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
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
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
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
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.