Fight or Flight: a community response to western Sydney Airport

The following article by Jessica Cortis, was first published on Medium.

They say that childhood roots are the strongest. Except for when they’re being excavated out of the ground, and with more than 20 million cubic metres of soil being removed, it’s safe to say that all I’ll have of my childhood is memories and a lot of soil.

The Western Sydney Airport has been a topic of discussion for more than 40 years. “In your dreams!” Dad always said when asked about it, “That won’t happen in our lifetime”. But it’s fast approaching. The airport itself is estimated to be up and running by the mid 2020’s with the rail link in progress by 2024 (nice estimation Dad).

Image: ABC news

With the creation of almost 30,000 jobs and a projected $3.6 billion to be put towards developing and expanding the roads of the Western suburbs, I’m wondering why we are still convinced this is a bad thing for Western Sydney.

It will boost the economy.

It will provide employment.

It will improve the development of infrastructure for the growing population.

These are the mantras that western Sydney residence have been trying to convince themselves to believe. I’m sure they hold great value and will contribute to the broader growth of Sydney, but my question remains.

Is change necessarily progress?

We’ve been assured that the proposed airport will have little environmental impacts to our community. Mr Truss, the Federal Transport minister guarantees that “any potential environmental impacts would be low and well within internationally accepted standards”. As well as this, aircraft noise will equate to a car travelling on the road. But it’s not this we need to be assured of.

David’s Stall Fruit shop (15 years ago). Some of this land will be used in the new Northern Road lane expansion. Photo Credit: David Knox

The beautiful countryside of the west, the trips to the Friendly Grocer (who knows us all by name), the early morning coffee stop at the Luddenham Village Café. Our visit to the famous Luddenham pie shop to pick up our Sunday family pie, But not before heading to David’s Stall to buy our locally grown produce. Can we really sacrifice all these things in the name of progress?

The ‘Residents Against Western Sydney Airport’ (RAWSA) Organisation don’t seem to think so. Founded in 2015, the Blaxland based non-for-profit organisation has been actively petitioning and rallying against the proposed airport plans. They’ve made appearances at community events within the western Sydeny region including stalls at the Blacktown, Luddenham and Penrith monthly markets, as well as organised protests around western Sydney, holding up signs reading “Birds not Boeings” and “Plane stupid”. With all the progress and government planning thats underway, I fear that it’s too late to fight against the proposal.

Arial photograph of the proposed Badgerys Creek airport site

If we can’t work against change, let’s work with it.

Is there a way we can grow western Sydney without losing our local culture?

The alternative;

Typing in the words “culturally sustainable airport” in Google felt like a contradiction at first. I mean, you can’t sustain a community culture that you’re literally digging out from the ground, right? I believed this to be true until I fell across the Changi Airport webpage:

Airport Experience

Singapore’s Changi Airport is home to state of the art facilities that not only showcase cultures from all around the world, but provide an interactive framework for the public to emerse themselves in.

With a growing collection of additions including interactive art installations, a Balinese themed pool on the terminal 1 rooftop, and both a cactus and water lily garden, Changi Airport is rated one of the most environmentally sustainable airports in the world. The implementation of water, waste and noise management innitiatives are evident through the airports unique features and their motto “Remembering our rich past, reinventing our future”speaks for itself.

Changi Airport is not just an airport. It boasts of authenticity, sustainability and most importantly, it embodies an ethos of culture.

Features of Changi Airport:

  • 919 skylights for natural light
  • Rain water harvesting scheme called ‘NEWater’ which has helped reduce water usage by 66%
  • Green Terminal which is home to the world’s first ‘Airport butterfly garden’
  • Flora and Fauna nursery

Can we translate an airport into something more than “economic growth”?

I believe we can. Yes, an airport will create more jobs and inject a minimum of $15.7 billion into our economy. But after researching about Changi airport, it has the potential to do much more. Embracing the opportunities that a new airport will provide and working with it instead of against it will have more of a chance of revitalising our community than harming it.

If we look at the neighbouring example of the Warragamba Dam centre (only 17.3km from the proposed airport), you’ll see their permanent ‘Water For Life’ exhibition hub which tells the story of Sydney’s dams and catchments including the history of the Warragamba community.

‘water for life’ Permanent Exhibition at Warragamba dam

Not only has this exhibition portrayed the story of Warragamba during and prior to the making of the dam, but in doing so, they have sustained it so that the community’s story may be told for generations to come.

Let’s use the Airport as a platform to showcase our community and maintain our local culture. The rural ethos of the Western Sydney region doesn’t have to be lost in the whirlwind of airport plans and railway proposals. We’ll start small. Let us come together in the spirit of community, cherish the past and embrace the future. Because one thing is for sure, change is inevitable. But the extinction of our community doesn’t have to be.

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