06 May 2022

Today, the Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area was gazetted, with its draft Master Plan publicly released containing plans for major visitor and tourism development.

Keith Muir, former Colong Foundation for Wilderness (now Wilderness Australia) Executive Director, said:

“The Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area gazetted today must negotiate a political minefield if it is to be properly managed.

“The new reserve comes with significant funding that should protect and present its astounding pagoda landscapes and rare upland swamps, but a large chunk of money is ear-marked for a “Luna park” style amusement rides. Of equal concern are the planned built accommodation units that set a development precedent for Blue Mountains National Parks. Conservationists have kept the Blue Mountains parks free of this sort of development, so the new park’s big funding package is a poison chalice.

Tourism Master Plan will fail to give Lithgow the tourism hit it needs

“Under the reserve’s Master Plan released today the full tourism potential of Lithgow’s Gardens of Stone backyard will not be realised. While the Master Plan has placed high use visitor facilities close to Lithgow and enabled family-friendly visitor experiences, these offerings are not linked to Lithgow with a 2WD tourist loop road.

“Some of the development with roads and lookouts will ruin 2,350 hectares of NPWS identified wilderness using funds that would be better spent on a 2WD loop road.

“There’s truly nothing like the Gardens of Stone - the watershed of the Cox, Capertee, Wolgan, Turon and Wollangambe rivers, it straddles the Great Dividing Range. At almost 1200 metres, the new reserve protects the highest sandstone plateau in the Sydney Basin and will be a cool climate refuge from climate change. 

“The diversity and rarity of its scenery and native flora, and its dramatic Aboriginal cultural heritage will be enjoyed by thousands of people but without a 2WD suitable tourist loop road the Master Plan misses the mark for Lithgow.

"The thrill-seeking zip line ride just denies the reality that visitors are already spell bound by nature in the Gardens of Stone, and the on-park accommodation offer also drags people away from Lithgow and puts development into the park. What the hell is a park, if it’s not an area set aside from development for nature!”

Ben Bullen - Photo H. Gold
15 Dec 2021

Hut News Issue 398 December 2021

Cheers, tears and a storm of emails erupted in celebration within the Society when, on Saturday 13 November, the NSW government at last announced the creation of a new Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area (SCA).

The announcement came in a joint media release from the Premier, Dominic Perrottet, Environment Minister and Treasurer, Matt Kean and Deputy Premier and local MP, Paul Toole.

The decision transfers this spectacular area of pagoda landscapes, cliffs, waterfalls, woodlands and flowering swamps into the national park estate. The new State Conservation Area is made up of most of three state forests (Newnes, Ben Bullen and Wolgan) plus Crown reserve land near Mount Piper. There will also be small additions to the adjoining Gardens of Stone and Wollemi National Parks. The whole area is a combined total of 31,500 hectares.

The existing Gardens of Stone National Park lies immediately north of the new SCA. This park, created in 1994, was an early campaign success. However this left the three state forests unprotected because of active coal mining leases. In 2006 a campaign launched the Gardens of Stone Stage 2 Proposal and this has been the foundation document until today. In 2001 the 3,500 ha Mugii Murum-ban SCA further north was created.

The Campaign

This has been a long campaign going back to Myles Dunphy’s vision for the Greater Blue Mountains in 1932. The name, “Gardens of Stone”, was first used by renowned environmentalist, Haydn Washington. The Society has been involved in the campaign for over twenty years. The Gardens of Stone Alliance, made up of founding members Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Lithgow Environment Group and Blue Mountains Conservation Society, has been the organising force of the campaign. Nature Conservation Council boosted the campaign when it joined in 2020 and the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute joined more recently. We also acknowledge the long-term support of National Parks Association.

The Society in particular thanks Keith Muir from Colong Foundation and Julie Favell, Chris Jonkers and Richard Stiles from Lithgow Environment Group for their incredible persistence and conviction in achieving recognition for the Gardens of Stone The Society also wishes to thank all our members and supporters. You have helped make this happen through raising awareness, signing petitions, submissions, letters to government and supporting our public events.

We recognise some key Society members: Ian Brown, Brian Marshall, Karen McLaughlin, Peter Green, Janine Kitson, Yuri Bolotin, Joel Robinson, Thomas Ebersoll, Tara Cameron and Madi Maclean.

We also thank the many volunteers who contributed by helping plan, organise or run events, such as trips, giant banner drops, tours, stalls, MP tours, film nights, talks and exhibitions, particularly the Gardens of Stone In Focus photo competition and two day exhibition; by publicising and promoting the beauty of Gardens of Stone on facebook and other platforms. We also recognise the film makers who produced glorious and moving videos. It is difficult to acknowledge everyone in one short article.

It has been a long campaign with multiple contributions. A few highlights that stand out for me in the last eight years are:

The Planning Assessment hearings for the Coalpac open-cut mine proposal where in 2012 the Independent Planning Commission found that “the highest and best use of the area was for conservation purposes”. The mining proposal was refused.

In mid 2019, Destination Pagoda, the visitor management plan written by Ian Brown, was launched in Lithgow, Katoomba and Sydney. It showed that the SCA could function and support conservation values as well as promote nature-based tourism and diversify the local economy of Lithgow. Destination Pagoda became a new focus in the local campaign, promoted through social media and gaining local support.

There were a number of rallies in the Gardens of Stone and in Lithgow and they lifted our spirits.

We also thank the parliamentarians who drove this proposal:

Environment Minister, Matt Kean, for getting it over the line;

Trish Doyle, our local member, for her long term support and for ensuring the Labor Party added protection of the Gardens of Stone into its platform at the last state election;

Cate Faehrmann, Greens MLC

Catherine Cusack, Liberal MLC.

Next steps

The next step is the establishment of the new SCA with professional park management of the area and consultation on the proposals.

Protect the Gardens of Stone Banner
19 Nov 2021

Media release 19 November 2021

Keith Muir, former Colong Foundation for Wilderness Executive Director, said:

“After what must be the longest protected area campaign in history, the Colong Foundation welcomes the new Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area of over 30,000 hectares which positions Lithgow as the gateway to the Gardens of Stone region.

“The new reserve ranks in the top 20 of most floristically diverse of all State Forests, National Parks and Reserves in NSW, just behind Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, but outranks them all on geodiversity diversity.

“The funding provided will permit the establishment of a world-class tourism and conservation reserve protecting and presenting an astounding array of heritage values. It will improve the protection of internationally significant pagoda landscapes and remaining rare upland swamps. The area includes 84 threatened plant and animal species, such as the Giant Dragonfly, and 16 rare and threatened communities.

“The untapped tourism value of Lithgow’s Gardens of Stone backyard lies in the diversity and rarity of its scenery and native flora, and in its Aboriginal cultural heritage. These values will be protected and enjoyed by thousands of people.

“Lithgow will become the new Katoomba. Katoomba was once a coal mining town, having successfully transitioned to a tourism based economy in the 1920s.

“It is testament to the persistent community campaign from the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Blue Mountains Conservation Society and the Lithgow Environment Group that this announcement has happened today.

“While this is a great outcome for nature, the threat to the World Heritage Area from the proposed raising of the Warragamba Dam wall casts a long shadow over today’s wonderful announcement.”

Wyn Jones with microphone by David Noble
29 Apr 2020

Media release 29 April 2020

Congratulations, together environment groups have pushed back against the 2000 hectare Augus Place mining proposal and with luck our efforts shall ensure NSW is not locked into coal-fired electric power generation for another 33 years.

Dr Brad Smith of NCC found out that the design life of the Mt Piper power plant is much shorter than the life of the proposed mine, defeating the main justification for such a long consent. The Colong's investigations revealed that restarting the Angus Place mine will be much more destructive that either the Springvale or Airly mines.

We have done well. 836 citizens lodged objections using the Colong webform and another 2365 came in from the NSW Nature Conservation Council before the exhibition period closed on Tuesday 28 April, 2020.

The groups in the Gardens of Stone Alliance have developed well reasoned arguments against the proposal for the planners and decision makers to consider. We've play our part, and the system should curb the worst excesses of this mine...

Of course the main task is now to work the political system to enable changes to the local Lithgow economy, and that is where Destination Pagoda comes in to assist with an alternative tourism economy. We can't let the community fall flat as coal declines in economic and political influence. Its about the change we need to see, not just opposing coal mines.

So together we have defended the heritage values and beauty of Gardens of Stone region, arguably the most important natural area in the state. Together we opposed the Angus Pace mine extension as it would ruin many of the remaining Newnes Plateau swamps and cause the virtual extinction of this nationally rare ecosystem. Angus Place proposal must not be allowed to cause far-field impacts on swamps and streams beyond its mining area and drain the Wolgan River and its swamps. The spectacular Wolgan Falls must continue to flow.

Cathedral Cave is indeed a natural cathedral, and the pagoda landscapes in and around the proposed mining area must all be protected.

Rain storm by Joel Robinson
01 Sep 2015

New economic research by Dr Jo Mackellar has demonstrated that Lithgow will gain significant job and economic benefits if a new state conservation area were created on its doorstep. The report, commissioned by the Gardens of Stone Alliance, assessed the potential visitors to a planned Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area and the economic contribution of those visitors to the local region. The research identified the community benefits to Lithgow from the new reserve.

The Destination Pagoda report cover