As you follow Larissa Penn through the winding trails of Flat Rock Gully, it’s hard to believe the lush greenery was a tip less than 40 years ago.
There are clues, of course.
The heritage listed Incinerator building – which now houses an art gallery and a cafe with a trendy menu – is still recognisable as the place where generations of waste was sent to burn.
“Sometimes when a tree dies, you’ll see its roots have grown around an old drum or some other bit of rubbish,” Penn explains.
The community fought for the gully and won once before, with the tip ceasing to operate in 1985 and the bushland regenerated.
And now Penn is leading the charge to do it all over again first with community action group Stop the Tunnels and then by standing as independent in the Willoughby by-election with opposition to the Beaches Link project as her key policy platform.
Larissa Penn at Flat Rock Gully. Photo: Renee Nowytarger.
Penn, a quality assurance auditor and risk assessor, is concerned excavation in the area could lead to the currently well sealed landfill contaminating the environment and even posing a risk to public health.
Then there’s the potential impact the Cammeray to Balgowlah tunnel could have on Middle Harbour and its sensitive wildlife which is known to include whales and penguins.
Not to mention the contentious exhaust stacks which are located close to multiple schools and daycare centres.
“It’s not NIMBYism. This project is very heavy on environmental impact on social impact and on our kids. The benefits just don’t stack up,” Penn said.
Stop the Tunnels has been inundated with expert volunteers willing to forensically comb through any future documents made publicly available by government in relation to the projects – just as they did with the thousands of pages-long Environmental Impact Statements.
“Willoughby is home to one of the highest numbers of people working in the science and technology fields. We have had so many extremely qualified people come forward and lend their expertise,” Penn said.
Penn may have lost the battle in the by-election but with a 17.7 per cent swing against Gladys Berejiklian’s successor Tim James, could she have won the war?
With less than 12 months until the NSW state general election, Penn still hasn’t decided if she will take another tilt.
“I want to give Tim a chance, let’s see what he does,” Penn said.
And what exactly does she hope that will be?
“Cancel the project,” Penn said.
“Think big, or go home.”
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