14 Apr 2021


By Brad Christmas

Manyana Matters

Some of us did yoga on a thin, grassy verge between farm fences and the road. Some jogged or rode skateboards or bikes. Others juggled and threw frisbees.

Yoga during Manyana Matters protest
© Manyana Matters

No, this wasn’t a flash mob. It was all part of my little community’s fight to save a precious patch of unburnt forest slated for a massive new housing development. We were exercising our right to protest by, well, exercising. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, fitness was one of the few reasons allowed for leaving the house.

We were there to send decision-makers a loud, clear message: save our forest after the previous summer’s devastating bushfires. We kept up our socially distant vigil for several weeks, ready at a moment’s notice to protect the magnificent old-growth trees from the bulldozers.

Nearly a year on, and we are still fighting for that forest.

Help us defend our unburnt forests. Sign the petition now.

The summer that changed everything

The coastal hamlet of Manyana is about three hours south of Sydney by car. Until recently, visitors driving into town were greeted by a sign that read, ‘Manyana: Where Old Surfers Come to Die’. It captured beautifully the laidback vibe that we all love about the place.

But things were far from serene on New Year’s Eve 2019 when the Currowan megafire bore down on Manyana and the neighbouring villages of Bendalong, North Bendalong, Cunjurong Point and Lake Berringer. Residents watched in horror as nearby Conjola Park was consumed by flames, knowing an unlucky change in wind direction would see us face the same fate.

When the blaze did arrive on 1 January 2020, it came right to our doorsteps. With the aid of just two trucks, local Rural Fire Service volunteers fought the ferocious inferno on two massive fronts. It’s only thanks to their courageous efforts that no human life – and very little property – was lost.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the natural environment.

Manyana Batters Bendalong Road
Manyana Batters Bendalong Road © Manyana Matters

Around 95% of the surrounding Conjola National Park was burnt-out by those fires. Much of that was considered critical habitat for vulnerable and threatened species like the greater glider, grey-headed flying fox and swift parrot. These are species the Australian Federal Government has a responsibility to protect under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999.

It’s not known how many animals perished in the Currowan blaze but estimates reach into the millions. It saddens me to think the friendly kangaroos who regularly grazed on my lawn were likely among the casualties.

A reckless and insensitive plan to clear unburnt habitat

Just weeks after the last flames had been extinguished, a developer was poised to clear one of the last remaining areas of unburnt forest in our area. The very same forest our local firies had fought so bravely to save. It was too much for a traumatised and grieving community to bear. It was time to stand up and say, “Enough’s enough.” So, we – some of those firies among us – banded together to form the Manyana Matters Environmental Association (MMEA) and prepare ourselves for the long struggle to stop deforestation in our bushland.

A Noah’s Ark of biodiversity

The forested area that the developer plans to clear to make way for 182 new homes has a special place in the hearts of many locals.

Walking a lap of the forest became a morning ritual for me in the aftermath of the fires. Its towering eucalypt canopy was a powerful symbol of hope in an otherwise blackened and desolate landscape. As a keen twitcher, it was also one of the few places I could still go to soak up the chorus of birdsong and catch a rare glimpse of a spotted pardalote or gang-gang cockatoo.

Since the fires, the forest has become a vital source of refuge and regeneration for vulnerable animal and plant species driven from the blackened Conjola National Park by the flames. It’s a vital base from which nature can heal and thrive again.

Threatened species like the grey-headed flying fox, southern brown bandicoot and powerful owl have all previously been spotted in the forest. I believe clearing it now would be a cruel act of environmental vandalism to a local community – human and animal – still hurting from one of the worst disasters in our country’s history.

This development was approved back in 2008 by the NSW Government under very different circumstances. It has never been approved by the Australian Government, which is currently assessing its likely impact on the environment. Despite that, the local council has given the green light to allow the bulldozers to move in.

Our campaign goes national

We believe it’s time for federal, state and local governments to act on their responsibility to conserve this biodiversity hot spot and review the development. And we’re not alone.

We’ve had some powerful and influential friends add their voices to our campaign. Actor Claudia Karvan and author Marcus Zusak are just two of many activists who have appeared in videos that supported our cause.

We also had more than 30 internationally renowned artists visit Manyana to create moving and thought-provoking works as part of our Occupy the Fence event in July 2020.

Manyana Matters Climate Guardian and Protest
Manyana Matters Climate Guardian and Protest © Manyana Matters

We’ve had expert legal support and advice from Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), who helped us take out an injunction against the development in the Federal Court.

Our story has got media attention across Australia too since our campaign began.

A powerful vision for the future

Brad Christmas Manyana Matters
Brad Christmas Manyana Matters © Manyana Matters

The MMEA is proud to partner with WWF-Australia and EDO on the ‘Defending the Unburnt Six’ campaign because we understand the fight to save our forest is part of a bigger struggle to protect what remains of Australia’s critical unburnt habitat against deforestation.

If we can’t fight for what we believe in locally, how can we make change on a national or global level?

Working together will strengthen our efforts to activate existing environmental laws and advocate for stronger laws to enhance protection of landscapes like the Manyana forest.

We have a powerful vision for the forest we are fighting to save. Within five years, we hope to see it declared the Manyana Special Conservation Area (MSCA) in memory of the human and animal victims of the Currowan megafire.

We hope the MSCA will become a place where nature lovers can see rare species like the scrub turpentine growing in the wild – and maybe even spot a square-tailed kite circling above. We hope it becomes somewhere visitors can interact with local Jerrinja People and learn more about the area’s rich Indigenous culture and history.

Being a part of ‘Defending the Unburnt Six’ is a powerful step towards making that vision a reality.

You can help us Defend the Unburnt Six by adding your signature now. Every defender counts.