When I was a kid we used to go out to Ginninderra Falls if we had interstate or international visitors. It was a beautiful place to go, and was guaranteed to make visitors ooh and ahh in the right way. The falls are impressive, and it was only a short walk from the car to a tremendous view. Once you’re there, the landscape around it was also wonderful, and a good place to show off our Canberra bushland.
Or was it? It turns out that the Falls are in NSW, but the border didn’t seem to matter in those days.
The border issue is now coming to the fore in another way – the development of the Riverview area in West Belconnen. Riverview straddles the ACT/NSW border with the first stages inside the ACT and the later stages in NSW. The only road access to the area will be through the ACT. The new residents will be Yass Valley Council ratepayers, they will vote in NSW state and council elections, but all of their services will be from the ACT. They will be using our roads, our healthcare system, our school system, our emergency services. They will essentially be disenfranchised ACT residents. And there are practical issues – who will collect their garbage, which police force and emergency services will cover them?
Unfortunately Ginninderra Falls itself is also in a similar situation. As it is on private lands, it hasn’t been accessible to the public for two decades, due to a combination of unfortunate accidents and increases in insurance premiums.
I would like to see the Ginninderra Falls area become a national park. It is not only picturesque and could take in the area of Ginninderra Gorge joining with Murrumbidgee Gorge, it is an important natural place for us to protect. The Box-Gum Woodland includes threatened and vulnerable species such as the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard, Rosenberg’s Goanna, Little Eagle and the Scarlet Robin.
Not only is it an important area for biodiversity reasons, but also for Aboriginal heritage and culture. Sadly in the ACT we don’t tell the stories of traditional custodians, and their strong and ongoing connection with their land, anywhere near enough. But it seems that this area was important for women in the area at the top of the falls, and for men around the lower falls where they held initiation ceremonies. Additionally, it seems that this is one of the most intact areas in our region that could show a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture in our area – the hunting trail, how lore and initiation ceremonies work with the local landscape, and where things like grinding, dancing and burials occurred.
Ginninderra Falls is a perfect opportunity to create a joint-managed national park that conserves and protects Aboriginal cultural heritage as well as safeguarding the scenic beauty and conservation value of the Ginninderra Falls – but, as this scenic waterfall is not even in the ACT, it isn’t even ours to protect.
There is one common sense solution to addressing both of these issues – just move the border a few kilometres to the north-west, align it with the natural contours of the land (the waterways), and eliminate a series of unsatisfactory practical issues created by an arbitrary line on a map. Then the Ginninderra Falls National Park could be readily created.
A national park could turn the area into a great tourist destination (again), and along with Strathnairn Arts Centre in the vicinity, would be a lovely day out for any group or family – like Cuppacumbalong and Tidbinbilla/Namadgi in the south of the ACT used to be. There is plenty of space around the Falls for a visitor centre, a café and a hotel, and Aboriginal cultural and biodiversity education programs would be a welcome addition to the area and community.
The potential to enhance ecotourism in the ACT is huge – we have some fantastic natural areas, but they are simply not promoted as tourism or business opportunities by the ACT Government. Add to that a dedicated eco-tourism coordinator within ACT Government, and there is real potential for an economic return on top of the environmental benefit of protecting this precious natural places.
Some might consider shifting a border a bold idea – and these sort of things can seem near impossible – but we should start the conversation now with the NSW and the Commonwealth governments for the sake of future Riverview residents, and to ensure Ginninderra Falls are given the National Park status they deserve.
Indra Esguerra is the ACT Greens candidate for Ginninderra and the party’s spokesperson for Biodiversity and Conservation, and Tourism and Events.