The ornate room in City Hall seemed a long way from the bucolic beauty of the Waterworks Valley. And the speech I was about to deliver to a meeting of the City of Hobart’s planning committee was a long way from the arcane language of development matters.
Instead of discussing discretionary uses, zones and permits I had decided to speak on behalf of the birds. I would be their representative in a hearing devoted to a proposal to build a cluster of houses on a leafy block not a robin’s flutter and hop from my home.
Wearing a tie for once and polished black shoes, I looked the part for the deliberations of a vital council committee but all the same I felt out of place. Amid all the planning jargon delivered in earnest did the members of the committee really want to hear that I had awoken at dawn to the song of the yellow-throated honeyeater. Or I had fallen asleep the previous evening to the far-carrying onomatopoeic call of the boobook owl.
Did it matter that the proposed construction of nine homes on a bushy site bordering the Sandy Bay Rivulet in Dynnyrne was on an important wildlife corridor, used by not only 60 species of birds but an array of mammals which included Bennett’s wallaby, pademelons, potoroo and, that very same week, an echidna? I didn’t even mention the dusky antechinus which scurried across my lawn as I straightened my tie for the hearing. Too much information might really brand me as the “nimby” I was trying so hard not to be.
I was not anti-development and recognised the need for more housing in the state. But the birds needed homes, too, and the block contained old-growth white peppermint and blue gums that provided food for swift parrots in spring, and nesting cavities for other parrots. The site was also home to most of Tasmania’s 12 endemic bird species.
Along with my neighbours, and members of the Friends of the Sandy Bay Rivulet, I knew we had a fight on our hands, especially as we learned that the site fell within the inner-city residential planning zone and this provided for relatively high housing densities. Already there had been three multi-home developments in the valley in recent times and another was on the way. Regarding the latest proposal, a representative of the developers said 30 homes could be built on the site, not the nine planned.
Another worry for residents had been increased traffic at the steeply-graded entrance to the site, a spot used by animals at night to cross from the eastern to western sides of the valley. There was a portent of things to come the morning after the planning committee meeting. A wallaby hit by a car lay dead on the road.