Dr Bernhard Bischoff explores the history of Bunbury's coastline

Exploring nature: The Maidens are significant to South Bunbury's coastline. Photo: Supplied.
Exploring nature: The Maidens are significant to South Bunbury's coastline. Photo: Supplied.

This article is about the threat in 1979 of operations for a housing development in the dune country south of the 'Maidens' and about the lucky turns of events that stopped the development plans from becoming reality.

The Maidens, 65 and 66-metre high dune peaks - the highest points in Bunbury, are named for their suggestive silhouette.

The land south of the Maidens was designated to become the 450-lot housing development of West Withers in 1979.

The beautiful and varied landscape changes from the ocean, to mobile beach sand, to heath vegetation on mobile and stable dunes, to interdunal swales with sedges, and then tuart woodland on the eastern slopes and in the swale below.

One would not normally think that luck could have played a part in a planning issue like this but that is what happened in the case of the South Bunbury coastal area.

It was good timing that in the second half of the 1970s the State Government had started the 'Conservation Through Reserves' project.

It warned: "Conservation idealism should be tempered with nancial realism". A reason for creating reserves: "There is a need for humans to seek solace in natural surroundings".

The Environmental Protection Agency's Green Book describes the South Bunbury coastal land as: "An area of Public Open Space, containing attractive and important features such as the Maidens and important stands of tuart, should be set aside at the time of subdivision of the coastal land south of Bunbury".

The plans prepared by Taylor and Burrell for the subdivision of West Withers were well advanced and ready to be submitted to the Town Planning Board for approval.

'Housing Plan to go ahead' was the alarming news at the beginning of 1979, made worse by the statement: "The plans are not now expected to be affected by the EPA's System Six environmental study after members of the EPA committee visited Bunbury for discussions with council representatives".

The town clerk, Warwick Carmody, maintained that there was generous provision for reserves in the area, a large, northern area encompassing the Maidens and a broad coastal strip 100m wide.

But when all seemed lost, GHD - Consultant Engineers had convinced council that an additional engineering study would achieve a better development, reduce construction costs, and enhance the potential value of the subdivision.

In the meantime the council's Bunbury and Districts Regional Planning Committee had produced the colourful 'Bunbury Region Plan' which clearly shows the area south of the Maidens as residential.

When the housing development was proposed again this time it became subject to the Consultative Environmental Review which meant that nally the area was to be properly surveyed and assessed for its significance.

The EPA's evaluation of the review report published in 1995 concludes that the planned residential development was 'environmentally undesirable'. But still the EPA was not in the position to stop the development from proceeding.

It needed another stroke of luck. Luck did come to the rescue, but from a different direction.

Residents in the area complained about odours emanating from the Water Authority's Sewage Treatment Plant and that enabled the EPA to require that all trees within a 1000m radius from the centre of the plant had to be retained until such time that the odour problem was fixed and the buffer zone could be reduced to a 500m radius.

The 1000m buffer however reduced the area available for the development to the point where it was no longer viable.

The EPA then suggested that a housing development on the northern portion of the reserve C 70, that is on the land with the Maidens vested in the council, was more preferable than one on the southern portion. Luckily, nothing came of this suggestion.

A Special Public Meeting on site at the Maidens Park chaired by the council's Parks and Gardens Manager, Eric Budgen, voted unanimously against any development in the Coastal Land not in the southern nor in the northern portion and so the beautiful landscape with its high dunes, its views, its dune vegetation and its tuart forest and woodland is still there for us to enjoy.