Speaking at the historic Yurol/Ringtail forests handover.
Speaking at the historic Yurol/Ringtail forests handover. Alan Lander

Gloster's Way: get in first

NOOSA'S unique approach to environmental, community and economic sustainability, which we - well, the vast majority of us - love and cherish as the cornerstone of our paradise, did not happen by accident.

It took long-term thinking and planning by numerous people over time to turn and hold back the tide of development destined for Noosa that has become evident in so many coastal regions the length of Australia's eastern seaboard.

Outstanding among the groups who fought for this result is Noosa Parks Association, which was established in 1962, and has been at the forefront of conserving and protecting land from rampant development ever since.

"The story starts in 1962 to protect the coastline of what is now Noosa National Park, to stop a suburb being put into Alexandra Bay,” long-standing president Dr Michael Gloster said.

"And no sooner had that fight started they found themselves fighting for the North Shore and up to Double Island Point, against sand mining.”

Gloster said the NPA "model” differed greatly from the stereotyped protesters chaining themselves to trees or similar; the thing to do when a disliked development had already been approved, with predictable results.

Instead, founder Arthur Harrold, Gloster's mentor, identified state-owned land with no designation, and travelled to George Street to convince the government it should be national parkland.

To Gloster, a qualified town planner and architect with a PhD in community change and management, this made perfect sense.

"I joined in 1982, and told NPA there was more than one lever to build national parks,” he said.

"Arthur's model was brilliant: you look for the large chunks of land that are really environmentally important and which was government land, vacant crown land where final use hadn't been settled.

"Pastoral, forestry, sand mining, whatever, so Arthur apprenticed me in how to challenge it. It was really about going down to George St and lobbying.”

But to go further, a second way needed hatching.

"I put it to Arthur, if we to go further than national parks acquisition we had to reform Noosa Council and have a heavy influence on town planning, because [that] was a really powerful tool to get additional chunks, so I put together a team of seven people to run for council in 1982, which had a total of 12 then,” he said.

"We won five out of seven contested, the most well- known being Noel Playford.”

The next 15 years brought about conservation of land around Noosaville, the coastal strip to Peregian and on the north shore.

"There was freehold land with huge development proposals hanging over them, and the fundamental tool was you bring in a town plan that restricts development so much they're not economically viable.”

Harrold's model was still in operation in 2008, Gloster said.

"That was when we started to put together the next wave of reform - buy- back - then we had to gener- ate dough in the millions to buy out Yurol/Ringtail forests, so that was the third way,” he said.

"People didn't even know about it until they read about it in the Noosa News.

"And the fourth way is what we are cranking up on [Noosa] river. For 57 years now, we've done a petty good job on forest restoration.

Mayor Tony Wellington, HQPlantations' David West, Environment Minister Leeane Enoch and Noosa Parks' Michael Gloster with guest koalas from Australia Zoo.
Mayor Tony Wellington, HQPlantations' David West, Environment Minister Leeane Enoch and Noosa Parks' Michael Gloster with guest koalas from Australia Zoo. Alan Lander

"But the river - it's not in that bad a shape because most of it is in national park - but its biodiversity is in significant decline so we've started the Bring Back The Fish program.”

The fifth way in the process was to establish a population cap.

"We knew in the '80s that the absolute milestone was getting a population cap,” Gloster said.

"Up until then, all the rhetoric locally - and up and down the coast of Australia, it was 'how do we manage growth?'.

"It was never the question asked: 'How do we stop it?'. Implicitly it was going to grow forever; it's just that we just said 'no, there's got to be a limit how many people can live here'.

"That went for nearly 20 years before finally being faced.”

Council amalgamation , and the battles fought to release Noosa from its clutches brought about near disaster for Noosa, as well as interesting alliances, Gloster said.

"It was a fundamental affront to Noosa, mostly to two tribes; with Friends of Noosa led by Bob Ansett and Jim Berardo, there's was a visceral reaction, almost from image and branding,” he said.

"It was something we shared at NPA, but we saw the threat very much at the guts of the town planning process, all of which could be washed away.

"In that six years [of amalgamation] it came perilously close; for example, Sunshine Coast Regional Council wanted to re-open the airport debate on the North Shore, putting a significant airport there.

"The de-amalgamation campaign was really interesting. The Parks Association with Noel Playford, me and Tony [Wellington], historically we didn't get on that well with Friends of Noosa.

"But we discovered we had far more in common than we thought. It was a pretty good team actually.”

(L-R) Michael Gloster, David and Kristen Williamson celebrated victory  outside Council Chambers.
Photo Geoff Potter / Noosa News
ALL THE WAY: Michael Gloster, David and Kristen Williamson celebrated de-amalgamation victory. Geoff Potter

Gloster said due to Noosa's population "churn” most currently here would not remember the amalgamation years, though many will know about the subsequent de-amalga- mation process and fight.

He said one big challenge now was tourism numbers, and their impact on the local environment.

"Mayor Wellington has convened what is euphemistically called the Sustainable Tourism forum, thinking they will get a gold star in sustainability,” he said.

"Most others around the table are saying it's not even close: if you continue with this caper you're going to be Barcelona. And that scares the s..t out of them.

"[But] I am confident in five years' time there will be plans in place that do limit day trippers. It's the big dream where you can have cutting-edge environmental and community development approaches if we can get the day-trippers under control. It will be a 40- to 50-year plan.”

Gloster and his NPA have made a few enemies along the way, either through winning the battle of ideas, or more often sheer jealousy at NPA's enviable success rate.

But he's learned to be thick-skinned, and never takes his eye off the long-term goals, making him a formidable politician, albeit not in the political arena.

"Every one of these waves sets off a certain opposition - but if it's only 20 per cent you're doing well. In the early days we were in the minority,” he said.

"I think now we've got support from middle Noosa, who are giving us the benefit of the doubt.

"It wasn't like that 30 years ago.”

He also has an answer for those who say NPA is too close to council.

"We are the most successful community organisation to exercise our democratic right to influence our council,” he said.

"Part of the myth that we're too close is we've been so successful in 57 years in shaping council policy.

"Every time you do that, you create enemies, so the common thread among the enemies is we must have 'had an inside run'.

"So what are we meant to do? Back off like the B-graders?”