catchment. Its long term effect would also reduce water quality and impact on aquatic fauna (such as the unique Climbing Galaxias fish). The metallic fish skeletons with the title "Manly Dam's Future" contributed to the protest.

"Echidna Speaks" is a small 'Waste to Art' sculpture which was a finalist in the 2016 Northern Beaches Art Prize.  Made from salvaged, scavanged and discarded materials, it highlighted the threat to wildlife from the proposed Manly Vale School expansion. Rather than adopt the original concept design Dept of Education Planners wish to situate new premises on top of the school's outdoor education area. Fire regulations mean that habitat for 6 threatened species will have to be cleared for a huge fire break if this design proceeds.

This is a photograph (using a macro lens) of some tiny mould spores on a gardening glove. It was one of five works chosen for display in the 'Four Elements Earth' exhibition in Nov 2016 (Northen Beaches Creative Space). The message here is that we tend to ignore the fragile beauty all around us whilst only valuing distant views.  If people can really appreciate the small miracles in their surroundings..maybe they'll be more protective of nature??

Another semi abstract image with an environmental message. This time the viewer has to piece together their own sentance from ellusive words scattered amidst the disembodied eyes. The gist is that the natural wealth of the world is being spruiked and sold off to "customers".

This piece is painted on aluminium and the design created using a sgraffito technique.  It pays homage to indigenous art.

This is a photograph (using a macro lens) of a brown striped marsh frog tadpole -filmed on top of a delicately decomposed leaf.  My love of nature emanated from observing the teeming but largely unnoticed world within a backyard pond.

This image is of frentetically interweaving tubes, worm or snake like structures...incredibly ..whilst I was painting it...I was visited 3 times by a real life green tree snake !! (see below)