DARK SKY: Dark skies over Boondooma Homestead.
DARK SKY: Dark skies over Boondooma Homestead. "We must protect what dark skies we have now for future generations to enjoy," - James Barclay. Pic: James Barclay

Councils shoot down astronomy tourism project at Bunyas

AN OPPORTUNITY to diversify the Western Downs and South Burnett regions’ tourism draw has been shot down after two councils declared their stance against the project.
Proposed to increase the number of travellers to regional Queensland, the Bunya Mountains International Dark Sky Park project’s progress has ground to a halt by the neighbouring councils’ decision not to support any darksky spaces at the national park.

The petition, created by conservationist Bruce Thomson, has generated 349 signatures, however to move any further in development without letters of support from the two councils.

On August 19, seven of the nine Western Downs councillors voted to not support the creation of a Dark Sky Park at the Bunya Mountains.

Although the previous South Burnett mayor Keith Campbell had written a letter of support for the Dark Sky Park at the Bunya Mountains, the council has recently reneged their support due to a “lack of comunity support”.

South Burnett mayor Brett Otto said they had been “generally supportive of the concept as there are several locations within the region it could be implemented”.

“Council has taken a strong stance that the concept has to have strong and broad community support, particularly with the residents of the area, (although) previous community and residential community meetings have not indicated broad support for the concept,” he said.

“Both South Burnett Regional Council and Western Downs Regional Council are united in the need that there must be strong local community support for any form of plan or listing prior to any form of Council further support.”

Cr Otto noted the proposed $20,000 lighting management plan to make the project a reality would bring up issues as to who would impose the plan.

“A light management plan would in effect have the same impact as a local law and its enforcement would fall back, as I understand, to the relevant local authority,” he said.

“That level of regulation would need careful consideration prior to any decision to proceed by any council.”

It’s a wasted opportunity to grow tourism in regional areas that are already strugging, according to retired physicist professor and amateur astronomer, Jim Irish.

The 73-year-old played a role in the Murray River Dark Sky Reserve being recognised by the International Dark Sky Association and said the Bunya Mountains is an ideal position for a Dark Sky Park.

“For amateur astronomers the Bunya Mountains is as good as it gets, anywhere in the world, and it should be recognised because we have something others don’t have, and it can contribute to tourism,”Mr Irish said.

“It won’t be the economic saviour of the region… but in places where their dark skies have been established, it has led to eco-tourism.

“It’s not to be sneezed at, the astro-tourism will be modest, worthwhile, and almost costless to anybody.”

Mr Irish said the Bunya Mountain Dark Sky Park would also provide an integral link for Indigenous elders to share their history and wisdom with future generations, and non-indigenous people.

“Indigenous Australians had a deep knowledge of the night sky and a completely different cosmology that was connected to their dreaming, there’s a small, but very important indigenous community still resident in the Bunya Mountains region,” he said.

With elders already on board, Mr Irish said, “there’s the possibility of tourism based on indigenous elders explaining aspects of that cosmology to non-indigenous people.”

“(Also) knowledge about plants, animals, art, rock art - that is now a significant generational role for tourism, and it’s untapped in Queensland.”

Heavily involved in the project for years, Mr Thomson said he was disappointed in the Western Downs council’s decision not to back the project.

“They will spend the money on other things, but they won’t spend it on astro-tourism... $20,000 (for a lighting plan) is just pocket to the council - they’re being cheap,” he said.

Mr Thomson said within in the Western Downs there has been, “an overestimate on mining and an underestimate on the environment”.

“Coal isn’t long term, but tourism is… it’s really a massive opportunity for Queensland to be able to host the first Dark Park in the state.”

The Western Downs Regional Council declined to comment on whether they would reconsider their support in the future.