Sandmining on the Kurnell Peninsula has changed the landscape of Kurnell dramatically. The following extracts from Kurnell: Birthplace of Modern Australia by Daphne Salt reveals just how the transformation of the dunes came about following European settlement:
“According to the handwritten 1868 Sutherland Estate Report, Kurnell at that time was still mostly virgin land covered in a healthy scrub, large trees and native grasses. But Holt (Thomas Holt bought most of the Kurnell Peninsula in 1861) then began an intensive project to clear and cultivate. He imported and planted grass seed that he had bought in Germany. With the grasses growing on the cleared land, he had brought in sheep. When Dingos and footrot killed off the sheep, Holt tried cattle. The hungry cattle completed the damage the sheep had started. In 1870 the green hills on Kurnell Peninsula showed big areas of exposed sand where the grass had been eaten out – and the bared dunes have been spreading ever since!
“Holt also tried his hand in the timber industry. Turpentine, ironbark, blackbutt and mahogany were felled and floated out to waiting ships in the bay. In 1873, after selling the rights to timber on his property, Holt had the gall to urge the NSW Government to take immediate steps to preserve the State’s timber.”
Before this thoughtless intervention, the vegetated sandhills covered over 405 hectares and rose up to 61 metres.
Once the restraining vegetative cover was gone, the unstable, transgressive dune sheet moved north at a rate of at least 8 metres a year.
“In 1933 the Sutherland Shire Council asked the Government to set aside the 810 hectares between Cronulla Golf Club and Kurnell as a reserve. But the Government could see no reason to establish another National Reserve so near to Captain Cook’s Landing Place Reserve. In 1937 the Council was offered 291 hectares of sandhills at a low price. The Council was evenly split and the negative casting vote of its President, C.O.J. Monro, foreshadowed the doom of the dunes.”
Sydney’s booming building industry has seen in excess of 170 million tonnes of sand extracted from the Peninsula since the 1930s. A number of companies / landholders have undertaken sandmining on the Peninsula, including Holt Group, Breen and Hookers.
Threats to this area still loom, from development in particular. This will be an ongoing struggle for environmental groups in the future.
For more about the Kurnell Peninsula see information from our older website – some of the information is dated but is still valuable – https://dws.ssec.org.au/environment/bioregion/kurnell/index.htm