Anger and disappointment
“I’m not against Woolworths in general,” said Mullumbimby Forum member Garth Luke, “but I think the community should be able to decide, not have something forced on it by the State Government.
“It appears that a very significant number of people in Mullumbimby don’t want Woolworths, and that should count.”
Small business owner Paul Medeiros, who recently appeared on an episode of the SBS program Insight that explored the plight of the small retailer up against the giant supermarkets like Woolworths, expressed his disappointment at the Land and Environment Court process.
“My understanding was that the court was supposed to rule on the facts,” he said, “not turn into a mediator.
“Everyone is upset that Woolworths have had their hands held, taken through the whole process to make sure they get it, rather than the court ruling on the facts of the application.
“The application is not legal and should have been rejected.”
And Cate Feldman, equally at home treading the boards at The Drill Hall or behind the counter at Eden’s Landing, vocalised another dimension of the dismay seeping through the hitherto quiet country town.
“I’m extremely disappointed but not surprised,” she said, “due to a cynical understanding of the processes of government at all levels.”
Civil engineer Duncan Dey is particularly disappointed with the seeming inevitability of Woolworths getting the go-ahead in Mullumbimby, given his specialisation in on–site sewage management.
“I’ve been involved in the planning side ever since I learnt of Mallam’s application to erect a supermarket on site,” he said, “because I’ve always felt it was the wrong place for a supermarket.”
He detailed the steps whereby ‘a bit of cow paddock not worth a brass razoo’ suddenly became worth $4 million, following its controversial rezoning by the then Minister for Planning Frank Sartor, and following on from Mallam’s selling the site to Woolworths.
Mullumbimby has had a sewage moratorium in place for some years due to an overloaded system that sees the town’s sewers overflowing in wet weather and discharging raw sewage, including toilet flushings, into the Brunswick River, and it was this that ultimately seemed the only obstacle to Woolworths having their way.
But it was the appeal that Woolworths lodged (against council’s decision) in the Land and Environment Court, whereby they were permitted to submit a revised proposal for an on-site sewage system, and the way that appeal has been treated, that has so enraged the community.
“The court in effect was saying that they will just have to have a special connection to the town sewer system because they are such nice people,” said Duncan Dey.
“I’m disappointed in the shonky processes that have led to us getting a huge concrete box in Mullumbimby that nobody really wants.
“It’s a real indictment of our planning system, and something of which the State Labour Party should be ashamed – they have diddled the planning laws, sold Crown land to the highest bidder and we’re getting something we don’t want.”
Given that it does indeed seem that Woolworths has got its way against the wishes of the a large section of the community, Mullumbimby Community Action Network co-ordinator Deborah Lilly is looking to see how best to brace for the now almost inevitable.
“We can thank Woolworths for bringing our attention to the issue of the survival of the Mullumbimby community,” she said.
“We have had two years to appreciate the value of our local shops, local food sources and local economy, and in a world that is using resources at an unsustainable rate, we are becoming more aware of the need to fulfill our needs locally.
“Woolworths have given this community the gift of a big wake-up call - our next step is to uncover the options for our future, how we can look after ourselves in case of extreme events.
“The Transition Network, set up in the UK, has been established to inspire and support people move forward with a positive vision, and we are currently working on setting up informative talks and films to set up a Transition project in Byron Shire.”