• Woman and child at the Butterfly Cave. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Traditional owners of a sacred site in the Hunter are pleading with the NSW State Government for its protection.
Tara Callinan

4 Feb 2016 - 4:06 PM  UPDATED 4 Feb 2016 - 4:53 PM

The Butterfly Cave at West Wallsend in NSW was declared an Aboriginal place in 2013, just one year after the state government approved plans for a housing complex to be built in the area.

“The residential development - approved by the Joint Regional Planning Panel - is taking place on land outside the statutory boundary of the area declared as an Aboriginal Place,” said Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Mark Speakman.

It was Roche Group Australia who commissioned the development of 404 housing lots, to be built within a 20 metre radius of the Butterfly Cave.

Local activist Annie Freer says traditional owners fear the development will damage the sacred site.

She is now calling on Minister Speakman to extend the statutory boundary of 20 metres.

“It means women will still be able to connect to their culture and past in private,” she said.

According to Miss Freer, there is no evidence to suggest that the Cave can withstand earthworks.

“The geo-technic report prepared to protect the Cave clearly states that Douglas Partners is not aware of any standard guideline which specifically applies to the effects of ground vibrations on natural rock structures,” she said.

Meaning there is a possibility the Cave could collapse.

Deputy Mayor of Lake Macquarie City Council, Brian Adamthwaite is disheartened by these findings, but says his hands are tied.

He said Miss Freer’s concerns can only be resolved by the states Joint Regional Planning Panel, who approved the original plans in 2012.

“Unfortunately we as a Council only have words in this matter. The state government and the developers have the power to change things.”

“The council is only able to oversee the approved conditions, which includes the 20 metre buffer zone,” said Councillor Adamthwaite.

The NSW State Government has been in contact with Roche Group to ensure they are aware of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, which prohibits harmful action taken outside the statutory boundary of an Aboriginal place.

“I have directed the Office of Environment and Heritage, after reviewing the geotechnical report to council, to engage with council and the developer to avoid harm to the Cave,” said Minister Speakman.

The Butterfly Cave was a safe haven for generations of Awabakal women; a special place to hold ceremonies and teach young women Aboriginal ways.

Today it exists as a treasured site visited by many Aboriginal women – young and old - connecting with their cultural identity.

Miss Freer says construction of the housing complex is imminent and invites everyone to sign her petition as a last ditch effort to help save the Cave.