North Stradbroke Island residents dig in to oppose Aboriginal corporation tourism project with no-appeal status

Protesters on North Stradbroke Island have set up a protest camp on a development site at Point Lookout to oppose construction of the Whale on the Hill project, which was due to start earlier this week.

The Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC) is the body driving the project — a $3 million open-air structure to house a 15-metre eastern humpback whale skeleton that washed ashore in 2011.

QYAC has previously said their vision was for the skeleton installation to become a “landmark tourism attraction” as the only complete whale skeleton to be displayed in Australia.

But there is staunch opposition to the project from both Indigenous and non-indigenous residents, who say QYAC did not consult locals.

QYAC declined the ABC’s request for comment on this story.

Quandamooka elder Maureen Myers said she believed QYAC’s plans were not representative of what both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents wanted.

Quandamooka elder Maureen Myers says QYAC do not understand the sentiments of island locals.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

“We need tourists, but not this way,” Ms Myers said.

“You’ve got all young people and people who don’t even live here deciding on this.

“It hurts so much — [QYAC are] descendants, yes, but they don’t understand because they’ve never lived here.

“[Non-Indigenous] people at the point … they understand more than our own people — it’s heartbreaking.”

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Protesters have sent up tents at North Stradbroke Island to stop the construction of a whale education centre(Supplied: Gary Tippo)

Ms Myers said she feared the development would have a domino effect.

“We don’t want to see it looking like the Gold Coast, or the north coast, with cement buildings.”

Traditional owner Dale Ruska is among a core group of protestors who have been maintaining a permanent presence at the site since Tuesday.

A glimpse of beachfront through trees atop sand dunes
Locals say visitors to the island don’t want it looking like the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

“This is without a doubt culturally inappropriate, and we’ve had contact with other Aboriginal groups in the state. The whale for them is a very sacred being, and it’s actually their totem,” Mr Ruska said.

“The heritage importance as well as the environmental importance of this place is really significant.

“We’re willing to remain here with the aim to ensure that the … proposed extravagant, architecturally designed coffin to house the remains of a whale that died a very traumatic death does not occur.”

Mr Ruska said protesters were willing to stand in front of bulldozers to stop the construction and were prepared to be arrested.

Tents and signs erected at Point Lookout.
Protesters have set up tents at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island off Brisbane in a bid to stop construction of a whale education centre.(Supplied: Gary Tippo)

In a statement, Queensland police said they were aware of the protest, but did not reveal whether it had been the subject of an official complaint.

State Planning Minister Steven Miles said he supported the project going ahead.

“Like every community, you can’t expect that a hundred per cent of them are all going to have the same view,” he said.

“In general, I think that’s a great project and will be great for the island.”

A young woman painting a sign
The protest is being led by Quandamooka families who say they have been left out of local decision-making.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

Project has no-appeal status

QYAC was awarded a ‘Ministerial Infrastructure Designation’ for the Whale on the Hill project, which streamlined planning processes for the centre and meant its approval could not be appealed by residents.

Protesters at the site said they had been left with no legal way to appeal the construction and feared the project would destroy the undeveloped headland.

A petition lodged last August to the then-state planning minister Cameron Dick, calling on him to repeal the ministerial designation, attracted 3,000 signatures.

Tent protest
Locals have occupied the site of the Whale on the Hill project.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

In response, Mr Dick wrote that he was satisfied all appropriate environmental assessments and consultation processes had been followed, and refused to repeal the special planning status.

Mr Ruska said the designation had stripped them of their right to be consulted.

“The whole process to date has been totally scandalous,” he said.

“There’s been no proper engagement, no proper inclusion, it’s been more-so about exclusion.”

John Truman stands in sun wearing a hat at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island.
North Stradbroke business owner John Truman says the QYAC project isn’t wanted by Port Lookout locals.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

It is a view shared by Point Lookout business owner and resident John Truman.

“It should never have come to this, where there’s a camp out and a tent city here,” he said.

Mr Truman said he believed tourists came to the island to enjoy its natural beauty.

“By building this, you’ll lose what you have and what people come here for in the first place.”

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