Tim Winton on THE day

1 December, 2002, Fremantle


Thank you for coming.

Why are you here?

Why give up your Sunday to stand here on the park with thousands of others?

Because you've woken up to what's going on. You realize you're about to lose something precious. You care enough about your country, your land, your coast to stand up and be counted. And you're not stupid. You don't believe that the only way to protect our greatest inshore reef is to dig a filthy great hole beside it and build a white-shoe resort there.

Let's be straight about this: Ningaloo needs this resort as much as the Bungle Bungles need a casino.

On an empty beach where endangered turtles lay their eggs, one company wants to cut a hole for hundreds of luxury boats.

Wants to line it with 300,000 tonnes of limestone mined from the wilderness nearby. Wants to put two and a half thousand people into a resort complex there bigger than some towns. And that's only Stage 1. Beautiful one day. Queensland the next.

What's there now is a rugged and beautiful wilderness. People come from all over the world to see it. After all, how many places can you go to where you can swim with a whaleshark, a placid animal the size of a bus covered in brilliant dots like an Aboriginal painting. The same day you can be circled by manta rays that roll and swerve like enormous underwater birds. If you're lucky you'll see a dugong, the shy and vulnerable creature of the seagrass meadows. There'll be turtles, of course. I've seen them hatch and waddle down to the water with sky pink as the desert beyond. There'll be more coral than you've ever seen in your life. If you're keen enough you can see the coral spawn like a tropical blizzard. It's an incredible place. Somehow God or history or something has left it to us to experience, to look after, to pass on to our children and their children.

As you can see, I love the place. When you take people to see it they go home completely lit up. Because they've experienced one of the world's last great wild places. They've had a wilderness experience. Something that stays with them the rest of their life.

They don't usually go home complaining about the lack of a five star resort. They go home moved by a unique place. Resorts are not unique places. In fact they're hardly even places at all. They're like shopping malls. Seen one you've seen em all. They're bog standard, boring and ordinary. Honestly, do visitors to Perth remember Rotto and the Swan River or do they take home happy snaps of Garden City and Galleria? Worse than being ordinary, huge resorts, the kind that came out of the 80's as this one does, they tend to replace real places. They franchise, chlorinate and sterilize real places, and too often they destroy what people were attracted by - the natural world. Florida, Queensland, there's no shortage of examples.

We treasure Ningaloo because of all the mistakes we've already made. But also because there's hope for us yet. In a world where the forests are falling and species disappearing we are blessed with places that can still be saved. We are learning a new respect for the natural world. In schools and churches even in government departments we're learning about our dependence on nature. It brings us together out of mutual need - our survival. In WA we have the chance to get it right to lead the way in developing our coast sensitively, logically, cleverly. Why should we be the last idiots left to make the same balls-up everyone else has?

That's why tens of thousands of people will gather as we have today. Because we care about getting it right. Some of the more insular media outlets in W.A. would have you think that you and I belong to some kind of radical elite.

But there are people here today from every kind of background - kindy teachers, priests, stockbrokers, footy players, plumbers, scientists, deckies, dancers, musicians. Unemployed people. Politicians of all stripes. Business people. Mums and dads and their kids.

If it's some kind of club then we're obviously not too fussy about who's in. It seems to include anybody who thinks that their natural heritage is worth sticking up for. People who want their kids to inherit a good, clean world. Citizens who won't stand by while one of the last great places is trounced. It's obvious the people of WA don't want this resort. They don't want to be forced to stay in some poncy overblown tinsel town. They want something more low key, more appropriate to the setting, something that honours the reef instead of ripping it off.

Of course, there are mounting pressures from tourism at Ningaloo. The area needs infrastructure and the communities of Coral Bay and Exmouth need support. But they don't need this resort. Opposition to it on the Cape is overwhelming. Right now the locals are on the beach at Maud's and in town at Exmouth gathered like us, rallying for their reef. They understand the problem better than anybody because the reef's future is their future. Some of them stand to make big money if the marina goes in, but still they say no. So we stand with them today.

So who exactly needs this resort? The Coral Coast Marina Development company. That's who. One company. That's what all the fuss is about. They say they're only doing it for the sake of the reef. Give me a break. Maybe they come from the Jerry McGuire school of environmentalism. Imagine that school motto: Show me the money! That's how green this proposal is. It's another greenwash. They'll build whatever they can get away with. If there hadn't been citizens and agencies to keep an eye on them all this time, the hole might have been dug years ago.

Look, they're probably not terrible people, but they're yesterday's men with yesterday's ideas. Their pastel dream is a hangover from the 80's, the era of Bond and Skase. It's back to the 80's then, is it? You could almost feel sorry for them. Sure they've got spindoctors and lawyers and big P.R. muscle, but in the end they're all just doing it for a buck. I can't see much passion there. Not the kind you see in volunteers. That is, people working for principle alone. People who don't have a financial interest in the outcome. Money buys a lot but it doesn't buy what you people have, I'll tell you that. It doesn't buy guts, it doesn't buy spirit. It doesn't deliver a shared sense of the common good. And in the end it doesn't buy the truth.

That's why you've inspired me today. I admire your self-respect. I applaud your show of support for the reef. I understand the hopes you have for your kids. I know you're worried. But this is a pivotal moment. You've shown that the reef is a treasured part of our common heritage. It's like Kakadu, and Uluru. It belongs to all of us and it's not for sale. You've stood up for something bigger than one lousy deal. Your presence is crucial and so is your ongoing effort.

The government will soon make a decision about this resort proposal. The future of Ningaloo Reef is in their hands. But their electoral future is in ours. So remind them of it. You can make a difference. Write to the Premier - believe me he'll be listening now. Write to the paper. Give generously to the volunteer campaign because that's what got us this far, the goodwill and the donations of ordinary hard-working people. Together we can do something great, something we can look back on with pride. Save the Reef.

Tim Winton


Send automated letters to stop the resortSend a submission