Seven Mile Showdown
The same Northern NSW community that booted Club Med out of the area in the 1980s has another fight on its hands with an “eco-tourism and wellbeing facility” being proposed for a parcel of land at the northern end of Seven Mile Beach.
Tucked in the far northern corner of Seven Mile, where the melaleucas in the low heath give way to coastal banksias and littoral rainforest as Broken Head rises, the 100-hectare gated Linnaeus Estate is currently, according to their site, “a private education facility providing academic, cultural and vocational programs. The Linnaeus Estate was conceived as a philanthropic foundation with the objective of ‘rebuilding’ the environmental capacity of what was a degraded cattle farm and providing a range of private education facilities to build the social capital of Byron Shire and its environs.” The Land and Environment Court gave them approval to build with restricted zonings back in 1990.
“They were given permission to have their buildings close to the beach there if they had educational events that were open for community participation,” explains local resident and Patagonia Global Surf Activist, Dave Rastovich. “That was how they got there.”
However, back in 2017, Byron Shire Council quietly changed those zoning conditions without community consultation, opening the area to development – this is where we now find ourselves. Earlier this year a Development Application for a $9 million “eco-tourism and wellbeing retreat” was put before Council by the estate owners. The Development Application put forward, amongst other things, 27 eco cabins and a “wellness facility” to be built on the property.
“We haven’t applied for tourism, we’ve applied for eco-tourism,” developer Brandon Saul clarified to the Byron Shire Echo. “Whilst the protesters are calling it a resort, it’s actually a wellbeing retreat on the same scale as Gaia.”
The “protesters” would be the Friends of Seven Mile community group who are arguing that the proposal to commercialise this corner of the coast threatens not only the local ecology, but the social fabric of the area. “They're trying to insert tourism into a place where it doesn't exist,” says Dave Rastovich, “and into an wider area already overloaded with beds for tourists. Local community and culture is getting squeezed out by an excess of tourism.”
Environmentally, there are concerns with the fragility of the site, the potential impact of coastal erosion, loss of littoral rainforest, and the effect on the area’s biodiversity, which was already damaged by surrounding bushfires in 2017.
Human impact on the property is expected to double with the development. “This spiel we were given a while ago, and what's actually being applied for in the council process are completely different,” says Dave. “It’s absolute greenwash. The reality of the increased human impact on an already sensitive site is just outrageous. Then you throw into the mix the fact that local Indigenous representatives haven't been consulted at all and it’s even more outrageous.”
Caption: The Friends of Seven Mile community group gather on Seven Mile Beach in front of the Linnaeus Estate. Photo: Friends of Seven Mile.