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United to Save Yaroomba

Belinda Baggs links up with locals looking to halt a high-rise and protect hatchling habitat as they head to the Supreme Court.
United to Save Yaroomba

United to Save Yaroomba

The last hues of a pink sunset shine in my living room, illuminating the dust on a 12’ prone paddle board that rests in the corner. My mind wonders to past memories of arduous jaunts out through the chop, around the magical headland and along the white sandy beach of Yaroomba… Riding wind swells adjacent to the dunes and a backdrop of stringybark eucalyptus, birdlife chirping high in the treetops.

It’s been years since I lived in Yaroomba, but my passion for the wedgy beach breaks, birds and nesting turtles is still distinct. I’m saddened to learn that this sub-tropical zone, abundant with life, is currently threatened with plans of destruction. A Japan-based developer is seeking to build a high-rise, high-density residential housing, retail and hotel development at Yaroomba Beach. All this over a significant turtle nesting site for endangered loggerheads and one of the Sunshine Coast's last untouched coastal jewels. It is a region of rich Indigenous culture, strong Storylines, and ceremonial grounds to the Kabi Kabi-Gubbi Gubbi People. The sunshine coasts traditional owners have not even been consulted.

Photo: Cooper Brady.

There have been over 9,000 submissions from concerned locals, who have formally objected to this proposed development, which clearly overrides the town planning scheme. Despite the community opposition, the Sunshine Coast council approved the project. This led to a year of action, including appealing the proposed development through Queensland’s Planning and Environment Court to no avail.

Wanting to get a better gauge on the issue at hand and what the place means to the community, I spoke with a diverse trio of locals. There’s: 17-year-old grom Jye Parkinson, who grew up across the road from the beach track; Sunshine Coast Environment Council Liaison Narelle McCarthy; and Friends of Yaroomba Secretary Marion Muntz, who has raised her family in the area, visiting the beach daily.

Belinda Baggs: How did you come to be involved in the Save Yaroomba movement?

Jye Parkinson: Like most locals living here, I just want to do what I can to help protect what Yaroomba is. ‘Save Yaroomba’ provides a way to co-ordinate the efforts of the many people living in our village who have always been committed and passionate about preserving the environment, and the way of life that comes with that. I was lucky enough to become involved with some of them through helping Coolum North Shore Coast Care and the work they do with the endangered loggerhead turtles. A lot of this community also support the beach clean ups I have at Yaroomba, so I'm stoked to be part of whatever efforts they organise in this fight – letterbox drops, traffic demonstrations, surf comp fundraisers, spreading the word on social media, purchasing merchandise and whatever else I can contribute. There are a lot of good role models and I hope to follow in their footsteps.

Photo: Sheryl Wright.

Narelle McCarthy: When the then Premier of Queensland returned from a trip to Japan where he had reportedly met with senior executives of Sekisui House and controversially announced a “billion dollar tourism development” for Yaroomba, we knew this was going to be a huge issue. With his further statements describing height limits (enshrined in the town plan since the early 1990’s) as “ridiculous” and suggesting a high-rise development was planned, the community started to mobilise.

I have been a committee member on a local Coolum community group, Development Watch since 2004 and with the Sunshine Coast Environment Council (SCEC) since 2006 so I am well versed and keenly involved in planning and environmental issues in the area, as well as the broader region.

Why where you inspired to get involved?

Marion Muntz: I think people that visit and live in Yaroomba always feel there is something special about the place. It’s one of the few beaches left on the Sunshine Coast where you can walk without looking at houses (for the most part), streetlights and high rises. You’ll often see wallabies hopping through the sand dunes, or sea eagles and kites fishing in the ocean and keeping an eye out for fisherman’s discards. At certain times of the year you can be fortunate enough to spot a mother turtle coming in to lay her eggs or the baby hatchlings scurrying down to the sea.

‘Save Yaroomba’ was formed as a sub-committee of Friends of Yaroomba when Sekisui House, who had bought the eastern side golf course of the old Hyatt Resort from Lend Lease, put in an application to develop the site. The plan is way outside of our town plan and could destroy the very reason that people have chosen to live here.

Photo: Sheryl Wright.

Narelle: The development proposal was so outrageous in terms of its conflicts with the planning scheme, community expectations and sensitive beachside site. It could not have gone unchallenged.

Jye: If this development goes ahead under the current approval, not only will it cause irreversible damage to the environment and the people who live here, but it also sets a precedent for the whole of the Sunshine Coast. I think the places that have leaders intelligent enough to realise that pristine natural environments are becoming increasingly rare, and take steps to protect what they have, will be the ones to thrive in the future.

Photo: Cooper Brady.

What is at stake?

Narelle: Threatened species, including the endangered loggerhead turtles. The development would also fundamentally change the scenic amenity and community fabric of the area. It would have impacts on a precedent, which is likely to facilitate yet more intensive development.

Marion: I have owned and operated retail businesses in both Yaroomba and Coolum for 24 years. The feedback that I constantly hear, when people ask what the “Save Yaroomba” stickers are about, is that people come to this area because they love the fact it is more laid back and low key without high-rises and crowds, so they can still have a more natural experience. They would hate to see it change. I feel this development will contribute to destroying the very reasons that people choose to live here, and tourists come to enjoy.

Jye: I want to continue to live in a place like this. I want there to be more places like this for others to live in and enjoy. We can't control everything that's happening in the world, but we can make a difference by contributing and fighting for the things that matter in our small part of that world. This is my small part of that world.

Jye Parkinson at Yaroomba Beach. Photo: Jesse Parkinson.

From Manyana to Spring Creek and Yaroomba there has been a real groundswell of local communities coming together to oppose developments that threaten wild places. Why do you think we’re seeing this happening more and more?

Narelle: People are directly experiencing the impacts from inappropriate development such as loss of vegetation, wildlife and lifestyle.

Jye: The people here appreciate how extraordinary Yaroomba is for lots of different reasons, and also its importance in the bigger picture of preserving natural environments. They're also fed up with those in charge disregarding the wishes of the people who elected them, and flat out ignoring the very mechanisms in place to ensure inappropriate high-density developments such as this do not go ahead. The Sunshine Coast Council ignored 9,000 written objections to the development (which constituted 76% of the total received). The Council conveniently discounted the fact that the proposed development breaches the Sunshine Coast Planning Scheme – A statutory document that was agreed upon by the council and residents of the Sunshine Coast, and which cost those rate payers $15 million to produce. To add insult to injury, the Council continue to use rate payer money for legal costs associated with fighting the very people they are meant to represent.

Photo: Cooper Brady.

Do you think these movements can be effective?

Narelle: Yes, people power is crucial and has historically shown how powerful and inspiring a galvanised and passionate community can be. There is an incredible legacy of campaign wins that have shaped our communities, our environment and our identity.

Find out more about Save Yaroomba and support their March 2021 Supreme Court appeal.


Banner image – Yaroomba locals protest the development on their home beach in early 2020. Photo: Cooper Brady.


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Belinda Baggs
the co-founder of action group Surfers for Climate.

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