Every region in Australia needs protecting by an environment centre. This is especially true for the Sutherland Shire – one of the most remarkable local government regions in Australia. It is home to a host of natural features: the two great bays, Port Hacking and Botany Bay; three of Sydney’s six rivers, four national parks including the oldest in the world; many of Sydney’s best beaches; and the place where Aboriginal and European cultures first met.
For over 60,000 years before Cook’s arrival, Aboriginal people lived a deep connection with Australia’s unique natural environment. They cared for and continue to care for country. Dharawal people are reported by the First Fleet diarists to have assembled muttering, shouting and making obscene gestures when Phillip’s sailors indiscriminately chopped down trees on Kurnell. We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of this Land, the Dharawal and Gandangara peoples, and recognise that Aboriginal Sovereignty has never been ceded.
Sutherland Shire Environment Centre was born following a Writing for the Environment course, held in Sutherland in 1991 by local historian, publisher and environmental activist, Bob Walshe (1923-2018). A few inspired participants banded together, intending to put the lessons from the course to good use.
After the launch of the Environment Centre on the 22 July, 1991 it wasn’t long before its founding members were hard at work on their first campaign. It was to be the first of many successes. All through the intervening years, Sutherland Shire Environment Centre has been in the forefront of many campaigns on behalf of environmental protection in and around Sutherland Shire:
- the expansion of Lucas Heights Waste Depot as Sydney’s ‘Megatip’, 1992
- a Helensburgh expansion that would have polluted the Royal National Park, 1994
- the Metromix proposal to mine huge quantities of sand off-shore from Botany Bay, Cronulla and the Royal National Park, 1994
- siting of Sydney’s second airport at Holsworthy, 1997
- a co-generation plant at Kurnell that would have damaged Botany Bay, 1998
- construction of the M6 which would split the Shire in two
- development of 3000 homes in West Menai
Sutherland Shire Library conducted a wonderful oral history interview with Bob Walshe in 2006 which outlines what was involved in some of these campaigns. It can be accessed via this link.
There is also Rowan Cahill’s heartfelt and evocative tribute to Bob Walshe, “An Activist for all Seasons”. Rowan is currently an Honorary Fellow with the Faculty of Law, Humanities & the Arts, at Wollongong University.
More recently our campaigns have focused on raising awareness of the risks of climate change, threats to our water supply from coal mining, wildlife corridors, protecting koala habitat, helping Sutherland Shire stay plastic free, and our other environmental education programs.