TfNSW urged to reroute Coffs Harbour bypass around ancient rainforest

Some 30 people gathered at Mackays Road at the Lowland Subtropical Rainforest remnant which is on the proposed route of the Coffs Harbour Bypass.

“ADAPT your plans” was the call to Transport for NSW (TfNSW) from local residents who gathered on Saturday, 19 November at a 0.5ha remnant of intact Lowland Subtropical Rainforest on the edge of Coffs Harbour in Gumbaynggirr country, under threat from the Coffs Harbour Bypass development.

The remnant, locally known as ‘Grandpa’s Scrub’, is alongside Mackays Road, between Shephard’s Lane and Gately’s Road, and if TfNSW keeps to its current plan for the bypass, part of the rainforest site will be bulldozed through and a tributary of Treefern Creek will be filled in.

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Residents are asking why TfNSW are continuing with their current plan when the future of a rare ecosystem is at risk.

It is estimated that only five percent of this plant community type remains, and of that five percent, much is fragmented and degraded.

Upon examination however, local conservationists believe that assessment is flawed.

Tina Powell from Garlambirla Guuyu-girrwaa Aboriginal Elders Corporation, gave a Welcome to Country at Saturday’s event, saying, “The land spoke back to them and they left the land how it should be.

“You cannot block the tributaries and reroute the creeks, water doesn’t work like that.

“The reason this piece of land is here is because of our people’s foresight.

“This was a camping area for our people, and they got fresh water here,” Tina said.

Speaking at the gathering, local resident and conservationist Dave Wood said TfNSW plans for the Bypass will destroy this significant and ancient ecosystem, and proposed “rerouting the bypass with a 30-metre realignment to the north”.

Kevin Mackay, the grandson of the first owner of this piece of land, Angus Mackay, tearfully shared a heartfelt journey down memory lane outlining his family’s life farming on this land.

“My grandmother was a magnificent person, she had sixteen children,” Kevin said.

“It was a hard life, but they were clever people and they knew how to farm.

“They didn’t have electricity or phones but we had lots of fun, playing in that remnant we called ‘Grandpa’s Scrub’.

“They’re making a blue with what they’re planning to do.

“It does the job they need it to do, it does the drainage, you can’t grow something like this in ten minutes,” Kevin said.

Lloyd Foster, a long time Upper Orara Rivercare volunteer and local bush regenerator, has also known this land for decades and played here as a boy in the 1930s and 40s.

“It’s always been crystal clear water in this creek,” Lloyd said.

Conservationists argue that Grandpa’s Scrub is a precious ancient remnant, like any surviving Rainforest, a modern-day link to ancient Gondwana, and a reminder for the people of Coffs Harbour Region and its visitors, of what was here in these coastal drainage lines prior to European settlement when widespread land clearing was made a condition of ownership.

The surrounding land was purchased from the crown over a 100 hundred years ago by Angus Mackay whose current descendants owned the property and have been custodians of the scrub until it was recently reclaimed by TfNSW for the Coffs Harbour Bypass project.

Angus got permission to retain the small remnant in order to hold the banks of the three tributaries of the modern day Treefern Creek together, and in so doing ensured that they also had a pure water supply.

Surveys show that once opened up and disturbed, the species structure and diversity does not return.

Local ecologists have identified over 70 endemic species within the patch including Creek Sandpiper Fig, Yellow and Red Carabeen, Black and White Booyong, Maidens Blush, Purple Cherry, Sour Cherry, Giant Water Gum, Churnwood, Red Cedar, Rosewood, Red Bean, Rusty Plum, Rose Walnut, Blue Quandong, Giant and Shiny Stinger trees, interspersed with Bangalow palms, ferns and a myriad of vine and understory species.

There is also the ancient Gondwana plant, Akania bidwillii, with links to Patagonian fossil deposits.

The fruits and seeds of many of these species have supported a myriad of our native birds, bats and insects, and these forests provided a rich resource for the Gumbaynggirr people for tens of thousands of years, also evidenced by the many Aboriginal artefacts found nearby and within the Bypass footprint.

With construction commencing in 2023, the Bypass is aligned to take out what conservationists believe to be the best part of the patch, with the creek tributaries on which it sits filled in, and an access road designated to pass through its centre.

The official floristic assessment which had been published in the Amended Biodiversity Report Vol 3. Appendix C, and included several exotic camphor trees not part of the remnant, but excluded many of the signature species, determined that the patch did not meet the listing requirements for a Threatened Ecological Community (TEC) on the grounds that further surveys would unlikely find the necessary 40 woody species required.

This finding meant it did not need to be referred to the Commonwealth Minister responsible under the Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) guidelines.

A Biodiversity Offset property, many kilometres away in a neighbouring bio-region at the top of the Kalang Valley to the southwest of Bellingen, has nevertheless been officially approved and purchased by TfNSW to comply with the BO conditions of the EPBC Act and allow the destruction of Grandpa’s Scrub, a unique remnant with no cultural or heritage connection to the Coffs Harbour LGA.

“We are therefore asking the NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage, the Hon. James Griffin, to act immediately to prevent any further action being taken which could have a negative impact on the patch, and to initiate a full and independent floristic assessment,” said Dave Wood.

“Furthermore, we ask that an engineering solution be found to preserve this precious patch with irreplaceable Biodiversity Cultural and Heritage value, for present and future generations.”

A Transport for NSW spokesperson told News Of The Area, “Transport for NSW has carried out environmental studies on the pocket of remnant forest and investigated the option to shift the alignment of the Coffs Harbour bypass to avoid this remnant forest.

“Transport for NSW is investigating ways to mitigate the impact on the northern tip of the remnant forest and continuing to work with local elders regarding the salvage of any indigenous artefacts.

“The project team has permitted Coffs Harbour City Council (City of Coffs Harbour) bush regeneration team and the community to gather seeds and cuttings for propagation for the area around two years ago.

“Furthermore, Transport for NSW has secured Lowland Rainforest on our biodiversity offset properties adjacent to the alignment and in other areas of the Mid North Coast that will ensure this plant community type is protected in perpetuity from any further development.”

A petition has been launched by those looking to save the site, visit


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