Mick Herse’s family has grown sugar for five generations – but he believes time is up for the City of Logan’s last cane farm if a new six-lane highway goes ahead. 

The proposed Coomera Connector would cut right through the centre of his beloved fields in Eagleby.

Herse said: “It will spell certain doom for us."

“To put a highway through the middle of the farm, you won't be able to dust or water spray or poison or smoke, and it is going to end us.” 

Herse spoke out about his plight as traditional owners and fellow locals also renewed calls for a re-think of the highway which they say threatens the Eagleby Wetlands.

Waterbird dries its wings at the Eagleby Wetlands. Photo: Grace Nakamura *PS Media

As well as being a wildlife haven, the wetlands are also an important meeting place for the local Yugambeh people of the Five Rivers.

Uncle Peter Eather, elder and chair of the Jinni Mibunn Indigenous Community Development hub, has written of the scheme: “A recognised safe space, a healing and nurturing space will potentially be turned into the busiest road connector in the country (and) will have insurmountable human and natural impacts.”

And Aunty Robyn Williams has said: "If this is taken away how can we teach this history of the area that has been here for thousands of years?" (see the full text of her powerful letter below.)

The Department of Transport and Main Roads was due to release its environmental plan for the project in “mid-2022”.

And locals told *PS Media this week they are frustrated that it – or any concrete information – is yet to be seen.

Marilyn Goodwin, chair of the Eagleby Community and Wetlands group, said: “Since the very beginning, we've been asking Transport and Main Roads for their environmental studies, their hydrology studies, their social impact studies, we have never had anything from a single one.”

Uncle Peter Eather and Marilyn Goodwin

The highway would skirt the northern side of the wetlands, running straight through the cane fields in the east then heading south across the Logan River to join up with the M1. 

Goodwin added that as well as the effect on the wetlands, the road’s loop around Eagleby would leave residents surrounded by “a horseshoe of highway”.

The transport upgrade aims to relieve traffic congestion by building a six-lane highway slightly east of the M1, which connects Loganholme to Nerang and is a key route from Brisbane to the Gold Coast.

Back at his farm, Herse is not just upset that his children will not be able to continue the family’s cane-farming tradition, but also by what he sees as a lack of communication and transparency from the State Government.

He first found out about the plans for a 100 metre-wide swathe through his property via a letter in March 2019 announcing that the land had been “gazetted”, which means compulsorily acquired.

But he and his neighbours, including the local postman, were left to puzzle out the full picture on their own, using their own property maps and letters.

Herse said: “​​We all got together and laid the maps out side by side and worked out exactly where the roads were going.” 

Three years later, the 51 year old says he still does not know when the construction is likely to start, or whether he will receive any compensation. 

He told *PS Logan: “You ask, it’s not answered. Every single thing is, ‘Oh mate, it’s early days yet’ or ‘How do you expect us to know?’ or ‘We’ll deal with that.’

“But my property has been gazetted. I can't go legally and dig a waterhole or put a shed up or change anything … I can't improve my property. Which I find extremely frustrating.” 

Road named after Herse's family. Photo: Grace Nakamura *PS Media

Local Federal MP for Forde, Bert van Manen, supports the Save the Wetlands campaign and told the group that if they could find more than 18 Latham’s snipes – a migratory bird – at the site, federal environmental protection laws could help build the case for halting the project.

The chair of Conservation Birdlife Southern Queensland then conducted a survey of the wetlands in December and found 20 of the birds in just four hours.

Meanwhile other resident birds, eagles, are believed to be what gave Eagleby its name.

And the story of the wetlands’ “mother eagle” is also a key narrative for the Yugambeh people.

In his 2020 letter of support to the Save the Wetlands group, Uncle Peter Eather said the spiritual connection to the wetlands comes from the "old people" story of this bird of prey. 

He explained:  “She would follow this site of deep water hole fishing – recognised mimburi (flow) of the mullet and other strong river fish.

“She flew and marked significant sites along the wetlands to protect the area. 

“The protection is the great gum trees, these were the warriors left to protect the flow of food and safe space for our people.” 

In a statement to *PS Media on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Department of Transport and Main Roads said its environmental report would be available once it had been reviewed by the Federal Government’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

The statement added that detailed design and geotechnical work is underway, which will provide a clearer idea of when construction could begin.

But the Department insisted that while alternative plans had been looked at, the current highway plan provides the best overall outcome, the best value for money, and impacts the fewest properties.

The statement also said the plan “impacts the environment to a level that can be mitigated through design and construction, but avoids matters of national and international environmental significance north of the Logan River”.

However the spokesperson said throughout the ongoing development of the business case and environmental approvals process, there will be continued consultation with those affected.

It concluded: “The decision to proceed with the future stages of the Coomera Connector, the timing and staging, will then be at the discretion of the Queensland and the Australian governments.”

 * In February 2020, one of the traditional owners of the Eagleby Wetlands, Aunty Robyn Williams, wrote a letter to the Save the Wetlands group in support of their campaign. She has given us permission to publish it for the first time.

17/02/2020

To whom it may concern,

My name is Aunty Robyn Williams and I am a proud Mulanjali womanand a Tradtional Owner of the area of where this proposed highway is going to take place.

I am writing this letter as one of concern for the proposed highway through Eagleby and particularly the destructive impact it would have on the Eagleby Wetlands and Oliver Sporting Complex Precinct.

I believe as a traditional owner, wider Aboriginal community Elder of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities I have a unique voice and insight to this situation. Under no circumstances do I believe this highway should go through.

It is obvious that no to little consideration has been given to my people both Indigenous and non-Indigenous of Eagleby and Beenleigh.

Firstly may I reiterate that I am a Traditional Owner of the Yugambeh area and It must be noted that I choose not to participate in the Native Title process, however, that does not diminish my connection to Country nor my ability to voice this connection and concern.

The Eagleby Wetlands was and will forever be a place of strong Indigenous cultural significance. The area is highly regarded by my community as a place of immense power and community connection. For thousands of years my ancestors accessed this Country for sustenance with abundant waterholes, access to the rivers and animal life.

The Country is still teeming with life. There are old scar trees dating to pre non-Indigenous movement into the area. My traditional owner families still access and connect with this Country. A highway through the wetlands would bring disruption to this beautiful place of my ancestors.

Secondly the Eagleby Wetlands has great significance to the current Indigenous community – a community comprised of both traditional owners and their descendants and those who have come into this beautiful Country.

The wetlands precinct is an area where Aboriginal people continue to gather and connect for strength. It is connected with by my community for cultural sustenance. We teach, live and learn on that Country. Both Men's, Women's and Jarjum (young ones') cultural teaching and learning take place within the Wetlands precinct. We connect with respect to this Country and its living and non-living beings to teach and learn.

We have community celebrations and events from Weddings to NAIDOCs in the Wetlands. It is a place of cultural significance for my current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Thirdly as an Elder particularly of the Beenleigh and Eagleby area I am privileged to be recognised as such by not only my Indigenous community but by the non-Indigenous community. This means in my work, community duties and everyday life I hear many concerns and ideas regarding the local area.

On behalf of this community both Indigenous and non-Indigenous I can honestly surmise that the the construction of a highway through this Country is not supported by the people. It is not a good idea.

The wetlands is used by many non-Indigenous people as a place of environmental and connection culturally to place. People access the Country for exercise, relief and retreat. The wetlands is also used as teaching resource, where Elders in the community can tell stories about the area to our jarjums and families. If this is taken away how can we teach this history of the area that has been here for thousands of years. A highway would destroy this.

A highway through the Eagleby Wetlands and Oliver Sporting Complex Precinct would be an act of violence against this community – it already has caused distress and disturbance on people's lives.

It makes people anxious and for Elders and community people it adds to us feeling unwell – Country isa part of us.

It is for these reasons that under no circumstances this highway should go through. I implore decision makers to make a stand for Country, Community, the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Eagleby and Beenleigh and in a broader sense what is right as an Australian.

There is a unique connection and re-connection occurring in the community and without knowledge of the local context this is missed by decision makers. We all feel the power of this Country and the sustaining impacts it has. Heed this message.

Yours in truth

Aunty Robyn Williams