This publication has, over the years, catalogued many of the MidCoast Council’s inadequacies when it comes to preserving the state, quality and function of this region’s incredibly varied biodiversity and the productivity and integrity of habitats. These environments underpin our regional economy, and they characterise our region, attracting both residents and visitors. 

It is increasingly clear that since European colonisation, the Australian environmental landscapes and ecosystems have been damaged for utilitarian goals and unsustainably large populations resulting in the unravelling of the texture of habitat and biodiversity. In the process, complex ecosystems have been cleared for grazing, agriculture and urban development and unique plant and animal species with stories and adaptations and resiliencies have been (and continue to be) lost forever. 

State of the Environment reports at all governmental levels demonstrate an unsustainable decline; very much a human-driven crisis. 

For many, this loss imparts a deep sense of grief, despair and powerlessness for which environmental philosopher Glenn Albrech has coined the term solastalgia.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Proulx wrote that she ‘spent years learning that if your delight is in contemplating landscapes and wild places the sweetness will be laced with ever-sharpening pain’, as she referred to the eco-grief we can feel at the state of the world.

It is easy to feel some despair at what is not being done by our governments and Australians at all levels to protect and improve the environment, so I thought it might be useful for a change to mention a few positive things that have recently been achieved by our local Council in relation to the environment. 

MidCoast Council’s agreement to support lobbying the NSW State Government to stop logging in Bulga State Forest is heartening though this is very much a nation-wide issue. 

A recent exhibition of three artists at the Manning Regional Art Gallery called Unseen Transitions reflected on the psychological weight imposed by eco-grief; the despair at the paradigm that prioritises exploitation over balanced respect, care and connectedness of humans and nature.

But the exhibition does not focus on despair. It does not wish there to be angst over the unwholesome and unproductive burden of grief that comes from environmental trauma and awareness of loss. Instead, the exhibition espouses a message of hope and action. In this manner, David Quammen (in the Song of the Dodo) wrote ‘Despair, despite being fruitless, is far less exciting than hope’. And Amery Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute, spoke of the value of applied hope, which, ‘is not mere optimism, but is a combination of vision, persistence and most of all, courage.’

In order to feel a sense of positivity, we need to work within a framework that includes at least a degree of applied hope. The psychologist Camille Preston suggests that hope is linked to optimism and is an attitude or outlook that good things will happen and that our wishes will ultimately be fulfilled. That hope serves as a buffer against negativity and stress, though not everyone shares such optimism.

Ongoing adversity associated with natural disasters and Covid have generally depleted our communities’ psychological capital.

A strong element of hope seems to be a belief in the capacity for situations in which we despair to improve. And for the institutions on which we collectively rely to deliver community-good outcomes have capabilities and a record of achievement on which progress can be made. So, one of the key questions in this context is whether MidCoast Council and its staff as well as its local residents have the experience, skills, resources and, importantly, the will, to provide us with a hope of saving and protecting the environment on which we all depend. Or is Council and a portion of its residents shackled to developmental interests, servient to endless growth, regressive agriculturalists and the selfish politics of profit and exploitation? Is it paralysed by a state and national legislative regime that consistently and obviously fails biodiversity and the natural environment? These are a seriously complex questions.

We should look at the Council’s record of achievement bearing in mind their abilities and influence in the broader context of an abysmal State and National environmental policy framework. 

In the sad context of uncourageous, pro-development decision-making, the legacy of zombie DAs, the absence of complete and effective tree and vegetation controls because of weak State Government legislation, the absence of a corridor protection framework and so on, there may be reason for some hope. 

MidCoast Council has delivered some environmental achievements with real outcomes that defy the wider trend of environmental decline, and which can form a platform of enhanced success for the future.

A few examples:

MidCoast Council has achieved more outcomes for innovative and proactive wetland conservation and repair than probably any other Council in NSW. Wetlands are essential for the quality of our lakes, rivers and fisheries. The combined projects at Darawank and Cattai together with wetland acquisition and conservation schemes at Tuncurry, Minimbah and Bulahdelah, have repaired decades old coastal acid sulfate problems.  Sites once described as being impaired like “toxic waste dumps”, with drains generating acidified water equivalent to battery acid, have been acquired, drainage systems removed, rewetted, and returned from unproductive grazing land to rich and productive wetlands.   

Thousands of hectares of land including threatened ecological communities and threatened species habitats have been added to public conservation management through the actions of Council.

Catchment Management Program, a NSW government system, driven by its agencies in association with local government is a good and effective Council led program in NSW. Water Quality Programmes were propelled from the former Great Lakes Council experience with the tragic Hepatitis A event in Wallis Lake and is proactive and strategic. It supports landholders through a sustainable farming to more sustainable practices. And the catchment program delivers exceptional Council-led programs for threatened species recovery, including funnelling external funds into on-ground outcomes for regional priority species, such as the Manning River turtle.

The combined State and Local government approach for protecting the water quality of the lakes, rivers, creeks and wetlands is deservedly award-winning.  It is informed by both science and social marketing and is working to preserve the precious water assets that are the focus of maximum urban growth, for biodiversity and agricultural, urban and recreational uses.

Council has reached agreement with the NSW Government to be one of the eight NSW koala regional partnerships to deliver outcomes under the NSW Koala Strategy.  This will access hopefully substantial resources for koala recovery and conservation actions within the MidCoast region.  

The Council Biodiversity Framework is a progressive, well-intentioned document that defines the toolkit for Council to deliver. Assembled with intensive extension and consultation with stakeholders including the community, the Framework, as good as it is, will only be measured as a success via its effective and timely implementation.

In my own backyard, the Gloucester Environment Group has had a fruitful relationship with the Council in relation to the Group’s koala tree planting program known as Koalaways, and is in serious discussion about the Council undertaking a survey of koala numbers in the Gloucester area within the next 12 months.

Of course, having positive plans is one thing but implementation is another, and all those concerned about the environment should closely monitor Council activities and actively participate, looking at practical ways to get the job done.  Obvious recent examples are the apparently slow implementation of its Greening Strategy the fact many areas still have no protection from urban tree and shrub removal and the recent destruction by the Council of a grove of mangroves.  

There is still much to be done but as they say, ‘Let’s give credit where credit is due’. 

The Council can only do so much in light of woefully inadequate state government environmental laws and policies. So, with a state election on the offing, check all the candidates’ credentials and promises before you vote.

John Watts

(President Gloucester Environment Group)

(And there are many good citizens and local groups doing what they can. For one, I single out Dr John Stockard who led the recovery and restoration of the Wingham Brush in the 1980s  and continues to clear weeds, monitor problems and pick up rubbish left by high school students, uncaring local bush-pigs, drug-dealers and even some visitors, especially illegal campers. If we love where we live, care for it. It’s no good going for a walk and kicking the rubbish aside.  Pick it up when you see it.  There is a tendency to expect “the government” to do everything for us. One of the biggest problems is a lack of education and awareness.  We need more environmental education in our schools.  Ed)  

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