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Kurnell's Cry for Australia's Attention

April is Kurnell time!

Feverish preparations all through the month will culminate on April 29th, anniversary of Captain Cook's historic entry into Botany Bay and his coming ashore on the beach of the peninsula that the startled Aborigines called Kernl, later anglicised as Kurnell.

And some celebration it will be!

The Kurnell Historic Festival - four days of exhibits, ceremonies, tours, entertainment - will stretch through into May.

The program is extraordinary: tall ships in the Bay, Aboriginal ceremonies and dances, street parades, re-enactments, clifftop concerts, dragonboat races, fireworks over the Bay, and much much more.

Even so, this year's great Festival will prelude greater things to come, for the Year 2000 will see the Sydney Olympic Torch Relay begin from Kurnell. And Year 2001, with its celebration of Federation, will see Kurnell again in the historical spotlight.

Back of all this preparation and enthusiasm is the growing awareness that Kurnell Peninsula has had a shabby deal from an Australia too often neglectful of its history.

Historic? Here is not only Cook's first landing place on the continent, but the first collection of Australian botany, by Joseph Banks. And Phillip's raising of the First Fleet Flag. And the first encounter of British colonists with Aborigines. And Aboriginal protest at the cutting down of trees by Phillip's sailors (the first Australian environmental protest). And Cook's most authoritative diary, recording the Aborigines living in harmony with their natural environment - "in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans", he wrote.

In short, Kurnell has hosted so many priceless Australian Firsts. So what went wrong? Look at just three video clips.

1788. Kurnell is God's Country. Teeming with animals and plants, birds and insects, densely treed, clean air, clean water, abundant fish and shellfish in the bay, a numerous Aborigine population.

1888. Kurnell is Paradise Lost. Thomas Holt and others have ringbarked countless thousands of trees, torched the dense underbrush, exposed the mighty sand dunes - to run sheep, which soon develop footrot and are slaughtered in thousands and buried under seaweed on Towra. The Aboriginal population has been devastated.

1988. Kurnell is largely Industrial Wasteland. Industries rush to locate on cheap land. The nation's biggest oil refinery, a carbon plant, a major landfill, a sewage treatment plant. above all, the mighty sandhills fall into private hands (two companies) and are plundered for building sand.

Yet in 1999, what has survived is worth fighting for - the entire Peninsula crying out for rehabilitation! Struggling here is Sydney's most important single wetland, its best mangrove belt, its best tract of saltmarsh, pockets of rainforest, of rare dune forest, of heathland, and two remnant dunes to remind posterity that Kurnell used to display the finest range of sandhills on the NSW coast.

All this is what April's festival is about - a celebration of modern Australia's historical First, precious Kurnell.

The Festival is a cry from the Shire's heart to all Australians - and especially those in Canberra - to set about that rehabilitation.