I made bubble tea…accidentally.

I wondered how long the water bottle full of Powerade had been in the fridge.

I’d put it in the night before a long ride, but never did the long ride. Lockdown got in the way, then a sore back, then lockdown, rain, lockdown, mechanical problems…and another lockdown. Today’s hike is long enough to justify Powerade and a second bottle of water; even a cut lunch. And bubble tea.

I took a sip of my bubble tea before I set off on the long descent down the steep rocky steps which would carry me into the valley below. The sun was climbing and the light breeze on top of the escarpment was pleasantly cool.

About 10 minutes into the hike, I saw a man dragging himself up the steps.

“Hi”

“Hi,” he exhaled, looking frantic, tired and sweaty, it was warmer beneath the canopy.

“Are you going to the bottom?” he asked.

“Yep”

“My sons are halfway down, one of them left the stove on so I’ve gotta go to the top to get reception,” he puffed, “…to tell someone to turn it off. Can you check on them?”

“Sure”

And he resumed his battle with the steps.

The boys were comfortable and in good spirits. They had food and water.

“Are you guys hiking with your Dad?”

“Yep”

“He’s nearly at the top,” I explained, “he shouldn’t be too long.”

“Yeah,” they grunted, with the customary enthusiasm of adolescence. I had to ask:

“Which one of you left the stove on?”

“Me,” replied the youngest, about 12 or 13.

“Well, he made us come down here, and we made him go up there,” added the 15-year-old, “…so now we’re even.”

I kept walking.

After about 40 minutes of descending step after step after step I reached the valley floor and walked among towering blue gums set against a backdrop of sandstone cliffs. The sun pierced through the canopy and the birds played and sang in the trees, their melody broken only by a call from a fellow hiker.

“Oh, it’s Keith,” she exclaimed to a group of young adults who were listening to her engrossing tale.

“Hi Keith!”

I’m not Keith, and she soon realised as I approached.

“You look like Keith.”

I greeted the small group and asked them where they’d started their hike; at the top of the stairs I’d just descended, or from one of the two other trails which meet at this junction.

Hiker’s small talk, curiosity, politeness…

No response. The friend of Keith had returned immediately to her engrossing tale.

I kept walking.

I followed the river towards a campsite I hadn’t yet visited and wondered if I could reach the other side of the escarpment and make it back to the carpark in two to three hours. I had limited food but plenty of fluids, even some bubble tea.

I soon came across a friendly older gentlemen taking samples of the flora and making notes in a notebook. He told me he was an ecologist conducting a survey on the health of the bush in this particular patch of the valley. He was waiting for a young man whose impressive technological equipment would make his mapping much easier. Maybe I’d seen him.

Maybe. He might be among the group of young people at the junction, listening to a tale from a young woman with a backpack.

“Oh, Wendy, yeah, I know her. She’s on a five day expedition trying to get away from people and find some solitude, but apparently she keeps running into people, even people she knows.”

Including Keith, I surmised.

I left the ecologist to continue his survey and found a beautiful spot by the river to enjoy a peaceful lunch in the sunshine. I watched the water fold itself over and around the stones and followed the bubbles sliding like mercury over the stones in the refracted light.

I savoured my cut lunch and water, and sipped on my bubble tea, not yet realising it was bubble tea. To me it just tasted like Powerade and delightful refreshment as my body responded to the heat of the valley floor.

I followed the river for a few more minutes then turned back, deciding to tackle the hike to the other side of the escarpment another day, when I had more food, less hunger, new hiking shoes and more bubble tea.

I didn’t see the ecologists on the way back, nor did I see Wendy. Perhaps she’d found that elusive solitude. I didn’t meet Keith, nor would I know if I had, and I didn’t see the boys or their father. Hopefully he’d found someone to turn the stove off. Hopefully he’s found a way to motivate his reluctant teenagers.

Alas, all that was left was to ignore the heat and the accumulating sweat and ascend the steps to the carpark.

Step after step after step.

Sip after sip after sip.

My water was running low, but not yet empty. My bubble tea was running low, but not yet empty. I’d timed it well and should run out of water at the car park. Every sip of hydration was fuelling my body, but I knew at this point that the fillip was as much psychological.

A few more steps, a few more steps – and there it was. The viewpoint, the reward, and the end of a solid hike.

I shed myself of my sweaty, smelly shirt and slipped into something more comfortable for the short drive home. I also decided to empty the remnants of my water supply into the bottle with the Powerade, to sip on the way home.

That’s when I realised I’d made bubble tea…accidentally. I squeezed the remaining mixture from the bottom of the water bottle and felt something solid, but gooey, in my mouth.

I spat it out.

Yuk!

It felt like bubble tea. Solidified something wrapped in a coating of gooeyness. The translucent destruction of flavoursome iced-tea. Famous throughout Asia, but I’m not Asian.

“I’m very like bubble tea,” Chinese people would tell me in broken English. I’m very dislike bubble tea.

I spat out the bubble and realised there could be more in the bottom of the water bottle, so I ditched it. I reached for my other water bottle to wash my mouth out with water. It was empty. Of course, the water was in the bottom of the other bottle – with the bubble tea. It was the bubble tea.

How did this happen?

What have I been drinking all morning?

Will I get sick?

I rushed to the kitchen tap to rinse and replace the bubble tea. It was only when I emptied the water bottle into the sink that I saw it.

One single blob of solidified Powerade, like an oversized bubble in a bubble tea. Then I saw more, looking like bacteria or tadpoles. Had I just consumed tadpoles? I don’t think so, surely I would have felt them sliding down my throat. Why didn’t I know I was drinking bubble tea this whole time? I thought it was just plain old Powerade. Then I saw it. The blobs had attached themselves tightly to the inner walls of the water bottle. I had to scrape some off with my fingers.

I didn’t get sick. But then I didn’t get sick from my first COVID jab either. The water bottle has been soaked numerous times with hot water. I’m still deciding whether it’s safe to use again.

I will never again leave a bottle of Powerade in the fridge for weeks on end. I don’t recommend home-brewed bubble tea.

Image: Orimi Protograph

Aussie sports shooters to take on new role after Olympics.

Australia’s best sports shooters will shoot and kill invasive animals upon returning from Tokyo 2020 under a new plan devised by Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley.

The nation’s elite shooters will travel the country hunting and killing the invasive animals which are destroying Australia’s natural environment and its native wildlife. Australia has the highest rate of native mammal extinction in the world, and feral animals contribute greatly to this destruction. The estimated cost of invasive species was $AUD13.6 billion in the 2011-12 financial year alone.

“Australia’s best sports shooters will use their skill and experience to hunt and kill invasive animal species,” announced Ley.

“They will begin this important work upon the conclusion of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, and will continue until every feral animal is eliminated from Australia. We must eliminate invasive species from our land in order to protect the ecology of this country.”

Ley believes the initiative presents numerous benefits. Shooters will help rid Australia of destructive species while honing their skills in a realistic environment shooting at moving targets, enabling them to hopefully win more medals at the next games.

“This will be especially beneficial to ‘Shotgun’ competitors, who must hit a moving target during competition, as well as exponents of Rifle and Pistol disciplines. We are also confident that it will provide a competitive edge for our shooters over shooters from other nations at Paris 2024.”

Ley also explained that Olympic shooters are suitable for this task because they are likely to return to Australia with COVID-19, and spreading this disease among the animal population may be more efficient than shooting,

“And it’s much cheaper than bullets.”

Under the plan, shooters will be required to reach a quota of animals killed in order to receive continued sports funding from the Australian taxpayer.

“We believe this will incentivise shooters to carry out their task effectively. We also expect Bridget McKenzie to join the shooters on their hunt, because she knows all about sports funding and she loves to shoot.”

Australia’s natural environment is under great threat from a range of invasive species such as cats, foxes, deer, mice, rats, myna birds, camels, horses, pigs, dogs, rabbits, goats, donkeys, buffalo, carp and cane toads. All of these animals can be shot, including the much-maligned cane toad.

“Cane toads are hard to shoot, but when you hit one, gosh it feels good. Watching the toxins spurt out of its guts is why I love shooting,” explained one Aussie shooter.

Another benefit of assigning this role to sports shooters is that many invasive species are found on private land, and many shooters own this land, so it will be easier to gain access to areas where feral animals dominate.

Ley was excited at the proposed outcomes of this program, and the contribution that some of our Olympic competitors can make to the country.

“Eliminating feral animals from our continent is far more valuable to the country than an Olympic gold medal.”

Image: http://www.commonwealthgames.com.au

Another cat curfew in Australia.

The municipality of Knox in Victoria has introduced a 24-hour cat curfew on all domestic cats to come into effect on October 1, 2021. Cats must be confined to their owner’s property at all times and the new law was established for one primary reason; to protect native wildlife.

Owners face fines for failure to comply, and the rationale for the law also sites general nuisance and safety for cats. However, it is not difficult to read between the lines of the government document and determine the primary motivation for the move.

The council in Melbourne states that there are “…currently over 6,500 cats registered with Council.” Even if each cat kills only one native animal per day, that municipality will lose 6,500 native animals every day. In the space of a year…

The law should have been introduced long ago. It should be nationwide policy.

Cats are still the single most destructive introduced species in Australia. More destructive to wildlife than foxes, rabbits, horses, wild pigs, wild dogs, deer, camels, donkeys and even cane toads.

Cats are estimated to kill about 1.5 billion native animals per annum in Australia. This destruction is the work of domestic cats, stray cats and feral cats. All of these cats are derived from pet cats. Feline species have never been native to Australia.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1994 only 26% of domestic cats were confined both during the day and night. This means 74% of cats where roaming happily, hunting and destroying native wildlife. In the same year, 42,126 cats were dumped on the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Only 3% of the cats were reclaimed and 74% were put down.

Feral cats threaten at least 124 Australian species which are in danger of extinction, and cats are a major reason that Australia has the highest rate of native mammal extinction in the world – not per capita – outright.

Chantel Benbow is an ecologist, and some would say a hypocrite. She owns a cat and lets it roam free at night around the streets of inner Sydney. Her cat does wear a bib developed by Murdoch University, and utilised widely in the Eurobodalla Council region on the NSW far south coast. The bib claims to distract the cat from the prey, and to stop 81 per cent of cats from catching birds, 45 per cent of cats from catching mammals, and 33 per cent of cats from catching lizards and amphibians.

That said, Benbow still advises:

“If you want to have a pet cat, keep it indoors because they are hunters. They are beautiful, they are cute and fluffy but they will kill something.”

The municipality of Knox trialled the curfew in 2020 and more than 86% of residents are said to have supported the continuation of the program, including cat owners themselves.

Opponents or critics of the curfew might also argue that it is not necessary because they put a bell on their cat’s collar to alert wildlife. Their cats then roam guilt-free. Blue Mountains City Council, which administers a large area surrounded by national park, claims:

“Bells on collars don’t always work. Cats with bells can learn to stalk prey silently,” and

“…native animals don’t associate the sound of bells with danger.”

Knox is not the first community to introduce such a ban. Mount Barker near Adelaide implemented a similar law in 2019. The law proposed penalties for cats found roaming freely between 8pm and 7am, and a limit of two cats per property. The community lobbied for the law after becoming sick of domestic cats defecating on people’s properties, fighting in gardens and killing wildlife.

Similar laws aimed at protecting wildlife have also been trialled or implemented in Gawler, Adelaide Hills, Marion and Campbelltown in South Australia. The law in Gawler included a provision to ‘seize, detain and destroy’ any cat caught roaming within its boundaries if the animal isn’t claimed by its owner within three days.

Various forms of cat curfews are also being considered in locations such as Yarra Range Council in Victoria and Wollondilly Council in Sydney. Interestingly, a councillor from Wollondilly Council, Simon Landow, was quoted as saying that the plan had been met with great support, but that the rules had no teeth unless the state government enacted similar legislation.

Mount Barker, Knox and many of the regions mentioned above feature residential areas which adjoin an area of bushland or open space, where native wildlife can still be found. If that wildlife is to survive, a cat curfew must be implemented across the nation.

Image: Jae Park

Australia’s gone to the dogs. Part 1.

Australia has gone to the dogs. The nation is one of the world’s major drivers of climate change and is decimating its native wildlife and ecology, and is thus becoming an international pariah. The current government controls its gullible population with marketing spin, and education levels continue to decline. A tiny fraction of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and natural disasters arrive one after the other. But all Australians seem to care about are their dogs. Dogs are everywhere – in parks, beaches and cafes, and even public transport and libraries. This country has gone to the dogs.

Dogs v native animals

Australia is home to an estimated 29 million pets and about 25.7 million people. That’s right, more pets than people. We might have to stop teasing New Zealand about having so many sheep. Most of those pets are dogs and cats, and roughly one in three households has a pet dog.

Australia also has the world’s highest rate of native mammal extinction – outright. Pets are one cause of the extinctions. Cats are the single most destructive introduced species in the country, and wild dogs cause large-scale destruction. Wild dogs were once pet dogs. Native mammal extinction points to a disregard for native animals among Australian people who demonstrate an obsession with pet animals. Australians clearly prioritise dogs and cats over wildlife.

Natural disasters

Even during the Black Summer bush fires of 2019/2020, concern for pets over native animals was evident. Unfortunately, many pets were lost, but millions of native animals also perished in the unprecedented fires. However, at one emergency centre, evacuees complained that their pets were not allowed inside the building, because health and safety regulations prohibit the entry of pets into the premises. Evacuees and fellow Australians erupted on social media and blasted the evacuation centre co-ordinators. The dogs were safe, they had food, water and medical attention, and they were supervised outside the premises. Even some of the evacuees themselves chose to sit outside the building while they waited for the fires to be put out. Australians decried the treatment of pets, while millions of native animals were dying.

National parks

Pet dogs are banned from national parks in Australia. Domestic pets have an adverse effect on native wildlife. Some dog owners ignore signage and they take their dogs into national parks. According to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, rangers cannot effectively monitor all of the parks to prevent domestic pets from entering, because they lack the resources. National parks services are not sufficiently funded by government.

Where is the national outcry?

Why aren’t Australians demanding the protection of our national parks? Perhaps for the same reason that Aussies are not doing more to protect another national icon, the koala.

Experts warn that koalas could become extinct by 2050, and wild dogs are a major cause of koala deaths, along with land clearing and climate change. Environmental groups and concerned citizens are campaigning for habitat protection to ensure koala survival, but where are the owners of the 29 million pets?

Koalas are also a major contributor to the nation’s (pre-COVID-19) tourist sector and the economy. Tourists flock from all across the globe to see a koala up close. They will not fly halfway around the world to look at someone’s pet dog.

Wildlife shelter vs pet shelter

Controversy surrounds changes to the RSPCA NSW Blue Mountains Shelter in Katoomba, near Sydney. Essentially, the debate centres around the expansion and modification of the shelter to cater for native wildlife harmed by the 2019/2020 bush fires. The fires were so widespread in the Blue Mountains that the national parks and the animals therein are still being rehabilitated.

RSPCA members and community members have voiced objections to the inclusion of native wildlife in the shelter. The RSPCA conceded that:

“…wildlife could be stressed by the sight, sound or even smell of the dogs…” and thus dogs would have to be housed in a completely separate building. One member then stated:

“I am concerned for the dogs which will need to be locked away in the new, totally enclosed kennels…” and a local politician, Kerry Brown, expressed similar sentiments.

Many of the animals housed at the shelter are strays. They are animals left without a home due to the neglect of owners. Therefore, rehabilitation of native animals is being obstructed due to concern for dogs.

The RSPCA website states that:

“Along with cats and dogs, RSPCA helps a wide range of other animals from horses to rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, goats and sheep. All of these animals are non-native, (birds may be native or introduced). Rabbits cover Australia in plague proportions and destroy native flora and fauna, as well as crops. In contrast, an organisation called WIRES (Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service) cares for native animals. If the majority of Australians heard the names of these two organisations, which one would they be more familiar with?

Image: Gabriel Crismariu

Eastern Suburbs residents harbouring Australia’s biggest killers.

Eastern Suburbs residents have reacted with horror to the news that many of their neighbours have been harbouring Australia’s biggest killers for years, and getting away with it.

The harrowing revelations have only recently come to light and have spread fear and panic throughout the region, which is famed for its beautiful beaches, high standard of living and relative security.

The huge loss of life inflicted by these savage murderers has remained undetected and unpunished for so many years because it occurs mostly at night, while the region’s innocent children are safely tucked up in bed, and their parents are firmly engrossed in the latest crime thriller on their preferred streaming service.

“This news sent a chill down my spine, and continues to keep me awake at night,” reported one resident, who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisal.

“I grew up in the east, and I never thought this could happen here. How could someone knowingly house a creature that causes so much pain and suffering – and right next door to me?”

A fellow neighbour reacted with similar sentiment.

“I let my children visit and play in the neighbour’s house, even without us sometimes. They must have come in contact with the murderer while they were playing – oh, it’s just horrifying.”

Other residents have been faced with the decision of remaining in paradise, where their families are firmly entrenched, or moving in order to distance themselves from these mass murderers.

“But how do we know there aren’t more of them elsewhere in Sydney, or even the rest of the country?” despaired one local who is grappling with the decision.

Many residents remain perplexed that such vicious murderers have not only remained unpunished, but are afforded protection by the all three levels of government, the police and law enforcement agencies, and even large mainstream charitable organisations whose mandate is to protect all creatures great and small.

“Surely,” declared one harried long-time resident, “If so many lives have been lost, and the identity and location of the perpetrator is known, they should just get rid of them, to stop further loss of life.”

Other residents rejected the claims, arguing that if they were true, the region would be littered with dead bodies of the victims. Experts reminded them that the murderers are clever and cunning, and often commit their wicked acts in bushland and heavily wooded areas, where bodies can remain undetected. Furthermore, the bodies of their victims are often buried.

“The story becomes more macabre when we realise that most of these murderers return to their homes to be fed and showered with love and affection,” stated the expert.

Residents are thus asked to report sightings of cats, the single most destructive introduced species in Australia.

Image: istockphotos.com

First published in http://www.thebeast.com.au, April 2021.

Dogs Under Attack at Mackenzies Bay.

Dogs at Mackenzies Bay are under attack after Waverley Council approved plans to construct a park for SUVs at the tiny beach. The news has angered pet owners who resent the intrusion of off-road drivers into a space they are not allowed to use.

The showdown is set to rival the most brutal and bloody sporting contests in history after months of bickering between the two parties on social media.

An SUV driver sparked the conflict with a simple remark.

“An SUV would crush a little pooch,”

To which a pet owner replied,

“A medium-sized pet dog has the same carbon footprint as an SUV.”

From that point it was on.

The beachside fight will take place with no regard for social distancing or health concerns, and will begin as soon as council completes the construction of the SUV facilities.

An access road will plough through Gaerloch Reserve, across the coastal path and onto the rocks, and a boat ramp will be a launching site for jet skis. Hoses will allow drivers to wash the sand, oil, motor fluids and other debris straight into the ocean. Council has also opened a tender for a car wash café to be built on the site, but pet owners reminded drivers they have taken over every café in the Eastern Suburbs.

Vitriolic pre-fight tension included the following attacks:

“SUVs will scare away the sunbathers, we’ll have it all to ourselves,”

“But dogs scare coastal birds away, and many of them never come back to this resting spot.”

“We’ll rip a hole in this beach with our circle work,”

“Just watch our pets damage native and planted vegetation with their digging”

“Slip, slop, slap with motor oil,”

“Yeah, well SUVs don’t poo, but dog faeces alters the coastal soil’s nutrient profile.”

“That’s right,” supported a fur friend, “and our dogs will destroy the original soil and the ability of remnant native vegetation to regenerate”

Pooch parents reminded the drivers that most owners pick up after their dogs, before one of their members admitted to never scooping up a soggy dropping from a rock pool, and claimed that the natural tides of the bay wash away everything anyway.

The dirty drivers then boasted,

“Stormwater run off closes beaches for days,” which drew a counter attack,

“Faecal contamination impacts the health of swimmers and surfers at Mackenzie’s Bay and Tamarama Beach, and this pollution will disrupt sensitive marine biodiversity.”

Meanwhile, Waverley Council promised that Rangers will ensure the fight does not detract from the experience of other beachgoers, but will instead be great live entertainment for people on the coastal walk.

“Like an animated Sculpture by the Sea”

First published in The Beast magazine, March 2021.

Image: http://www.frugalfrolicker.com

Ban cat breeding in Australia.

It’s time to outlaw the breeding of cats in Australia. It’s time to reduce the number of cats in the country and start protecting native wildlife.

Cats are the single most destructive introduced species in the country and continued breeding will simply add to the number of cats and to the destruction of native animals. Cats that are bred in Australia primarily become pets or show cats and statitics indicate that most pet cats contribute greatly to the destruction of native wildlife.

Cats are estimated to kill about 1.5 billion native animals per annum in Australia. This destruction is the work of domestic cats, stray cats and feral cats. All of these cats are derived from pet cats. Feline species have never been native to Australia.

Breeding cats have the potential to cause great ecological harm because the animals are not de-sexed. While cat breeders may argue that they are responsible animal carers who find a home for all of their litter, the statistics indicate that many baby cats become stray or feral. Furthermore, once a kitten or cat is sold, the breeder has no control over the actions of that cat.

Cat breeding caters to a niche market. The cats are sold to people who desire a particular breed over another because owners believe a certain breed makes a better companion or a better show cat. There are currently 48 recognised cat breeds in the country, as well as various cross breeds. Owners insist on buying a particular breed, and this necessitates cat breeding. But no one needs a particular breed of cat – they can always choose from the remainder of the 48 breeds offered in Australia.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1994, only 26% of domestic cats were confined both during the day and night. This means 74% of cats where roaming happily, hunting and destroying native wildlife. In the same year, 42,126 cats were dumped on the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Only 3% of the cats were reclaimed and 74% were put down. Allowing the breeding of cats simply adds to the potential number of cats which will be dumped, stray or feral.

Cat breeders would no doubt object to the introduction of this law. They operate a legal business which generates income, but the animals they introduce to the Australian landscape cause unparalleled damage to the country’s wildlife.

What about other animals?

Opponents of such a law would argue that a blanket ban on the breeding of other animals must then also be introduced. If not, this is an unfair imposition on cat breeding businesses and an act of discrimination. However, the simple fact is that other animals do not cause as much damage to Australia’s wildlife.

People will import cats.

If people can’t obtain a cat of a certain breed of cat within Australia, they will simply import one from overseas. Authorities must therefore ban the importation of cats into Australia to support the ban on breeding.

Feral cats threaten at least 124 Australian species which are in danger of extinction, and cats are a major reason that Australia has the highest rate of native mammal extinction in the world – not per capita – outright. Attempts to reduce this destruction are ongoing and include feral cat eradication, stray cat control, de-sexing and domestic cat containment. These methods all carry their own complications, but banning cat breeding is a less complicated strategy.

Feral cat eradication

Feral cat eradication programs continue throughout the nation, with limited success. Feral cats occupy an estimated 99.8% of the Australian continent, can weigh up to 9 kilograms and have directly contributed to extinctions of more than 20 Australian mammals. The destruction continues because feline species are excellent hunters and are intelligent and thus hard to trap. They exist in many inaccessible areas and current eradication methods are not working well enough. It is thought there are more than 6 million feral cats roaming the country, and importing more cats into the country potentially adds to this number.

Stray cat control and elimination

Stray cats are no one’s responsibility. They roam urban and rural areas, killing native wildlife. They were all once domestic cats, or the litter of domestic cats.

Domestic cat containment

Most cat owners are responsible.

False.

Statistics disprove this theory.

A small percentage of owners keep their cats inside or provide an enclosed cat run in which their cats can play while outside the house. Many allow their cats outside during the day, where they are still able to kill. Others argue their pets are allowed only as far as their own garden, but even in a private garden, a cat can and will kill native wildlife. Most pet cats are allowed to roam free and kill with impunity, and importing cats into the country creates more pet cats, and more potential killers.

De-sexing

Many cat owners think de-sexing is enough. In many cases, de-sexing simply allows owners to absolve themselves of responsibility for the destruction their pets cause. Even a de-sexed cat will kill many native animals during its lifetime if it is allowed to roam freely.

Banning the breeding of cats in Australia will not solve the cat problem. It will, however, limit the number of cats in the country overall and will support existing efforts to reduce the deadly impact of Australia’s most destructive introduced species.

Image: Jae Park

Save Centennial Glen

Centennial Glen is under threat. The parcel of natural bush land to the west of Blackheath in NSW could be turned into a scenic highway if authorities choose this option for the expansion of the Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains.

The construction of the highway would destroy the local ecology and rid the residents of a popular local hiking trail, as well as adversely affecting many other groups such as rock climbers, school students and teachers, and local businesses.

Part of a whole

The proposed highway expansion is part of a larger project to expand the Great Western Highway all the way from Katoomba to Lithgow. Many residents between Katoomba and Lithgow are not in agreement with the project, as they believe it will be destructive in so many ways. They are also not convinced by a project which the government itself says will save only 10 minutes on the journey from Katoomba to Lithgow. 

Economic mistake

The official document from the NSW government claims the entire Great Western Highway Upgrade;

“Supports regional economic growth”

I would argue that the proposed scenic highway could harm the economy of Blackheath.

The proposed scenic highway could reduce the amount of money injected into the local community. The scenic highway would essentially act like a bypass of Blackheath. According to Transport NSW, which is responsible for the highway project, the scenic highway option would require the building of an outer bypass with bridges crossing over Shipley Road, Centennial Pass, Porters Pass Track, and over the rail line at the north.

Shipley Road is a suburban road at the southern end of Blackheath, before the main shopping area. Centennial Pass is a section of the bush land that includes part of the popular hiking trail, and Porters Pass is another section the hiking trail that winds its way through the bush.

Motorists would not pass through Blackheath. They would enter the scenic road before the town centre, and they would exit after the town centre. The road itself may become an attraction for some visitors looking to enjoy the view, but it won’t bring more money into the local economy.

Common sense tells us that motorists will not drive past the entry to the scenic road and into Blackheath for a coffee and cake, before backtracking out of Blackheath to join the proposed road. They will also not backtrack into town after exiting the scenic road. There is even less incentive to enter Blackheath, and spend money in its businesses, when perfectly acceptable coffee and cake is offered at many other towns in the Blue Mountains, including at the famous Hydro Majestic in Medlow Bath, which is just a few minutes drive away.

This is a region that has already suffered from the drop in tourists numbers due to the bush fires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rock Climbing

Walls Ledge and nearby rock faces are enormously popular with rock climbers, from near and far. The new highway would ruin one of the most popular rock climbing sites in Australia. Rock climbers not only climb in Blackheath, they also eat, drink and relax in Blackheath, and this income would be lost to the community if they went elsewhere to climb.

School

Mountains Christian College sits atop the ridge of Centennial Glen, with fantastic views and an amazing playground. The scenic highway proposal would be built very close to the school’s facilities and the construction work, and the highway itself, would cause endless noise disruption for students and teachers.

Why build a scenic highway?

Official justification for the scenic highway is that even though “…. There are likely impacts on the existing environment through the valley…” There is “…the potential to create a scenic route for locals and visitors.”

The scenic route already exists, in the form of a hiking trail. If locals and visitors want to enjoy the beautiful views over bush land and farms, they can do so on foot. You don’t need a highway or a car to admire the scenery of Centennial Glen, just a pair of sturdy walking shoes.

The hike to the viewpoints is not even particularly long or hard. From various entry points, visitors can walk along relatively flat paths across the top of the ridge, and within a few minutes enjoy the views. A longer and more strenuous hike exists down below the cliffs, and this does require walking up and down steep and slippery steps, crossing over some boulders and trudging through mud, but the famous views are accessible on top of the ridge, just a few minutes from Blackheath.

The paradox

Who spends money in Blackheath?

Who would use the scenic road?

Probably the same people.

Tourists spend a lot of money in Blackheath and throughout the Blue Mountains, but tourists are most likely to drive on the scenic road. Locals would probably drive it once or twice out of curiosity, but why would they if they’ve already seen the view on foot?

Thus, the scenic road, which is supposed to attract more visitors to the region, would prevent those same people from visiting Blackheath.

Truck drivers won’t use the scenic road. They have a set schedule and need to arrive at their destination on time in order to keep their job and their income.

Locals won’t use the scenic road. If they use the highway regularly they do so to go to work, school the shops or an appointment, and they want to arrive at that destination on time. The scenic road would only add time to their journey.

How is it possible?

Centennial Glen is a possible site for highway expansion because it is not national park. The land is council land, managed by Blue Mountains City Council. The other side of the existing highway is part of the Blue Mountains National Park, including sites such as Govett’s Leap, and this area can not be built on.

Short-term thinking

Like many government-endorsed infrastructure projects, three of the four options for the highway expansion will deliver only short-term benefit. The project is apparently designed to cater for:

“Increased transport capacity to meet future growth.”

This means more traffic. The government boasts that the highway expansion will reduce congestion and traffic jams. It will in the short term, but experts tell us that building or expanding roads does not reduce congestion in the long term. Eventually, new roads fill up with cars and traffic jams return.

Alternative transport

Like many government-endorsed infrastructure projects, it could be replaced, or at least supported, by alternative transport.

Improvements to the train service between Central (Sydney) and Lithgow (then to Bathurst) could take many cars off the road. New trains running on a modern timetable could encourage people, especially weekend tourists from Sydney, to take the train instead of driving. New trains which allow for passengers to bring luggage (for a weekend away) strollers, bicycles or other large items would cater for the large number of people who would prefer not to drive to and through the mountains, but are put off by Sydney’s outdated and insufficient public transport network.

Once on the train at Central, the trip is not that much slower than driving from Central Station/CBD to Blackheath. The train trip to Katoomba is even quicker if passengers can get the express train which continues to Bathurst.

Locals are continually advocating to save Centennial Glen. They are following accepted channels and communicating with local and state government to try to save this beautiful section of bush land. Their efforts, and updates, can be see at http://www.savecentennialglen.org 

Who’s Protecting Our National Parks?

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Australia’s National Parks are under threat, and the culprits are not those you might imagine.

I enjoyed a morning walk on the Grand Canyon trail near Blackheath, NSW, recently and finished the hike at Evans Lookout. As I gazed upon the spectacular view and weaved my way between tourists taking photos, I noticed something very out of place. A woman was walking her pet dog at the lookout point.

Evans Lookout lies within the boundary of the Blue Mountains National Park and is therefore strictly off limits to pet dogs. Lookout points, picnic areas, trails and any other spaces within National Parks are all off limits to pet dogs, because pet dogs damage the ecology and threaten the wildlife that is protected within these parks. Despite this, the woman was happily walking the dog, on a lead, as she admired the view from the lookout.

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I then looked for a ranger or a National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS)  employee, someone who would remind the woman to take her dog out of the park. I didn’t see one. Despite being a busy, sunny Sunday just weeks after Sydney HAD lifted its coronavirus restrictions, there was not a single park ranger patrolling the lookout or the trails.

I wanted to know why.

I therefore emailed NPWS to ask how a woman could freely walk her dog inside park boundaries.

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I was informed, via an official response from the NPWS service, that:

“We are aware that some people use various tracks in the National park to walk their animals.”

On the one hand, it was encouraging to learn that the regulating authority knows what is happening within its parks, but it was also distressing to realise that they were not able to prevent it from happening. Then I was told why:

“We do not have enough resources to patrol and regulate all these areas.”

“If you report it at the time, it would likely take our Area Ranger at least 30 minutes but likely 2 – 3 hours to investigate, depending on where he needs to travel from.”

In government speak, ‘resources’ means money. Thus, there is not enough money to protect the plants and animals in our National Parks, even though National Parks were established to protect plants and animals.

I was then advised to record a rego number, car make and model and the time and date of the incident and make a formal statement which could then be followed up by the relevant authorities.

Should I?

The email from NPWS advised me that:

“Community pressure directly at the time can be an effective deterrent. You can advise them that the scent of a dog drives native animals away…”

Should I go to the trouble of reporting the person? Would anything actually happen? Would the person actually be punished? If I chose to report the person and make a statement, would I need to provide photographic or irrefutable evidence that the person took a pet dog into a National Park? If I took a photo of a person without their permission then passed on that photo to the authorities would I be charged with illegally disseminating an image? If that were the case, I would be punished far more severely than the person who was actually in the wrong.

Should I?

Would it make any difference? Dog owners throughout Australia flaunt rules on a daily basis to ensure that their dogs are happy and content. They take their dogs into off limit areas and are never punished.

Should I?

Should I ruin my Sunday bush walk, through a beautiful patch of bushland to engage in an argument with a dog owner. The owner has no compulsion to listen to me. I have no authority, I’m not a ranger, I’m just another visitor. Plus, do I want to invite this stress into my morning hike? Anyone who takes their pet dog into a National Park is selfish, arrogant, ignorant or illiterate, or all of the above. Do I want to engage in a futile conversation with someone like this when I am undertaking an activity for fun and relaxation?

Why does it matter if a person takes a dog into a National Park?

Pet dogs harm native wildlife.

“Some ground birds and mammals will leave their young (children) to die at just the smell of the dog. Lots of people just do not know.”

A more detailed explanation is provided on the parks website and even on tourism and council websites. It’s true that some people don’t know why they can’t take their pet dogs into National Parks. It’s clear that many just don’t care. For that reason, relying on the good sense of dog owners will not protect native wildlife. National Parks need extra resources, as is evidenced by the response to my email.

When will National Parks be adequately funded?

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