Poona Lake, inside the Great Sandy National Park, is the only perched lake on mainland Australia. That means it sits above the water table and possesses unique natural characteristics. Currently it is accessible via a four-kilometre walking track, as part of the multi-day Cooloola Great Walk or by vehicle through the National Park. In the future, if a government plan goes ahead, you will also be able to stroll down from one of the luxury cabins built on its foreshore.
The government’s pitch is that the area requires greater diversity in its tourism offerings. That beachside camping and drop toilets are fine for some but not everyone. There are five sites earmarked for development, from the Noosa River in the south to Double Island Point in the north.
Each site requires land to be cleared and access roads to be cut through some of the most remote parts of the National Park; places that have been off-limits to campers until now. Predicted to cost between $600-$1000 per night they are also seen as a privileged retreat reserved for the wealthy.
Noosa/Wide Bay Greens spokesperson Rhonda Prescott was among the first local environmentalists to call out the Queensland government for deceiving the public about the project’s scope.
Last year she told Noosa Today that, “Initial publicity about the Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project suggested tiny glamping-style tents complementing the Great Walk. Impacts on the environment, we were assured, would be minimal.”
Rainbow Beach resident Greg Wood has since taken up the fight. His opposition to the development has produced a movement called Protect Our Parks. Greg’s history with the region stretches back to the early ‘80s when he was travelling north, dropped into Rainbow Beach and slept on the sand.
“My first morning waking up in the dunes with a hangover I looked out at the ocean and about 20 metres out was a whale and its calf. Then I looked down towards Double Island Point and it was just stunning. I ended up spending three years at Double Island, working intermittently on upgrading the lighthouse. You could camp there legally in those days.”
Greg fell in love with a town built on sand mining and was soon campaigning against it. 30 years later he is again taking up the fight to protect the place he loves.
“In my semi-retirement I started working on Cooloola Coast projects and a community website and that led to Protect Our Parks. The notion of private development on public land really rankled with me. (But) let’s put aside the issue of private development in national parks for a moment and say we’re going to allow that. Wouldn’t you at least then keep the sites away from the fragile ecosystems of Poona and the Noosa River?”
Another argument against the development concerns the wishes of the traditional owners. Diane Djaki Widjung, keeper of records for the Sovereign Kabi tribe, said many Kabi Kabi people oppose development in the area and see it as “disrespectful”.
“They certainly don’t want to see acres and acres of forest knocked down to put in cabins and walkways,” she says.
“[The proposal] has nothing to do with Aboriginal cultural heritage. It’s aimed at giving wealthy people a night in a comfortable cabin … where they can go for a little walk in the bush.”
According to the Brisbane Times, members of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service have privately questioned how effluent would be managed in the perched lake catchment, the extent of clearing in such a sensitive area, and the impact on wildlife.
The proposal still has several stages of government approval to work through, some of them as difficult as the Great Walk itself, during which time Greg and his fellow anti-development supporters will continue their campaign. In the meantime, the government and the private company commissioned to build the cabins, have declined to comment.