West Wallsend Butterfly Cave

I have spoken before in this House about the Butterfly Cave, which is a beautiful natural sandstone cave that happens to be a place where butterflies breed. More importantly, it is a sacred Aboriginal women’s site in the electorate of Cessnock. We have been on a long journey to get to where we are today, but if any of us think that our work to save the Butterfly Cave is finished we are ignorant of the facts. The Butterfly Cave has been listed as a special Aboriginal place, and that is the wonderful thing. The failure of the listing is that the cave has been given only a simple 20-metre buffer zone.

As I have said before, we probably all have an Aboriginal artwork on our wall at home. The reality is that for our first Australians their journey was as much a part of their story as any given destination. That is why those beautiful pieces of artwork essentially show a bird’s-eye view of the journey taken by various peoples as they moved across the country and interacted with the land in its natural state. It should not be a massive leap for us to comprehend that the journey to and from places is as sacred to Aboriginal people as the places to which they journeyed.

The small and inadequate 20-metre buffer zone around the Butterfly Cave shows ignorance and simply denies the obvious logic of the journey. The local Aboriginal women who it is my privilege and honour to represent have been helping me to understand the importance of the site. They have been working with various government departments at local, State and Federal levels to get the necessary protections not only for the site but also for the journey pathways to and from it. This morning it was heartening to hear the Minister talking about the national park estate and saying:

The fourth addition to the estate will be to the new Yengo State Conservation Area. As well as conserving important biodiversity, the bill will protect sites of significant cultural heritage. Around 647.5 hectares of Yengo State Forest in the central region will become Yengo State Conservation Area. The area has been identified as containing significant cultural heritage and the whole landscape is important to the local Aboriginal community.

I could not agree more. The Minister summed it up beautifully in addressing the need to protect an entire landscape because of the cultural significance to our first nations people. Yengo State Conservation Area happens to be in the electorate of Cessnock. I know for a fact that there are dozens of incredibly important Aboriginal historical sites out there. People can only get to see most of them if they are Aboriginal and if they have gone through the necessary stages of becoming an elder—and then only if they are a senior elder in the local Aboriginal communities.

I repeat the Minister’s words that the area “has been identified as containing significant cultural heritage and the whole landscape is important”. That is the argument I have been posing about the Butterfly Cave. It is an argument I have been making for the past five years. It is not just a matter of putting a 20-metre circle around that cave and nor is it about recognising that destination; it is about recognising the journey to and from that destination. The whole landscape is important. I urge the Minister for Environment and Heritage who made that speech this morning to take stock of the beautiful Butterfly Cave and the surrounding bushland and to protect it in the same way that she sought to protect Yengo State Conservation Area this morning.