West Wallsend Butterfly Cave

I again draw the attention of the House to an incredibly significant Aboriginal site in my electorate known as the Butterfly Cave. The site has a history stretching back tens of thousands of years. In fact, it was the first Aboriginal sacred women’s site recognised in New South Wales under the stewardship of former Minister Robyn Parker, and I thank her for her time and energy in that regard. I also thank the Minister for Heritage, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and the Minister for Planning. In 2010-11 a developer lodged a development application under the rules of day and it was approved. Unfortunately, like the rules of today, the rules then did not allow us to capture the importance and significance of Aboriginal heritage and then to protect it. I cast no aspersions on the developer, who played by the rules and was given approval under them.

Aboriginal heritage is a shared heritage; as Australians we share the heritage of the Aboriginal peoples, who are the oldest race on the planet. We have one chance to save the Butterfly Cave, which is significant to Aboriginal women as a birthing place. Tens of thousands of years ago they could not build hospitals—they had no concrete, steel, bricks and mortar; they utilised the local natural terrain. The Awabakal people of West Wallsend used the cave when birthing their children, for spiritual and special celebrations, and to teach their young girls about women’s business. Coincidently, and not surprisingly, the Butterfly Cave is a butterfly breeding site. The developer’s own geotechnical documents state that there is “no certainty that the cave will survive the impact of earthworks and construction vibration associated with the development”. To his credit, the developer provided a 20 metre protection zone around the cave despite the fact that the rules contain no such requirement. Can members believe that?

The developer was also faced with the possibility of there being a white faced spotted owl in the caves. If such an owl had been found, the development would require a 300 metre protection zone. Therefore, under the rules the discovery of a rare bird—it would not be the only one of its kind—would trigger the need for a 300 metre protection zone, but this 40,000-year-old, one-of-a-kind Butterfly Cave would trigger nothing. I appreciate that the developer has provided a 20 metre protection zone.

Unfortunately, this is the situation and we must do what we can do. There appear to be only three options. First, we can sit idly by and allow the possible destruction of the Butterfly Cave. Secondly, the developer, in a gesture of goodwill, could donate the land. I know that that would be a significant financial impost on the developer, given that the land could accommodate at least 12 home sites. Thirdly, the Government could buy the land from the developer. It is a challenge, but we must find a way to save the Butterfly Cave. The rules that applied to the development application were implemented by the Labor Government, and they are the problem. I cast no aspersions on the then Minister or on this Government. We have only one chance to save this cave and this Aboriginal women’s sacred site, but it will cost money. I cannot see the developer donating the land and I cannot allow the site to be destroyed. I have drawn this issue to the attention of the House to clarify some thoughts and to ask for whatever assistance can be offered by the developer or the Government.