Calls from the Bemm River community for Parks Victoria to act on poor conditions of Pearl Point Road appear to be falling on deaf ears. And the community is not happy.
Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, questioned Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, in parliament on September 6, seeking action. Her response on September 20 stated the road is “adequate and accessible”.
As far as Mr Bull and Bemm River Progress and Improvement Association president, David Sturgess, are concerned, it is far from adequate.
“Tourist brochures describe Pearl Point as a very picturesque and beautiful location,” Mr Bull told parliament.
“The Bemm River Progress and Improvement Association is a very active and community focused group. They provide a rubbish collection service and they provide water to those who are down at Pearl Point camping. There is also a whale-watching platform there, which has proven extremely popular.
“The problem is you cannot get there at the moment because the road is inaccessible.
“Over the years this community has advocated very strongly when the road is in poor condition to have it graded, but it seems to be an ongoing battle for them.
“I ask the minister to not only get a grader out there and grade it prior to the summer period, but also then to put in place a regular work schedule so that it is kept up to standard.
“It is a popular tourist location and it ought to be looked after.”
Mr Bull said the other element of Pearl Point Road was its important purpose as a fire access track.
“We are on the verge of a fire season that is extremely concerning and has the potential to be catastrophic if the circumstances and conditions come about that we all fear,” he said.
“Our fire services need access to Pearl Point and along that stretch of coastline via this road, so from a tourist perspective and also a fire safety perspective we encourage the minister to get a grader out there in the next week or two and then make sure we have a plan in place so that this road is maintained on a regular basis into the future.”
In her response to Mr Bull, Ms D’Ambrosio “noted the concerns raised about the condition of the track”.
“Parks Victoria maintains the track on an as-needs basis to ensure the handful of small, basic visitor sites that the track services are accessible to the public,” she said.
“The track was last graded in 2017 and Parks Victoria has confirmed that it is adequate and accessible for vehicle use, provided care is taken.”
She said Parks Victoria also confirmed that emergency services would be able to access Pearl Point Track in its current condition.
“I can reassure you that Parks Victoria will continue to monitor and evaluate the condition of the track and when necessary will upgrade the track to ensure visitor access.”
This response was laughable to Mr Sturgess. “There’s no doubt you can access it,” he said, “so long as you’re happy to destroy your car it’s perfectly fine.”
“I think the minister is listening to a whole lot of garbage.
“Parks Victoria have always treated us with contempt. They claim there is no funding available, that’s why the ‘as-needs basis’ comment.
“This little community relies heavily on that road. We have five beach accesses and people love to visit, but the road stops them.
“Parks has taken over certain areas of the coast, like the Cape Conran Coastal Park and Point Hicks – they’ve spent a lot of money on Point Hicks – and they’d rather people visit there instead.
“They haven’t got the manpower to check people on holidays, let alone checking the road.”
“We’ve been here for 15-plus years and we’ve been doing the rubbish collection for about 12 of those. In fact I think one of the bins was there before we got here.
“We push for tourism here, the shire pushes for tourism. This is just not on.
“I’m an active CFA member, too. If we drive our truck down that road to fight their fires we’d be lucky to still have the pumps on board by the end.
“We’re not going to take this lying down.
“That’s treating us like idiots.”