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A mountain valley with a big footprint

By Brian Holden - posted Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Wolgan Valley north of Lithgow in New South Wales is enclosed by a stunning sandstone escarpment. The river that runs through it has gauged out that valley over many millions of years.

If there was nothing man-made in the valley, it would seem to have been timeless. The value of something timeless in a rapidly changing world is beyond measure. But, freehold titles in the valley were granted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with no thought that the timelessness aspect would be worth far more to humanity than any agricultural use the valley could be put to as farmers and graziers could only scratch out a poor living.

Now one of those old titles has been bought by the Emirates airline, and next month the company will open a resort there.


Emirates scanned the world for a jewel of nature which was free of the caprices of corrupt government, seething social unrest, carnivorous animals, bandits and rampant infectious disease. Once the company found what it was looking for, to then get shallow-minded state and local governments who will also honourably stand-by a contract regardless of how stupid it has since proven to be, was manna from Heaven.

There are only 40 suits in the resort. To get the cheapest rate a couple would have to stay three nights. That would set the couple back $4,980 for those three nights (which with a 3pm entry and 11am exit, is only two full days at the resort). Although advertised as a back-to-nature experience, nobody who feels the need to spend that kind of money on a place to bed down for the night has any concept of getting back to nature. Emirates Wolgan Valley is relying on 70 per cent of the guests to be flying in from abroad.

The drive in and out is along a narrow road cut into the steep side of the escarpment - and that drive is a white-knuckle experience. The road was designed as a one-way only for a waggon and horses to go down and the same waggon to come back up again. Today, when going down or up, one hopes that nothing (especially a truck) is coming the other way. No host would likely spring that unpleasant surprise onto a valued guest. That means the guests after paying first class to get to Sydney would then have to be brought in by helicopter at yet more cost.

The promotional video on the website is not of models luxuriating in the superbly designed establishment, but of people planting trees. The message is that the resort is a blessing to the valley as the company claims that it will return much of its 4,000 acres to its original state. The physical presence of the buildings and associated infrastructure don’t seem to be a factor in the back-to-nature image. It is not possible to have an environmentally sensitive development in an environment where no development should be in the first place.

To create the grassed and treeless paddocks a century ago, thousands of trees had to be cut down by an axe - as much bouncing off the hardwood as chipping into it. And then the stumps had to be pulled out. To replant does not seem to be the right thing to do by the pioneers, as the grassed paddocks and the old fence posts are the monument to their back-breaking work. The right thing to have done was to leave the place as it was before Emirates bought it.

Forever removed is any chance that the government could buy out what few properties were there and return the whole magical place to the people. The introduction of electricity into the valley by the resort now renders the large and previously low value private land holdings there ripe for subdivision.


While going through a process called an environmental impact statement, the dollars beckoning must have been at the back of the minds of those who approved the project. Some would be annoyed that there was any EIS at all. This is Middle Eastern money creating jobs for Australians, so where is the problem?

There are those who genuinely cannot understand why a development or mining enterprise which “only takes up one tenth of one percent of a valley” should not be acceptable to reasonable people. They fail to see that the ambience and essence of the remaining 99.9 per cent is completely changed by the intrusion.

Today the spirit in the land we walked into in 1788 has been much diminished, and of what spirit remains, those who sanctify high-tech and who are mesmerised by money could hardly care less. They look at our unique landscape and feel nothing. They look at something priceless, and put a dollar value on it. Tragically, these same people have always been in a position to authorise development.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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