When development plans threatened Behana Gorge, the local community of Aloomba sprung into action.
How the people of Aloomba saved Behana Gorge

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How the people of Aloomba saved Behana Gorge

22 February 2018
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If you’re feeling discouraged by the apparent lack of concern for the environment in your local area then maybe the people of Aloomba in Far North Queensland will encourage you to keep up the fight. For 22 years local residents, farmers and environment groups fought back proposals from councils and developers to turn their source of life into a quarry, capitalising on the natural granite in Behana Gorge.

Thirty kilometres south of the central business district of Cairns, a remarkable natural artefact rises out of the ground – an almost perfectly pyramid-shaped mountain called Walsh’s Pyramid – named after a 19th century politician. The traditional owners, the Yidinji people, tell the story of the Bunda Djarruga Murrgu, the scrub hen who incubated her eggs on the mountain, kicking them off the elevated point onto the surrounding bushland. One egg landed on what is now known as Behana Gorge, home of Aloomba.

Walsh's Pyramid
Walsh's Pyramid

The site was included in the local council’s development plans for the expansion of the Cairns greater region as early as 1993, and the Rossi family who owned cane farming property bordering the zoning immediately sprang into action, collecting support by way of posters and petitions at the local markets.

Behana is a granite gorge which provides the south of Cairns and the surrounding areas with much of its water supply, and is home to threatened and endangered flora and fauna including the Southern Cassowary and Yellow-Bellied Glider.

In 2006 the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC) submitted their objections to the proposed Cairns City Council development, stating environmental concerns:

Main potential threatening processes include impacts of blasting noise, dispersal of dust, direct loss of habitat, impact of pressure waves, contamination of Behana Creek from erosion and run off associated with quarry activities and the impacts of increased heavy vehicle activity associated with this development.

After a number of council development applications and subsequent failures, the matter became an issue for the Queensland state government, with the Cairns population rapidly expanding and in need of resources (and keen for extra income). While the Cairns City Council were an environmentally-aware system, they did not have the power to overrule the Queensland government, then led by LNP. Behana Gorge was now a Key Resource Area (KRA) as part of the Cairns 2020 growth planning, and the Aloomba and Fishery Falls Progress Association, were surprised with the news at their regular meeting to discover they suddenly had two weeks to submit their objections to the state minister before the matter was decided.

This is when Emily Rossi, daughter-in-law of the original protesters, decided to bring the protest to social media where she could connect anyone and everyone who had a stake in the matter. She modelled it on a similar campaign her sister had witnessed working in Brisbane by bringing together environmental groups, farmers, residents, businesses, tourists, media, former residents and visitors to save Behana Gorge. She set up auto-fill forms that sent letters to members of parliament and councillors, and within the two-week timeframe had collected over 4000 signatures opposing the KRA.

Emily and her group printed out the petitions and made the drive to Mareeba, where Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney was doing a meet-and-greet with the community. She tells the story of stacking the tower of paper on the table next to him, not saying a word about them but instead calmly taking him through the points of the KRA. At the end she finally points to the stack and says, ‘oh and these are all the people who don’t want it to go ahead!’

It worked. Her local member Curtis Pitt called her with the good news, and although the paperwork was delayed during a state election, the new Labor government signed the new commitment over early in its term.

Having spoken with a local fracking group, she gives same advice to others looking to protest development in environmentally fragile areas: ‘combine your efforts. Facebook is a fantastic tool, but it only works in the fight if you are all fighting together – make one big group rather than lots of small groups.’

Emily said personal interaction from the organisers was key; she was there to respond to every single comment, every photo, every like.

And the key to Behana Gorge’s success? ‘We were able to figure out what the government needed to see – they needed proof that the residents objected the document.’

Alexandra Havas

About Alexandra Havas

As co-founder of The QUO, Alexandra wants to use the power of storytelling to encourage active participation from the QUOmmunity and beyond. Drawing upon her background in sociology and social policy, she understands the potential obstacles between wanting to contribute, and making that first all...

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22nd February 2018

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