By Jim Russell, Associate at the University of Tasmania’s School of Geography and Environmental Studies.
His background article on the Noosa Biosphere Reserve (NBR), consisting of the 1,500km2 Noosa Shire and extending three km offshore, can be found in Landscape Research Extra 85.
A major milestone for the Noosa NBR was approval in 2019 of its first 10-year report by the Commonwealth Government and UNESCO, but for this writer an unexpected, deeply meaningful event arose: I was in the Noosaville Library in September 2019 for the premiere public launch of the documentary Place of Crowes.
Funded by Noosa Shire Council and the Queensland Government, the film shows a number of Aboriginal descendants of “Kabi Kabi elders Willie Crowe and Emma Dunne sharing stories and research related to their family. It is a powerful and emotional story of identity, loss, resilience and the strength of family bonds” (words written by Producer/Director James Muller, EarthBase Productions).
Photographed as honoured guests at the Library screening were some of those filmed and other family, people whose forebears were removed from their country, including Noosa, to Cherbourg mission, in line with State Government segregation policy from about 1900. There, as but one example of unconscionable controls, to speak in Aboriginal languages was forbidden.
In the NBR 10-year report a wish was expressed to have “closer working relationships” with the Kabi Kabi. Yet, at the film night, (then) Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington asserted that Council had been slow to recognise its dispossessed Indigenous descendants, and hailed this documentary as a powerful impetus to change that. I thought at the time it could mark as yet unimagined processes and journeys (though Tourism Noosa, for instance, had already been working towards cultural programmes with the Kabi Kabi).
In August 2019, the author and Frank Wilkie, Noosa Deputy Lord Mayor, and Juanita Terry-Bloomfield, Head of Environment and Sustainability, Tourism Noosa, met to discuss many initiatives and programmes related to the NBR. Frank’s list of major challenges: waste control; managing the huge number of visitors to Noosa (2.48 million overnight and day visitors for the year to June 2019); and promoting NBR significance throughout the Shire. Juanita emphasised coping with the tourist numbers.
Solutions were unlikely to be achieved quickly, but multiple positive steps were in train. Composting food waste from accommodation and hospitality venues, for instance, was too expensive for Noosa Shire alone: a hint of scale was revealed in a table showing near 450,000 room nights occupied at tourist accommodation to year ended June 2015 (Briggs & Mortar 2017), but amongst a list of other sustainability foci, Tourism Noosa, through levies on major community events/festivals, had arranged composting of 1.3 tons of food waste, and eradicated 3 million pieces of plastic from January 2018 – Aug 2019.
For six weeks over the 2019/20 Christmas peak holiday period, a Council funded, improved programme relative to the inaugural previous year (which covered Easter as well) saw free bus services throughout the Shire and a new 15min frequency loop serving the most popular areas. Traffic management staff prioritised pedestrians and buses at busy intersections.
Although Biosphere Reserve status (since 2006) was not widely appreciated in the Shire, it was emphasised at both my August meeting, and later with Jo Ball, an early, consistent champion for the NBR, that it ‘kept the dream alive’ of Noosa’s particular qualities at a critical time. From 2008 by State decree and until 2013, Noosa had been amalgamated with the much larger Sunshine Coast Regional Council; within that Council’s borders, there was no comparably intense and prolonged history of fiercely fought conservation conflicts since the 1960s, with some highly significant achievements.
Separation for Noosa came after a campaign resulting in an overwhelming de-amalgamation vote by its residents. Nevertheless, despite many gains from the first decade of the NBR, it seemed the next 10 years demanded serious work on promoting UNESCO MAB programme aims within the community and amongst visitors. In addition, Jo Ball expressed a significant concern: that with rapid growth in South East Queensland, the NBR might be leaned on by the State Government to take more than its Council-set population cap, focused on an ‘ultimate’ projection of some 64,000 residents beyond 2031.
Meanwhile, a fairly recent major achievement within the NBR was a successful initiative led by Michael Gloster and the Noosa Parks Association (NPA) to add 2,600ha of largely forest plantation to Tewantin National Park, close to achieving the goal of a near continuous reserved area within Shire borders from north to south (Cooloola to Noosa National Parks). This involved $3.5 million (Australian) compensation for the private timber company shared amongst the NPA, Noosa Council, and the State Government; work to rehabilitate much of the land when planted trees are harvested is also needed.
Many more steps have been taken or are underway to meet the difficulties associated with an extraordinarily popular coastal resort setting as well as a rural hinterland and National Parks. Examples can be readily accessed via the home pages of Noosa Council, the Noosa Biosphere Reserve, and Tourism Noosa. All such are related to landscape quality in one way or another, but I find a 2015 document from Council remains a highlight with direct social, ecological, and visual quality applications – the Noosa Design Principles. Recent treatment of pedestrian access provides a great example:
However, it may be that the global Covid-19 pandemic provides one of the greatest challenges of all. Noosa’s accommodation and hospitality sectors were major contributors to a Gross Regional Product of $3.09 billion in the year ending June 2019 and to employment. As of April this year massive economic impacts are expected with their near shutdown. Frank Wilkie noted recently that the effects flow through to pretty much all Shire businesses. That may be ameliorated in June 2020 if the capacity to open accommodation for Queensland visitors stays on track.
Noosa Shire Council & Noosa Biosphere Reserve Foundation Ltd, Noosa Biosphere Reserve Periodic Review 2018, Tewantin, Qld.
Tourism Noosa Annual Report 2018-2019: https://www.visitnoosa.com.au/media/Downloads/AGM2019/AnnualReport-2018-19_Final.pdf
Briggs & Mortar Pty Ltd, 2017, Noosa Housing Needs Assessment: https://www.noosa.qld.gov.au/downloads/file/1476/noosa-housing-needs-assessments
Noosa Council 2015, Design Principles: how Noosa has been shaped: https://www.noosa.qld.gov.au/about-council/principles-plans-strategies/noosa-design-principles