Latest News

Maclean High School teacher John Ambrose (centre) spoke as a representative of the NSW Teachers Federation, at a rally held for the dispersal of bats in Maclean. Other official speakers at the gathering were Clarence Valley’s mayor Jim Simmons, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, Member for Page Kevin Hogan (far left) and parents Ray Cameron (centre, checked shirt) and Sarah Armstrong (president of the P & C).  Image: Geoff Helisma

Shining a light on Macquarie Street

Maclean High School teacher John Ambrose (centre) spoke as a representative of the NSW Teachers Federation, at a rally held for the dispersal of bats in Maclean. Other official speakers at the gathering were Clarence Valley’s mayor Jim Simmons, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, Member for Page Kevin Hogan (far left) and parents Ray Cameron (centre, checked shirt) and Sarah Armstrong (president of the P & C).  Image: Geoff Helisma

As people crowded around speakers at the western car park for Maclean High School, to hear above the din created by the flying foxes roosting overhead, Lex Essex strode into the centre and shared a lifetime of observations.
He recalled how a beam of light would sometimes stream through the dense canopy of what used to be a healthy rainforest before the school was built.
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis spoke of a light, too.
“Clearly the people here today want a dispersal … this is like living in an animal enclosure,” Mr Gulaptis, a 36-year resident of the town, told the Independent.
“There is light wherever there is community concern, and it reaches Macquarie Street [NSW Parliament].
“We’ve made it tough for ourselves by introducing tougher protocols [federal laws surrounding the protection of grey headed flying foxes, specifically], by disempowering people from protecting their own property, livelihoods, health and wellbeing.
“We need to empower people; we need to get the roadblocks out of the way, it’s not rocket science.”
Mr Gulaptis believes that the high cost of dispersals can be mitigated by removing some of those ‘roadblocks’.
After the roadblocks are gone, he said, “We don’t have to worry about preparing a report about where they are going to go … or a report for this, a report for that.
“There are so many roadblocks in the way and penalties if you disperse them.
“We simply need a wildlife expert to develop a strategy and for him/her to supervise a group of volunteers – instruct them on certain protocols: the time to do it, how long to do it, etcetera.”
Mr Gulaptis is of the view that the bats could be dispersed and subsequently dispersed again, wherever they might set up a new colony, “until they find a place they are happy and do not need to be dispersed”.
Speaking as a representative of the NSW Teachers Federation, teacher John Ambrose said the school’s staff had “expressed sympathy for residents who have to live with the problem 24 hours a day, 365 days a year”, pointing out that it was untenable for teachers and students, too, who only have to put up with the issues seven or eight hours a day.
He said the current status quo – coexistence – “does not work”
He said he had met with former education minister, Verity Firth, the last time the issue had come to a head, “and passed on what staff perceived as necessary to coexist with the flying foxes”.
“So the Department of Education is well aware of our ‘wish list’,” he said.
He then outlined, unimpressed, what had been done to date: two large gum trees cut down; no hot water for washing anywhere except for kitchens and change rooms, which are locked.
“Staff believe that coexisting cannot work – evidence the last 20 years and destruction of the rainforest and now damage to the trees next to the western car park,” he said.
He pointed out that students do not have access to antiseptic hand wash or hot water.
“How long would it take to supervise 880 students washing their hands at the end of lunch?” he said.
“It’s a simple choice: relocate … us or the flying foxes.”
He said he was concerned that another study would be called for, which he regarded as “political speak for delaying a decision”.
At this point, Mr Ambrose placed his fingers in his ears and closed his eyes, to demonstrate “how the coexistence strategy can be made to work”.
“There you go, problem gone!” he said.
Speaking on behalf of his wife Edwina, who organised the protest, Ray Cameron said a social media post had gathered 800 comments and numerous shares.
“All we hear is that dispersal is a complex and sensitive issue,” he said. “We acknowledge that, but dispersals have happened and have been successful numerous times.
“…The kids are walking to Wherrett Park”, because sport has been moved from the school oval due to bat droppings.
“We firmly believe [flying fox] numbers in Maclean are unhealthy, disruptive and dangerous,” he said.
“There are seven million hectares of national parks; surely they can find a few hectares for a new home.”
Federal Member for Page Kevin Hogan told the Independent that he didn’t “believe coexisting is working; we need to disperse the bats in the least disruptive way”.
He said the federal government would be reliant on taking advice on the issue from the Maclean Flying Fox working group, which oversees the management strategy for the colony.
Clarence Valley mayor Jim Simmons also addressed the crowd.

X