Rainbow Dreaming  

Paterson Hill

Protest action at Paterson Hill, Byron Bay, September, 1998
Image: © David Saunders

A Paterson Hill Story

Paterson Hill ridge is the smaller brother of Cape Byron and made of the same ancient sediments. These outcrops are surrounded by Mt Warning volcanic soils and coastal sand.

200-400 million years ago, in the age of the dinosaurs, these soils where laid down, consequently they have been leached of most nutrients and a unique plant community, Dwarf Gramminoid Heath, has developed. The last remnants of this plant community grow on Paterson Hill and include many rare and endangered plants, including ‘Diuris Byronensis’, a ground orchid unique to Byron Bay.

In the 1980’s the slopes of Paterson Hill were zoned for residential development. The 1990’s saw recognition among environmentalists of the unique values of the area. When development of the hillside was proposed, a group of concerned residents formed to save the area.

The Paterson Hill Action Group had been successful in protecting a neighbouring area of Crown Land (now Paterson St. Hilltop Reserve) and now, directed by Peter Hamilton, led the 10 year campaign to save the heath and nearby Cimbum Margil wetland.

The Detala development group had a Land & Environment court approved DA for their land. There were many ‘conditions of consent’ attached to this approval.

The campaign saw over 6000 submissions sent to the State Government. As the lapse date for the DA approached, the Action Group organized a media event to raise the attention of the community. The day following that event has gone down as the largest civil protest in Byron’s history.

On October 28 1999, 1000 North Coast residents blocked access to the land by the developer’s earthmoving equipment in a day-long action. It was a demanding day for all involved, however the outcome was success for the campaign!

Subsequent court action determined that Detala had not complied with conditions of consent and charges against six people arrested on the day where withdrawn. Discussions with the land-owner led to the State and Federal government purchasing the land in 2004 and including it in the Arakwal National Park.

Through determined action by the people, Byron Council, Government and the landowner, a rare and valuable natural asset has been preserved. The fabulous vistas from Cape Byron can tell a thousand stories. This is one of them!

Veda Turner, Paterson St. Hilltop Reserve Trust, Byron Bay

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