There’ s gold in them dunes

KATE LAWSON is a long-term resident of the Coogee Park Caravan Park and a teacher with an impressive list of credentials: an Honours in Linguistics, a Grad Dip Ed and a Masters with Honours in Ethics. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED she rethinks the proposed development of the caravan park to create more resort-style accommodation, and says the broader community might be better served by instead transforming the area into a Heritage Village.

THERE has been so far no detail about Discovery Parks’ proposed redevelopment of the Coogee Park Caravan Park beyond images of tourist accommodation, swimming pool(s) and a playground.

The few photos that Discovery provided residents at a recent information meeting are similar to promotional shots from any number of resorts, and fail to capture the park’s unique character.

The proposed development hasn’t reached the detailed planning stage, but when it does it seems unlikely to fit the original vision for the A-Class reserve where the park sits.

It will also involve the complete removal of 40-plus permanent residents’ homes.

Leaving aside the trauma, distress and financial hardship this move would bring to residents, some having lived there for over 25 years, the development will also involve significant destruction to the surrounding environment; trees and bushes that are home to native species.

Despite assurances from Cockburn council and Discovery that all Cockburn citizens would benefit from the tourism potential the development will bring, how this will occur is unclear.

Limited parking during peak periods already make access difficult for families wanting a swim or a picnic. Many groups, mostly residents of broader Cockburn, also enjoy the green sward adjacent to the caravan park entrance to gather and share a game of kick-to-kick.

But this popularity creates a traffic bottleneck at the entrance to the park, particularly when there are caravans trying to exit. How would emergency vehicles cope if there was a major incident at these peak times?

As with similar resort-style parks, the proposed redevelopment of the Coogee Beach Caravan Park will only allow access to paying guests. This would prevent existing permanent residents, campers, caravan owners and the broader community gaining free access to the resort facilities.

A council press release said the development is “consistent with the tourist and economic objectives” in which “the assumption [is that] this area will be developed as a strategic tourist destination and caravan park”. Coogee Beach’s visitors and nearby residents will almost certainly generally unaware of this objective, which is not easily found on the council website.

Many residents enjoy Cockburn’s beautiful beaches and parks, but fear further development will diminish the area’s unique character – they feel there is enough already.

Roads and carparks can’t deal with the large new residential developments already under way.

While there is a proposed dedicated entrance to the Coogee Beach Caravan Park in the master plan, the congestion has already started and will only get worse as the Cockburn Coast development progresses.

While progress is inevitable, it doesn’t have to result in clearing out all the vegetation and infrastructure deemed beyond its useful life. Many other cities and towns around the globe have developed alternative visions of progress by turning to their heritage. It has helped protect their natural beauty, heritage and cultural value.

If these areas are not protected from the bulldozer, they are gone forever.

Caravan Parks are part and parcel of Australia’s history and can provide an experience unmatched by any resort. 

As any traveller or camper around Australia would know, there is charm and pleasure in the oldest and humblest caravan parks, providing a holiday with a real difference.

• Coogee has a rich, interesting and quite unique history of which the bushland, native animals and birds, the remains of old infrastructure and the Coogee Beach Caravan Park itself are vital components.

If the park was promoted as a Heritage Village, the following could happen:

• It could be marketed to retirees and grandparents who want to give the grandkids an old-fashioned beachside holiday, groups or couples seeking a spiritual retreat or restoration, or people wanting to escape the rat race without the long commute;

• The existing tourist accommodation could be renovated and maintained to a higher standard, as could the grounds;

• Residents’ homes could remain, and as they leave, their sites could be designated camping or caravan sites;

• There would be no need to separate guests and permanent residents, as when they mix it enriches the holiday experience, and short-stay cabins could be integrated in as part of a staged development;

• Discovery’s involvement need not be dismissed, but their vision could evolve towards what’s suggested above, which would no doubt get support from Cockburn residents;

• Local heritage destinations could be promoted and heritage-themed attractions developed; and,

• Tourist attractions could include guided tours of flora and fauna by Wadjuk elders (or youngers) and a walking trail with artwork.

These would mark the Village out as something special, which it is. 

If the park’s perceived liabilities were rethought of as assets, many in the community would be more than interested in supporting its makeover, as implied in the hundreds of comments in the Business Plan released in February this year.

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