Peter Morgan, NPA Clarence Valley Branch

Yuraygir National Park has recently had a significant addition of 1,368 ha in the Clarence Peak area, including the east-west flowing Oak Flat Creek.

The addition links an isolated 108 ha section of the national park to the main body, providing long-term benefits as a corridor, and permanent protection for a relatively undisturbed environment.

This addition also brings my involvement in national parks full circle in many ways, from starting out as a complete innocent about national parks, their management and the politics surrounding them, to completing almost forty years on a National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Committee.

Back in 1978 or 1979, I heard about a palm forest below Clarence Peak near Brooms Head.  This was before the establishment of Yuraygir National Park, with the consolidation of Angourie, Minnie Water and Red Rock National Parks. It was also before I knew very much about national parks or conservation.  The best that could be said was that I had warm fuzzy feelings about them, having been a member of ACF, and enjoying the natural environment. I had not heard of the National Parks Association at that time.  That came about in 1980, when the Clarence Valley Branch was formed.

However, I was intrigued by the description of this palm forest and did a walk out to have a look.  What I found left me quite amazed.  What I found was a creek deeply cut into an otherwise flat area dominated by grass and dry forest.  And along the creek line with their crowns pushing above the edges, was a palm forest with rainforest elements.

At the time I hadn’t seen anything like that before, and I showed photos of the palm trees to a geography teacher with whom I worked – Stan Mussared*. I asked Stan (the only person I knew who might have known about such things) “do you think this would make a good national park?”.

Stan has since said that he remembers that conversation well, and remembers it as an important moment that set him off on a career in conservation and volunteering.

That talk encouraged me to put something on paper, and I thought those national parks people should know about it. So I took in my submission, handwritten with photos, and gave it to a nice man named Guy Holloway.  I remember saying in the submission that this should be made into a national park and, if I remember correctly, saying ‘it is unique in my experience’.  I kid you not, he didn’t laugh at me.

Later, I got a copy of the Fox Report on the proposed Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory, and found in that the definition of a national park adopted by Australian and New Zealand ministers.

I thought this was something those national parks fellows ought to know about, so I did an addendum to my submission and took it in. I was referred (fobbed off?) to a fellow with wild hair and a beard who turned out to be the Regional Planner, Bob Friederich.  He also didn’t laugh me out of the office.

Bob became a great mentor to me, and took someone who had nothing more than a warm fuzzy feeling about national parks and nature and, along with people in the NPA such as Paul Barnes, Alan Catford, Milo Dunphy, brought me up to speed.

A few things then happened including the formation of The Clarence Valley Branch of the NPA, and my appointment to the newly formed Yuraygir National Park Advisory Committee.

There have been lots of submissions but perhaps none so dear as that first modest effort.

There were bigger campaigns: the Grafton Pulp Mill proposal, power lines through Bundjalung NP and Iluka Nature Reserve, and in Yuraygir National Park, vehicles on beaches, and more. There was a successful five-day case in the Land and Environment Court to prevent the  government reopening the road to Shelley in northern Yuraygir.

Over the years, there were many additions of what were termed 8B lands to Yuraygir National Park, filling in gaps and rationalising the boundaries.  But the palm trees on Oak Flat Creek went right off the radar, lost in all the other stuff.

Until now.

So now, just as my time on the Advisory Committee has ended, the palms have been added to Yuraygir, and it is a nice bit of closure for a life in national parks.

*Stan Mussared received the Alan and Beryl Strom Volunteer Occasional Award for 2018

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