It was a lovely natural glade

View from Headland Park

View from Headland Park on North Stradbroke Island

Years ago we camped on the headland at Point Lookout. It was Christmas and the park was full, with families in tents, a few vans: everyone cheek by jowl.

A group of German visitors sat around a fire, carousing late into the night. To the alarm of neighbours under canvas, they produced and brandished a rifle: What on Earth! Did these people think they were in the Wild West?

Early the next morning, rangers escorted the rifle-brandishing campers off the island.

Sublime sense of place

The Headland Park hasn’t been a camping ground for some time. It remained a peaceful meadow frequented by grazing kangaroos. Nothing much happened here other than the rhythms of season and weather.

The park flanks a heritage-listed Reserve. It is one of the approaches to the magnificent Gorge Walk. Looking south down the blue length of Main Beach that stretches to infinity is enough to make you gasp. Sense of place was sublime.

This awe-inspiring yet tranquil spot was denuded of original vegetation but the landform was intact. The foot registered the inclines and depressions of the sandhill beneath the grass. The eye registered essentially the same gaze as that of people who’ve stood here for millennia.

‘Progress’: a contested concept

Nice rubbish bin

Nice rubbish bin

A grassy natural open space cannot be allowed simply to exist for the sake of its intrinsic values, no matter that it is part of a larger wild heritage landscape.

‘Empty’ land must be ‘improved’ and filled up – with paths, seats, picnic tables, barbecues, pavilions, platforms, bubblers, signs, fences, rubbish bins, children’s playground, parking, and numerous expanses of concrete.

The Headland Park was recently ‘upgraded’ with all the furniture, accoutrements and mainland mind-set of the cookie-cutter suburban park inventory. The telltale ironic quotation marks warn that this upgrade is not universally admired. It is yet another clumsy assault on Stradbroke Island’s natural assets.

Why upgrade the park? A cynic might conclude it largely benefits the island wedding industry. Some thought it imperative to regulate the industry and limit places where open-air ceremonies could be held. The Headland Park was designated one such place. An upgrade was considered necessary.

But the manner, extent and appropriateness of the upgrade were not up for discussion.

Community consultation is a sign of weakness

Construction machinery

Did we need to do this?

Under the present regime of what seems to be anti-democratic municipal dictatorship, the Council assertively did not consult locals about what we thought appropriate for this place.

The community did not request the Council-mandated ‘improvements’ to the park. It did not endorse the cloddish design.

Yes, if the park were upgraded, it would be nice to have a few more trees and even some picnic tables, plus a simple timber platform for al fresco wedding ceremonies and Quandamooka welcomes to country … It would be nice to banish the parked vehicles (when will we promote walking at Point Lookout?).

But the Council had much bigger ideas, and $550,000 of ratepayers’ funds to burn – without wanting the inconvenience of engaging with ratepayers.

Killing sense of place

Leveling the sand dunes

Concrete and hard surfaces predominate

The physical operation of upgrading the park is macho, machine-driven, even violent. The recessive and subtle natural values of the landscape are ruptured. The slopes of the sand dune are smoothed into submission and every wrinkle of topography removed.

Sense of place is violated. Tabula rasa.

A valued heritage landscape is mutilated.

The human experience of this significant island location is now mediated by infrastructure, not nature: there can be no clear, sublime view of the ocean, only views framed by the wide white concrete path, chunky pavilions and timber fences. Many mourn this irrevocable loss.

It is ironic to feel nostalgia for the incident, not that long ago, when some visiting campers brought a rifle to a place of wilderness. What were they thinking? They were thinking that they had come to a wild, remote, unloosed, natural place. It’s the feeling many people have about Stradbroke Island. It’s a sense that was still extant in this park. But as authentic natural values are tamed and neutered, Stradbroke is being turned into a travel marketing brochure.
Do we want to replicate the mainland here? Who decides?

Posted by Jackie Cooper


The upgrade planning process neglected to factor in the access requirements of the Point Lookout Bushcare Nursery located along one edge of the park.

The Bushcare Nursery’s access requirements were not considered in the “upgrade” process

Rain and the unexpected discovery of a midden on site delayed work. Completion was scheduled for August but is now expected in October.

The cost is $550,000. Council is budgeting an operational deficit of $11.5 million in 2014/15.

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8 thoughts on “It was a lovely natural glade

  1. Jackie: You have written this sad tale so eloquently. I haven’t been to Straddie since this was done to the headland. And now I fear I will be so upset to see what has happened to it. I remember camping there as a teenager.

    We own a block of land at Stradbroke Island and it has been our long term dream that one day we will be able to build a house there and live out the rest of our lives in that beautiful place. Every new development seems to destroy that wonderful sense of ‘Nothing much happened here other than the rhythms of season and weather.’ I’m not sure it is the haven it once was.

    I remember a friend finding it strange that we would take our young family to a place like Stradbroke for a camping holiday as ‘there’s nothing to do there’. Oh how blind to natural beauty and exploration of wondrous places. I felt sorry for him.

    It seems that, bit by bit, Straddie is turning into a place just like everywhere else. Progress? ‘Progress’ is a dirty word when applied to changing the natural world.

    Does anyone else absolutely hate the overkill on safety fences around the Gorge Walk? My kids were absolutely sick of my telling them there were NO fences once. It was actually a bit thrilling to look down (and hang on to the grass in my case) into the rushing water as the waves washed into the gorge. I realise it wasn’t safe but did anyone ever fall down there (besides the foolish ‘rock divers’ or fate tempting fishermen)? The ugly, massive fences and bitumen pathways just ruin that beautiful, natural place. Well, they do for me!

    Poor Stradbroke suffers the ongoing mining to line the bulging pockets of foreign companies at one end. And ‘progress’ on its wonderful headland.

    It just makes me sad.

    • Linda: Don’t give up on Point Lookout. The island is still a very special place, despite the council’s best/worst efforts. Many residents here realise how beautiful it is to live among nature, in houses behind trees, not fences, living with wildlife. It is one of the rare places left that is suburban yet at the same time bush. But the council doesn’t get it. It doesn’t even try to understand. The headland park is an insult to the spectacular setting. And I agree with you about the tragic caged walkway around the Gorge walk. The council did not need to spend a fortune (of our money) on this monster overkill insensitive infrastructure. They could have looked at how National Parks approaches the design of walkways in magnificent natural settings. We pleaded with RCC to design a less obtrusive path. Adding insult to injury, RCC erected two whopping bright blue signs at either approach of the Gorge walk to tell us what jolly good fellows they are. Take down those signs Mrs Williams. I am sorry to hear of impending crass plans to suburbanise/homogenise/anaesthetise Coochie’s waterfront. Good luck fighting to save the magnificent natural asset there. Sense of place is everything, but so easily destroyed. And let’s all step up to stop high-rise buildings at Toondah and on the islands. Where is the consultation with our communities? And where is the council’s respect for our vision for our places?

  2. Coochiemudlo Island’s Main Beach is currently on the Council’s list to receive a similar make over of curving concrete paths, shelters, picnic tables etc., much the same as was recently done at Point Lookout and in nearly every other Council Park in the Redlands. These senseless make overs are destroying the individuality and “Sense of Place” of our heritage sites. I have made an application to address this topic at the Council Meeting on Wednesday 28th October. I would appreciate support by any individuals who also feel passionate about preserving a “Sense of Place” in our respective areas.

  3. If I may add a comment to my post, today I came across the 1989 citation for the National Trust listing for Point Lookout. The council seems oblivious to important descriptions and historical accounts of North Stradbroke Island’s natural beauty. Municipal ‘improvements’ of special sites on the island fall short of the spirit evident in descriptions like we read in the citation:
    In 1892, in The Queenslander: ‘… The finest views are to be had at Frenchmans Beach and in the neighbourhood of Point Lookout, where rugged rocks rear their heads against the swell of the wide ocean’. This includes the vicinity of Headland Park.
    The National Trust citation continues: ’The landscapes of Point Lookout have cultural as well as aesthetic value. This has arisen through … appreciation of the headland and beach pathways and their scenery; by cultural appreciation of natural and particularly “wild” or rugged coastal landscapes.’
    Operative words are ‘natural’ and ‘wild’: they describe the island DNA. Note to council: not ‘mainland’ and ‘suburban’.
    ‘The landscape of Point Lookout has been a scenic attraction continuously throughout European settlement. In 1892 the views were described as “not excelled on any other part of the Queensland coast”. In the 1920s Thomas Welsby … recorded his admiration and appreciation for the ocean, cliff and beach views including the view south to the Eighteen Mile Swamp … The landscapes and seascapes seen in these views remained essentially unchanged since first seen by Europeans.’
    How sad that these views from Headland Park, cited by the National Trust, are now framed and mediated by the vulgar pavilions and snaking wide white pathway and rubbish bins lately installed. Lamentable.

  4. The present council seem to be intent on creating as much ugly development as possible and destroying our community.

  5. Wonderfully expressed Jackie. How dare they take a special place and make it look like any old suburban park. The view and the atmosphere should reign supreme!

  6. Jackie, my first memory was of that same park, 36 years ago we were assigned this great site on the edge of the camping ground, we were in a 3 man tent overlooking Main Beach, to sit having a cuppa and breakkie overlooking this most beatiful beach has always stayed with me. What a shame that lovely green space is no more and ratepayers funded the $550,000
    If you think this park is ugly please travel along Moreton Bay Road and as you cross Redland Bay Road traveling from the city check out the disgusting landscaping and gardens to your right, can’t believe Capalaba which has lovely leafy trees throughout, even Main roads have lovely leafy trees. This excuse for an entry statement now has a couple of crappy pine trees with scraggy branches, some random plants in gardens and turf, what an entrance for some to Redlands. Makes me feel like turning around and coming to Redlands from Burbank. I thought Council could come up with something better than this, hate to think how much it cost ratepayers to bring the large mature pine trees in

    • Couldn’t agree more Toni! Why plant prickly, ugly looking pine trees that do not cope with traffic pollution so will never amount to anything. Capalaba’s signature tree was the magnificent tallowwood which used to line Redland Bay Road and have gone, one by one – the last when the Good Guys built their showroom. Or even the Eucalyptus seeana which are still found (for the time being) along the watercourse about 50 metres away. What is it about obliterating everything that makes a place special!

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