West Wallsend Butterfly Cave

Yet again I speak about the beautiful and sacred Butterfly Cave in the village of West Wallsend in the Cessnock electorate. Those who have been following my contributions on this matter will know that the Butterfly Cave is a beautiful, natural sandstone cave in the West Wallsend bushland that has been a place of tradition for female Aboriginal peoples for about 35,000 years. Long before we had structures and buildings or thought about concrete and bricks, the Aboriginal people used the natural beauty of our land to do what they needed to do. In this case, the Butterfly Cave was made a place for special women’s business. As I have previously described, special women’s business could be a ceremony, the birth of a child or a spiritual or other type of gathering. I do not mean to desecrate the culture by mentioning it again today.

The Butterfly Cave now sits inside a large urban residential development that is somewhere in the vicinity of 400 lots. The owner of the land has been told time and again since the Planning and Assessment Commission approval in 2011-12 that a significant Aboriginal site was situated inside their development area. The then Minister for Environment Robyn Parker granted an Aboriginal Place designation to that spot but unfortunately placed only a 20‑metre buffer around the area. The developer’s bulldozers are now getting closer and closer to the Butterfly Cave. Stage seven of the development is before Council for approval and a number of vibration reports have been submitted. In the vibration report from Douglas Partners, I was drawn to a particular issue about harm and damage under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. Incredibly, the Act does not define “harm or damage”. In the news yesterday, the now Minister for the Environment made the point that it is an offence to harm or desecrate an Aboriginal Place and the maximum penalty is $1.1 million.

The trouble is if we do not define “harm or damage”, how do we know when someone has done harm or damage? For example, to go to the extreme, if a single piece of sandstone smaller than a thumbnail flaked off this beautiful cave would that be damage? What if it was a little bit bigger like the size of a hand or a fist, or a lunchbox or shoebox? We can keep going. The point is there is a line somewhere but the line is not defined by the legislation and/or in the approvals given. Why is this important? Excavating equipment of up to 30 tonnes will be coming within 20 metres of this beautiful sandstone cave. Adjustments will be made to the water flow that keeps the moisture content in the sandstone to prevent it from drying out and falling apart. Without defining “harm or damage”, it is incomprehensible that anyone will ever be prosecuted for damage caused to this beautiful cave.

I have been seeking support from the Government to preserve the Butterfly Cave for quite some time. I have informed it that the total cost of securing this unique 35,000-year-old Aboriginal culture and heritage site would be somewhere between $1 million and $2 million through negotiation with the developer. Earlier this week we heard a $310 million announcement to preserve colonial heritage—white fella heritage—at Parramatta which includes the Parramatta Gaol, the Female Factory and the Roman Catholic Orphan School. It annoys the tripe out of me that we can be so clever and generous in saving our colonial heritage by allocating $310 million but we cannot find $1 million or $2 million to protect one of the most revered and sacred Aboriginal sites in the Hunter Valley. I again call on the Minister to find the funding in the upcoming budget.