THE summit of Arthurs Seat is in danger of being turned into another Mt Dandenong “car park and tourist cafe” unless great care is taken to avoid past development errors, according to Mornington Peninsula Shire councillor Hugh Fraser.
Cr Fraser used his Australia Day address at Sorrento Bowls Club to warn of “unresolved tension in the use of our national park public open spaces for private development”.
“There is the proposed private development of the historic Quarantine station in the Point Nepean National Park and also at the magnificent summit of Arthur’s Seat in the state park,” he said.
The state government announced last week that it was seeking to abandon the lease signed by the previous Coalition government for accommodation and hot springs at the park’s Quarantine Precinct.
Cr Fraser said that from the summit of Arthurs Seat “on a clear day we, like the traditional owners the Boonwurrung/Bunurong, can see the perimeters of their traditional lands and, like them, we can sit on the top of the world and watch the stars”.
Cr Fraser’s comments were made while introducing guest speaker Simon McKeon, head of the Skylift consortium planning to build a gondola ride that will terminate on the Arthurs Seat summit. The old chairlift terminated below the summit.
Skylift has VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) approval for its controversial application.
Mr McKeon, in his speech, did not respond to Cr Fraser’s remarks.
Cr Fraser said that if the state government permitted the Skylift, “we are to share that summit experience with a mechanical gondola terminus and a restaurant with illuminations”.
“We are all familiar with the Mt Dandenong drive in car park and tourist cafe,” he said. “It is important that the development and environmental mistakes of the past are not repeated and I encourage everyone to take an active interest in that debate and to make your views known.”
Cr Fraser was among a minority of councillors who opposed the gondola application when it came to council last June.
VCAT approval in December requires future votes at council on a number of issues, including amended plans detailing measures to protect “heritage fabric” at the summit and how earthworks are to be carried out. Bushfire measures are yet to be approved.
Other issues in the lengthy list of conditions imposed on the proposal by VCAT require council approval of landscaping, measures to protect against pollution during construction and protection of neighbours’ amenity during and after construction.
There are also strict traffic conditions to be approved and enforced by VicRoads.
It is believed no contracts have yet been signed to start work on the Skylift, which cleared the last legal hurdle when community group Save Our Seat got advice that an appeal to the Supreme Court against the VCAT decision had little chance of succeeding.
The advice said SOS could pursue political means to try to stop the project, including challenging any Mornington Peninsula Shire decision on the bushfire emergency plan required for the Skylift if it contained “identifiable legal error”.
Cr Fraser’s speech of welcome pointed to two important anniversaries that occur this year – the centenary in April of the Gallipoli landing and the 200th anniversary in June of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.
“These events exactly 100 and 200 years ago are a snapshot of modern Australian history,” Cr Fraser said.
“But there is a wider context – and I acknowledge today the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders as the first Australians and that they have lived here for thousands of years.”
These members of the Kulin Nation had occupied the land now called the Mornington Peninsula for tens of thousands of years stretching back 40,000 years when the volcanoes of Flinders Peak, Mt Dandenong and Arthur’s Seat fell dormant, he said.
“A further Australia Day thought worth considering is whether all this ought to be recognised by naming our wonderful Mornington Peninsula the Boonwurrung/Bunurong Peninsula.”
“Australia Day is an occasion to reflect on the past, to appreciate our democratic federation of governments and to acknowledge our experiences and history of not only 100 or 200 years ago but also in the wider context of 40,000 years and to take care of our natural and historic environment,” Cr Fraser said.
“Today we raise our Australian flag and give thanks for the peace and prosperity of this great nation.”