Standing together to save Beeliar wetlands

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The Roe 8 highway extension has been a controversial issue amongst the local community in Cockburn and surrounding areas for a number of years. The State Government of Western Australia has proposed to extend Roe highway from Kwinana Freeway through the Beeliar Wetlands including around Bibra Lake, in an aim to ease transport for trucks heading to the Fremantle port.

The community, including the City of Cockburn, has shown massive support for the ‘Rethink the Link’ campaign, which opposes the State Government’s proposal and offers an alternative. Supporters of the campaign have recently had success, as plans for construction have been stalled due to the Environmental Protection Authority’s assessment of the area being deemed invalid by the Supreme Court. The State Government of WA have recently announced that they will appeal this decision, meaning the fight is not over yet.

Rev Sealin Garlett, minister at Coolbellup Uniting Church, is well established and respected in the City of Cockburn, and is also a member of the city’s Aboriginal Reference Group. Much of the community campaign against the highway extension has been out of concern for the local ecosystem, which will be hugely impacted under the proposal. Sealin also adds to this conversation that the area is culturally significant for Nyungar people.

“As an Indigenous man, the old people told us the story of the importance of that place,” Sealin said. “Not only of that area as a camping ground, but it also was a birth place.

“Women would go to that area and give birth to their children; they would stay there until the children were weened. And the reason for that is the abundance of food in the area.”

“There’s work been done and houses there, but there are pockets of the land that are very important and need to be left alone,” he said.

Sealin explained that there are four significant sites in that area, also including a meeting ground where people would share stories and a corroboree site. The original owners of the land understand the importance of the wetlands and care strongly for the complex water system. Many local community members and groups all stand together to save this site.

“One of the good things about this task, standing up against the Roe 8, is that there’s not one group against another group,” Sealin said. “Usually when aboriginal people ask to keep away from the land there’s always a community upheaval about the need for growth, but this situation is that there’s a unified understanding from the community of the importance that this place represents. That’s really the heart story of the land.”

To find out more and to support the campaign visit www.rethinkthelink.com.au.

Top image: Bibra Lake, part of the Beeliar Wetlands, at dawn. Photo courtesy of the City of Cockburn.

Heather Dowling

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