The Federal Government has moved to protect the Lake Macquarie's Butterfly Cave, a sacred meeting place for the area's Aboriginal women.
Environment Minister, Melissa Price issued a declaration to protect the West Wallsend cave site this week under the under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.
The action to protect the Butterfly Cave is the first time in 17 years that a Minister has issued a declaration under the Act.
The NSW Aboriginal Land Council lodged an application to protect the site in October 2016 on behalf of the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council and local Awabakal women.
It argued local women feared the proposed final stage of the Roche developed Appletree Grove Estate would threaten the private, secret nature of traditional cultural practices that are still carried out in and around the cave.
It also said the development would impact the site’s significance as a bush tucker food source through removal of vegetation and destroy traditional stone arrangements.
Minister Price's declaration extends to activities outside the area of the cave that could impact on the cave and the women’s ability to conduct ceremonial business on the site.
This includes drilling and land clearing that could disturb soil or vegetation and the removal of vegetation around the cave that would increase the visibility of the area.
The Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land council cautiously welcomed the Minister's intervention, but was still interpreting the fine detail of declaration on Wednesday.
A statement read: "The Awabakal LALC and women on whose behalf the declaration was enacted have welcomed the minister’s actions, but wish to make no further public comment until they have received clarification about how the declaration will be implemented."
The Roche Group did not comment about Minister Price's declaration.
The cave, which is so named because it attracted many butterflies, is one of the smallest sacred Aboriginal sites in the state.
It was declared an Aboriginal Place by the state government in 2013.
However, the listing only protected a 20-metre radius around the cave and did not protect the entire traditional journey path to the cave.
A 2015 petition on change.org, which called for the cave to be saved, attracted 30,876 supporters.
The Environmental Defenders Office worked with the Awabakal to lodge a proposal with the Office of Environment and Heritage to extend the curtilage around the cave in late 2016.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.