IN DEPTH

Grace Easterbrook - The Battle for Windmill Hill in Port Macquarie

Page-turning history: Krissa Wilkinson with the precious minute book, previously in the care of the late Jackie Cartwright, PMCS. Photo: Tracey Fairhurst.
Page-turning history: Krissa Wilkinson with the precious minute book, previously in the care of the late Jackie Cartwright, PMCS. Photo: Tracey Fairhurst.

Krissa Wilkinson has spent the past two decades researching local stories, transforming them into installations and performances.

Residents may remember Autumn Bloomers, Stalag 383, Memories of the Regent Theatre and Her Place.

In recent years, her focus has been learning about the people who worked to preserve the beauty of local wild places that we enjoy today.

When the precious 1971-81-minute book of the Port Macquarie Conservation Society was passed on to her she uncovered the remarkable work of the late Grace Easterbrook.

Grace led the Port Macquarie Conservation Society in their campaign against high-rise development in Port Macquarie.

Krissa shares some of this remarkable story ...

ACROSS Australia in 1960s and '70s there was a series of campaigns to protect special natural places against development threats.

A grassroots, kitchen-table community campaign in Port Macquarie saved much of its natural beauty from ugly high-rise development.

Few residents and visitors who enjoy Port Macquarie and our coastal walk, know of the letter-writing and lobbying against high-rise, that persisted despite endless opposition from council and developers.

The great irony of course, is that now it is these thriving green places that attract tourists and support local businesses.

In November 1971, Grace Easterbrook, a 60-year-old former secretary and brilliant strategist, learned that Hastings Council was to decide on a proposed high-rise development at Windmill Hill.

Already involved in environmental conservation on headlands and foreshores, Grace held a public meeting, attended by 27 persons at her residence on Pacific Drive on November 19.

They discussed the need for an organisation to support this work and agreed that the name of the organisation should be Port Macquarie Conservation Society (PMCS).

A letter was sent to the first Liberal Minister for Conservation, Jack Beale, informing him of the society's aims and objectives and inviting his sympathetic cooperation.

A deputation of three from the society met the State Planning Authority representative on his visit to Port Macquarie on Friday 26th. They also met the Mayor, Ald C Adams, to advise him of the formation of the society and policy.

Trailblazer: A young Grace Easterbrook. Photo: supplied

Trailblazer: A young Grace Easterbrook. Photo: supplied

Grace also organised a petition of 1,000 signatures from ratepayers and made an 11th hour deputation to council.

The controversy and interest in this issue led council to dramatically reverse its policy, to actually open the council chambers doors for the first time, so that the public and press could hear the debate firsthand at their November 30 meeting.

Under such scrutiny, council voted against the development, following Alderman Matesich's motion arguing the application would not enhance the ecology of the area in question.

On the same day, the editor of the Port Macquarie News described Port Macquarie as "our little piece of nature's garden".

"We must at all costs ensure that we continue to preserve the historical small town feeling of Port Macquarie," the editor wrote.

"Our town is still one of the most natural resorts along Australia's seaboard: most people can still rejoice at seeing the sun rising and setting on distant horizons."

Council's decision led to hundreds of town folk dividing themselves into two main camps.

The first group, the PMCS represented the conservationists and nature lovers and they declared they would 'stand against pollution of the Hastings district through high-rise development and protect the foreshores and waterways from improper use'. Port News 25/11/71

To counter this movement, the Port Macquarie Progress Association was formed by businessmen, land developers, real estate agents and other financially interested people.

She lobbied all levels of government and had an enormous influence still reflected in the character of Port Macquarie today.

Frank Dennis

These first snapshots from 1971, sourced from the minute book of the PMCS and supported by Port News archives, provide an insight into the strategies Grace Easterbrook and PMCS, would use for another 10 years, opposing countless high-rise development proposals for Windmill Hill, lobbying politicians and councillors, fighting for public access to our headlands and foreshores, for coastal protection and a town plan with appropriate development controls, building heights and sight lines to preserve our heritage.

In 1972 Grace Easterbrook used her skill in polite persuasion to enlist the support of local National Party member for Lyne, Bruce Cowan and Sir Charles Cutler, who proposed Coastal Protection legislation and sighted Windmill Hill to be included in this endeavour.

In December 1972, PMCS were still writing to council, Cowan, Cutler and the State Planning authority listing complaints that included traffic, shadows and the serpentine rock on Windmill Hill. They even approached the ABC to speak on This Day Tonight.

In January 1973 they recommended to Cowan that he suspend the right of council to develop the foreshore until the Minister can resolve the foreshore protection problem and PMCS purchased a full-page advertisement in the Port Macquarie News (see below).

A full-page advertisement in the Port Macquarie News by the Port Macquarie Conservation Society.

A full-page advertisement in the Port Macquarie News by the Port Macquarie Conservation Society.

On January 18, PMCS wrote to Sir Charles Cutler asking for immediate rezoning of Windmill Hill Headland and by March he had not responded to requests.

Many years and many high-rise proposals would be opposed until Grace Easterbrook approached the National Parks Association to support her efforts to preserve Windmill Hill.

As a result of this, Paul Landa, (the Labor member for NSW Legislative Council 1973-84) purchased Windmill Hill in 1982 to prevent headland development with high rise buildings, intending for it to be included as part of foreshore reserve in the future.

Sadly, Grace Easterbrook died in 1984, but other members of the PMCS, including the late Phyl Tuite took up her campaign and eventually the houses were removed from Windmill Hill and the reserve is now a feature of our glorious coastal walk.

Frank Dennis from the National Parks Association (NPA) in the 80s and remembers Grace Easterbrook as someone who knew the importance of taking a stand on a principle and how to successfully advocate for it.

"She lobbied all levels of government and had an enormous influence still reflected in the character of Port Macquarie today," he said.

"It was her campaigning and initial lobbying on high-rise which led the council to put in place a plan for appropriate development controls for building heights in Port Macquarie."

We cannot be complacent. Wild places remain under constant threat and we must protect the legacy of Grace, the PMCS and the NPA.

Krissa Wilkinson

Grace Easterbrook understood that it was the ocean front and beaches, the lakes, rivers and waterways and wetlands, the coastal forests and mountains that made Port Macquarie such a special and attractive place to live.

She understood that urban development should fit into this landscape, not dominate it, destroying the all-important landscape features which made it so special.

The PMCS is still active today and their most recent campaign was to keep Westport Park a public open space.

The height restrictions, the Coastal Walk, National Parks and nature reserves make this area an eco-tourism destination and a beautiful place to live.

We cannot be complacent. Wild places remain under constant threat and we must protect the legacy of Grace, the PMCS and the NPA.

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