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Kath Lehany’s perspective on Kelly’s Bush

Lehany, K. in The Hunter’s Hill Trust Journal November 1992

I can think of no better way to emphasise the importance of Kelly's Bush than to quote my friend, the late Kylie Tennant. "Kelly's Bush is a symbol of our lost land. Take away Kelly's Bush and you take away one more assurance that in man is left a possibility for the future. The unborn Australian will ask for his birthright and be handed a piece of concrete."

Kylie wrote this in support of thirteen local women who formed, in 1970, a group to save waterfront bushland on the Parramatta River in Woolwich. The women, from various backgrounds had one thing in common – outrage that 5 hectares (14.5 acres), waterfront and mainly bush 'reserve open space' should be threatened with rezoning in favour of interstate developers making a foray into New South Wales. The women became the "Battlers for Kelly's Bush" and the area the subject of the first of the Green Bans which were to save so much of Sydney including The Rocks, Centennial Park and Woolloomooloo.

Since 1892, when Mr Kelly purchased 20 acres to establish the tin smelting works, the Sydney Smelting Company, the bush was used and enjoyed without interference from the owners. Ferry commuters maintained a good path to get to the Margaret Street wharf, fishermen and small boys had their favourite tracks and frog pools, and the area now Weil Park had a scout hall and local cricketpitch. Weil Park was like a village paddock for kite flying, picnics, cricket matches, bonfires etc.

Large trees had originally been cut to fire the smelters but the rapidly re-generating bush was a useful buffer between industry and residences. There were aboriginal middens and shelters, birds and small creatures and lots of wild flowers.

Under the County of Cumberland that part of the area not zoned industrial or residential (the Manager's house) was designed "Reserve Open Space".

In the 1950s, Hunter's Hill Council purchased the 3 hectares (7.25 acres) which is now Weil Park and constructed an oval, extending into the bushland.

In 1967, the Sydney Smelting Company moved to Alexandria and an option to purchase was taken by A. V. Jennings – their first plans being for three eight storey blocks of flats, streets of town houses and local shops. With strenuous opposition from the Hunter's Hill Council and the Hunter's Hill Trust, the plans were whittled down to fifty-seven town houses, with the State Planning Authority agreeing to purchase the 2.25 hectares (5.6 acres) of steep waterfront and industrial site for a waterfront reserve. Concentrated effort from the Trust and the Battlers resulted in the Government and developers agreeing to only twenty-five building blocks for houses between Weil Park and the proposed foreshore reserve.

The Battlers, by this time, had found many supporters Australia wide from organisations such as the Conservation Foundation, the National Trust, Wilderness Society and Civic Design Society.

Massive media publicity about a handful of women opposing a powerful developer, who had the support of the State government, resulted in the issue becoming a symbol and a test case for those who opposed the spread of concrete into open space.

In 1971, the Minister for Local Government signed the document rezoning the 'Reserve Open Space' as residential.

It was then that the Battlers, in desperation, approached the Unions and received their full support. Thus was born the Green Bans movement. I have no doubt at all that this was the most important factor in saving Kelly's Bush.

In 1983, the eleven surviving Battlers and their many supporters realised their ambition – the area was purchased by the New South Wales Government as a State Recreation Area.

A committee of management was formed by the Minister and work was undertaken by contractors including expert bush regeneration teams. Fishermen and picnickers now enjoy the beautifully landscaped area which was once the smelting works and hundreds of walkers on the first stage of the Great North Walk, now use the ferry commuters' track.

The bush itself is regenerating in some parts and deteriorating badly in others. Because of its small area it is vulnerable to overuse – to the depredation of motor bikes, pushbikes, of new tracks being made and used, of disastrous run off channels from the oval, which gouge out tracks and bring in alien plants, and of the infiltration of exotics – camphor laurel, privet, ochnea, blackberry, bitou bush etc. The body charged with the future care and preservation, the Hunter's Hill Council, has a challenging problem indeed. It will need all the professional advice available, as well as the enthusiastic support of the local community to maintain this valuable and historic area.

Reproduced with the permission of the author, Kath Lehany.

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