By EVA BAXTER
Yurulbin Park is set to become a construction site until mid-2025 to support work on the underwater tunnel connecting the Inner West to North Sydney through Birchgrove.
Yurulbin Park in Birchgrove was chosen as the location for the Western Harbour Tunnel works to avoid impacting nearby sporting activities in Birchgrove Oval.
Four Aboriginal cultural sites are identified at Yurulbin Point – Long Nose Point, Yurulbin Cave, Shed Cave and Five Hands Shelter. At these locations, evidence of etchings and middens show the Gadigal and Wanegal people, whose lands Yurulbin Point lay close to the border of, used the waterfront for fishing and conducting feasts.
Deborah Lennis, D’harawal woman, local Elder, and cultural advisor to the CEO of Inner West Council, said there are sites of significance to be found along the harbour foreshore.
“We lived there, we fished there, we were saltwater people,” she explained.
Deborah said the Aboriginal community has been trying to achieve consistent signage in the area to inform the community about the history of the sites and their significance.
She said turning the park into a construction site will affect a project council had planned – three survival memorials in the local government area to stress that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community has “had a lot thrown at us but we’re still surviving.”
The first memorial in Yurulbin Park would express that the Aboriginal community is the oldest living culture, followed by a memorial in Ashfield about “crappy white policies,” and the shared history of Australia, and a final memorial in Marrickville or Tempe to show that the community is still growing, thriving, and surviving.
But the construction of the tunnel has interrupted the way Deborah had planned to tell this story.
An environmental report by Transport for NSW said they engaged with local Aboriginal parties throughout the development of the design and assessments and held two Aboriginal focus groups. It said no sites are directly impacted by the project but “they will ensure to protect vulnerable sites” by adjusting work methods to prevent damage.
Transport for NSW told the Independent, Inner West Council did not raise a memorial in its submission on the project’s environmental statement.
It said Council plans to erect memorials within their area, either separate to the project or following its completion, is a matter and at the discretion of Inner West Council.
Inquiry into environmental impact
Deborah’s concern, along with others in the community, besides the loss of open space, is the contamination that will be pulled from the harbour foreground during construction.
A temporary cofferdam will be constructed in Yurulbin Point, which could potentially impact the tidal and current flows in the harbour. The seabed profiling and piling may reduce water quality and disturb contaminated sediments. Spoil removed from Yurulbin Point will be transported via barge to Glebe Island and then transported by truck. 55 trees are to be directly affected.
An inquiry into the potential economic and environmental impacts of the tunnel has been launched in NSW upper house. The effect on Yurulbin point is one of the factors that will be investigated.
The indicative timeframe for the construction site according to the environmental report is 2021 – mid 2025, after which the site will be restored and upgraded in consultation with the original landscape architect Bruce Mackenzie AM to bring his original vision of the park to life.
Groundwater and landfill monitoring is being carried out at Yurulbin Point between the 19th and 24th of April.