44 years of community education, walking and activism

Gary Schoer and Peter Vaughan, Executive Committee, Southern Sydney Branch

The Sutherland Sub Branch (of Sydney Branch) of the National Parks Association of NSW was established in 1972. Bob Spencer was the first Convenor. In 1973 Gary Schoer was encouraged by Bob to step into this role. On the 6th of August 1986 a meeting was held to elect office bearers and establish a full Southern Sydney Branch of NPA; 27 members attended the meeting at Gymea Community Centre.

After the 1986 election Bob Crombie, a ranger at Royal National Park, spoke on the issues threatening the Hacking River and Royal National Park, especially the proposed Helensburgh urban development. NPA joined with Total Environment Centre and local groups in fighting to prevent a major expansion of urban development in the catchment of Royal National Park. This success provided the momentum for the Branch to be a key group for advocating for “The Royal” and southern Sydney’s natural areas ever since.

Regular slide show nights have educated locals about the natural wonders of this region and the continuing threats. This has helped to create a broad network of friends who have been ongoing allies as we have fought the ‘forces of darkness’ continually threatening southern Sydney.

The example of model Branch Member, Milton Way demonstrates why Southern Sydney Branch has earned a reputation for being a strong activist Branch as well as being strongly focused on community education and recreation.

Milton was involved with Friends of the Hacking River (FOTHR) Group helping to prevent urban expansion at Helensburgh. He rallied against the Mega Tip Proposal at Lucas Heights, did volunteer Bushcare at Towra Point Nature Reserve, Kurnell peninsula for many years, and lobbied against the proposed near-shore sand extraction off Cronulla Beach and against the cogeneration plant at Kurnell. Milton was a very active member of Kurnell Regional Environmental Planning Council (KREPC) and the Towra Point Steering Committee (1997 to 2005). Milton was an active NPA representative on Botany Bay and Catchment Alliance (BBACA), a network of 32 environmental groups around Botany Bay. Milton deservedly received a Centenary (of Federation) Medal for Community Service in 2000. Milton passed away on 27th November 2016.

Networking has always been an important aspect of the success of Southern Sydney Branch.

Our Branch has monthly strategy meetings to supplement the slideshows, where ordinary members can join with the executive team to plan how we will respond to threats and run campaigns to ensure Southern Sydney’s natural lands and waters have a sustainable future. We have borrowed from the world of business in working to a Branch Corporate Plan which is regularly reviewed. This allows certainty and direction compatible with NPA’s state policies.

Some of the Branch’s notable achievements in cooperation with other groups, and especially Sutherland Shire Council, Total Environment Centre and Sutherland Environment Centre (which has mostly worked hard to conserve areas not earmarked for urban expansion), include:

  • Preventing Menai tip expanding into Mill Creek and north of present boundary. (NPA worked with Menai Progress Association to convince ANSTO to use degraded lands in one mile exclusion zone rather than move operations into pristine river valley.)
  • Conserving bush in Upper Hacking Valley (Helensburgh)
  • Adding Lands to Heathcote National Park, Georges River National Park and Towra Point Nature Reserve.
  • Stopping Sand Mining off Royal National Park
  • Conserving significant remnant bushland areas at Menai and Gymea.
  • Making significant contributions to Macarthur Branch’s campaign, which resulted in gazettal of Dharawal National Park.

Our Branch is now commonly consulted by National Parks management on issues such as bike riding in Royal NP, Deer management strategies and precinct planning, and we have regular meetings with management to explore opportunities for mutual support. The state of Southern Sydney’s bushland and waterways in 50 years time will be one indicator of the success of efforts to conserve our patches of bush.

Several members have led walks for decades. At Southern Sydney, there is a niche for everyone to use their talents to continue to make this a very strong Branch within NPA.

Our Branch is currently contributing to NPA’s efforts to create a Sydney Marine Park, and regularly engages with local politicians and national parks management to advocate for diverse local and state-wide issues in cooperation with multiple groups. Our precious Royal National Park and other major natural areas are under more threat than ever from would be developers and increasing visitation pressures.

If any members have old photos, stories or information on the history of the Branch (especially prior to 1986) please contact Brian Everingham, Southern Sydney Branch’s interim newsletter editor or Gary Schoer.