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• Towra as an Airport

Unique Towra Point

Towra as an Airport

It is not generally known that waterways on the southern shore of Botany Bay and at the entrance of Georges River came under private ownership in the nineteenth century. In the 1830s John Connell purchased Woolooware Bay for his logging interests. Then in 1864 Thomas Holt bought Gwawley Bay and Weeney Bay in the belief that a profitable oyster industry could be established. So these waterways were uniquely private-a temptation to the owners to 'develop' them economically.

A century later, as the urbanisation of Sutherland Shire exploded, the Shire Council had to contend with this unusual phenomenon. Council actually agreed to acquire Holt's Gwawley Bay canals but found it had no funds. Eventually a private company developed the area as Sylvania Waters.

The Towra Point area, including Weeney Bay, remained privately owned. Since the 1880s it has changed hands many times, usually impelled by economic or access needs. But it still remains unoccupied and looks to most air travellers much the same as it did during the visits of Captain Cook and Governor Phillip.

Three years prior to the construction of the Caltex Oil Refinery in the early 1950s, Towra Point's flat wilderness was chosen by the Department of Civil Aviation as the natural place for Sydney's second international airport. In 1952 the Department of Civil Aviation built through it what it called a causeway to access a VAR Station (Visual Aural Radar) that it established to monitor the approach of aircraft to Mascot Airport. Meanwhile, the Department of Civil Aviation was involved in confidential discussions with the NSW State Planning Authority.

In a press release, 30 July 1965, the State Liberal MP for Cronulla, Mr Ian Griffith, praised the idea of an airport and pointed out that the Federal Department of Civil Aviation “desired to obtain approximately 1500 acres on the southern shore of Botany Bay bounded by Towra Point in the north to Wanda Recreation Reserve in the south, between Quibray Bay and Woolooware Bay .”

Intense protest from councils in the Sutherland Shire and St George area forced this scheme to be shelved. At the same time confidential discussions were being held with officers of Sutherland Council about the proposed airport, but were never disclosed.

The then Federal Member for Hughes, Les Johnson, raised the matter in question time in the Federal Parliament and the Hughes ALP Federal Council called a public meeting in the old Miranda Theatre on Sunday 8th October 1965 to protest the proposal.

The issue arose again, in 1967. A front page Leader article brought it to public attention (19.7.67). In a Presidential Minute to Council, 28th October 1968, Councillor Arthur Gietzelt advised the Council that the 'Outline Plan for the Sydney Region by the Minister for Local Government .. confirmed the fact that the establishment of a second airport at Towra Point was under consideration'.

Council unanimously opposed the proposal and asked State and Federal members for their support.

The largest-ever public meeting in Sutherland Shire up to that time, attended by five MPs and representatives of four neighbouring Councils and held in the parking area of Westfields Miranda, voted overwhelmingly against a Towra airport. The City press gave great publicity to the campaign and, then, to Prime Minister Gorton's decision to back off. Towra Point however remained as a large area with potential for development.

At the 1970 NSW Local Government Conference, Clr Gietzelt, on behalf of the St George and Sutherland Shire Councils, persuaded delegates to oppose any airport development on Towra. The conference agreed that Towra should remain a pristine and wetlands region.

In the 1970 Senate election Councillor Gietzelt was elected to the National Senate and continued his interest in retaining Towra Point as a protected area. Community forces also kept up the pressure.

Council was aware that the Commonwealth Department of Works was still working on plans for an airport in the area and it got wind that survey work was being done on about 390 acres owned by Wendifyl Estates Pty Ltd.

Shortly after election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, Senator Gietzelt raised the matter of the Federal Government acquiring Towra Point area as parkland; he was able to do so as a member of the Government's Urban Affairs Committee.

Prime Minister Whitlam acknowledged the need to acquire the area because of its unique closeness to Sydney (only 10 miles from the GPO), its wetlands character, and its overall value to the National Estate. Government Ministers Tom Uren and Moss Cass made similar representations, as did local members Ray Thorburn and Les Johnson. In 1974, Minister Cass finally won Cabinet approval. Money for its acquisition was provided in the second Whitlam Budget and discussions were opened with the NSW Liberal Government which had the power to acquire the land.

In May 1974 agreement was reached to acquire 1300 acres of Towra. Prime Minister Whitlam made a public statement
at a press conference:
“People in this region are well aware of the impact on their environment of Kingsford-Smith Airport. They do not want another one. My Government has decided that there will be no expansion of Kingsford-Smith.We will build a second airport in Sydney but it will not be at Towra Point.

Towra Point, as part of the Kurnell Peninsula, is a unique, natural wilderness area . indeed, the only one of its kind within 100 miles along the coastline of Sydney. Its preservation is essential to the ecology of Botany Bay. It has been under threat not only from an airport, but also from real estate developers.

I therefore announce that the Australian Labor Government will acquire Towra Point and preserve it as a national park, so that it will become for all time a part of Australia's national heritage.

Tomorrow, May 8th, 1974, Australia will sign the International Convention for the Protection of Wetlands of International Significance. Towra Point is the last remaining wetland in greater Sydney and must be preserved.”
So Towra Point, previously a privately owned area, remains a natural ecological gem in the greater Sydney Region. The residents of Sutherland Shire, especially in Sylvania Waters, Caringbah and Cronulla, have been spared to a major degree from excessive aircraft noise, and Sydney has saved the last major wetland area from development. It was a major victory for protecting the natural environment.
Aerial view, 1999, of Towra Point and, in the background, Brighton. Captain Cook Bridge links Sans Souci and Brighton to Taren Point in Sutherland Shire.
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