ONE of the reasons Leslie Moore moved to the Brandy Hill area was right before her eyes.
"That's special!," Mrs Moore said, as she gazed at the koala snoozing in a tree on her property.
"He's a big fatty too!"
However, there is another neighbour that concerns Leslie and Phil Moore. Construction materials company Hanson operates the nearby Brandy Hill Quarry. The company wants to expand the operation, with a proposal to more than double extraction rates to 1.5 million tonnes of rock a year and almost quadruple the area being quarried.
"A blight on the landscape it will be," said Mrs Moore, pointing in the direction of the quarry, hidden behind a bushy hill.
More than be a blight, according to the residents, the quarry expansion would dig into the quality of their lives, and it would decimate about 52 hectares of prime koala habitat.
"We actually need to protect what we have here," said Chantal Parslow Redman, who moved to this "magical" area with her family five years ago. "We need to be proactive, not just reactive."
Which is why a group of residents met with their state MP, Kate Washington, and Ron Land, from rescue group Port Stephens Koalas, on Little Brandy Hill at the Moores' place on Tuesday morning to survey both the beauty of the environment and the prospect of what could be lost.
"It's hard to imagine a less deserving project than the extension of this quarry," Ron Land said. "If it's allowed to come into being, it will lead to the demise of koalas in this area."
Ron Land said the volunteers in Port Stephens Koalas had regularly rescued animals from this area.
"The proposed development will impact directly not only on the ability of koalas to survive here, but also our ability to release koalas that have been rehabilitated back into their home range," he said.
Kate Washington, who is Shadow Minister for the Environment, talked about the state's Department of Planning, Industry and Environment having recommended the expansion be approved, and that the project was listed to be fast tracked.
"I've got real fears the development will proceed as planned, and that we will lose 52 hectares of koala habitat," Ms Washington said.
She urged the government to remove the project from the fast-track approval process, and to protect the land.
"If indeed we want to stop koalas becoming extinct in NSW, we have to save habitat just like this," Ms Washington said. "We cannot have 52 hectares of core koala habitat fast tracked to be bulldozed by the NSW government."
As the hilltop meeting was taking place, a state parliamentary committee was releasing its report into koala populations and habitats in NSW.
Among the report's 16 findings is the stark warning that unless there is urgent government intervention to protect habitat, "the koala will become extinct in NSW before 2050".
The inquiry considered the awful impact of last summer's bushfires.
"An estimated 24 per cent of koala habitat on public land has been severely impacted across the State, but in some parts there has been a devastating loss of up to 81 per cent," the report outlined.
After the fires and the general trend of population decline, earlier estimates of 36,000 koalas in NSW were "outdated". The year-long inquiry has arrived at 42 recommendations, most of them urging the state government to take stronger action.
"Unless the government starts acting urgently and protecting the koalas' habitat, they're not going to survive, they're not going to survive our lifetimes, let alone the next generation's," Kate Washington said. "So it is very real they will become extinct by 2050, unless we do something now."
A spokesperson for Hanson said the company had "thoroughly and carefully assessed biodiversity impacts" associated with the project.
A large corridor of native vegetation would be retained on land owned by Hanson, and that parcel "contains habitat opportunities for koalas". As part of biodiversity offset agreements, other land close to the quarry was secured, and management measures put in place to support the koala habitat, the spokesperson said.
But resident Jacqui Purcell said offset schemes didn't "seem like a very realistic solution".
"In the grand scheme of things, the koala habitat is still getting less," she said.
What's more, Ron Land said, the translocation of koala colonies was "notoriously difficult".
Jacqui Purcell, who is a mining engineer, said she understood the need for quarried rock products, and that this wasn't a case of "not in my backyard".
"I"m quite happy for the quarry to stay there, but I think there needs to be more middle ground in terms of them engaging in the community and trying to adequately solve the problems that this expansion is presenting itself with," Mrs Purcell said.
Chantal Parslow Redman, a member of the Brandy Hill and Seaham Action Group, said offset schemes and moving koalas were not the answer.
"We actually need to look after where we've got now, look after the backyard, look after the actual home of these animals, rather than trying to come up with solutions that don't actually work," she said.
As she looked across her property, Leslie Moore said, "That quarry now, with the expansion, is just plain wrong".
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