MALABAR HEADLAND NATIONAL PARK OPENS WITH A BANGThe undeveloped bushland at Malabar Headland has long been contested ground. The land was for many years owned by the Commonwealth, but early last year was handed over to the NSW state government.
In October last year, Matt Thistlethwaite MP memorably referred to the state government’s leasing of much of the land to the Rifle Association of NSW as “a secret, dirty backroom deal to lock the community that I represent out of 177 hectares”.
Malabar Headland National Park is comprised of two sections of bushland: an eastern coastal section of approximately 54 hectares on the peninsula seaward edge, and a smaller western section of approximately 15 hectares located approximately one kilometre inland. The rifle range sits in between.
As of March 23, 2017, the eastern section is finally open to the public for bushwalking and other activities. A 3.7 kilometre walking track (the ‘Eastern Walkway’) around the escarpment has been constructed, which makes for breathtakingly scenic walks along the coast. The western section is yet to open.
Randwick Mayor Noel D’Souza was understandably upbeat about the opening.
“I’m incredibly pleased that Council has been able to play a role in preserving this green space and ensuring that everyone has access to this important public space,” he said.
However, the presence of the Anzac Rifle Range poses one quite jarring obstacle to public enjoyment of the headland. The eastern coastal section and its walkway are only accessible to the public when the rifle range is not in use.
Given that the rifle range is home to the NSW Rifle Association, it is rarely dormant.
According to terms set out by the Supreme Court, the association has the legal right to shoot every day of the week.
David McGuigan, Executive Officer of NSW Rifle Association, stressed that the association’s promise to not shoot on Mondays and Thursdays is a voluntary concession to the National Park, and added that “shooting generally finishes by 5.30pm, so after 6pm on any day is available to walk on the headland.”
Unfortunately this means that non-shooter citizens cannot access the coastal walkway during the day on the weekend, a point that Mr. Thistlethwaite was quick to jump on.
“What’s the point of a national park that’s not open on Saturdays?” he said.
In 2015, then Environment Minister Greg Hunt talked of attempting to find an alternative site for the range, but this now seems unlikely as he has more recently referred to the association having a “long-term future” at the headland.
As such, it seems best to look to what is positive about the situation. Randwick Council has confirmed that it will soon “commence construction on the ‘Western Walking Track’, which is located in an area of the headland that will not be impacted by the rifle range shooting days. It will be open seven days a week and has easy direct access via both Maroubra and Malabar beaches.”
Further, while it is easy to resent the Rifle Association’s hot property, Mr. McGuigan made an interesting point.
“If the Rifle Range hadn’t existed [since the 1980s, as it has] then the entire area would have suffered the same fate as the rest of the headlands along this part of the coast and would have been developed,” he said.
Perhaps, all things considered, we should count our blessings.