Cave sacred to Aboriginal women faces destruction for massive housing project

Butterfly Cave

I’m one of the Aboriginal women who regularly visits a sacred indigenous site for women and kids near Newcastle [in northern New South Wales]. We call it the Butterfly Cave and it is incredibly important to us - but a giant property developer called Roche Group want to destroy thousands of years of Aboriginal women’s history by building a massive housing development only 20 metres away. It’s heart-breaking - the construction will damage our fragile cave. We’re desperate to save our sanctuary but the Roche Group manager is threatening us with trespassing for continuing to go into the Butterfly Cave, a rare, private safe space for Aboriginal women. He’s installing CCTV, sends emails that show he’s spying on us and has even forced us to ask permission each time we want to enter. It's degrading and offensive.


The Cave is incredibly special to Aboriginal women. Generations of women have treasured this spiritual place. Today I take my grand-daughters to the Cave to connect with our past. For many local families, the site has huge cultural significance.

I’m urging Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton to intervene immediately before a bunch of planners who couldn’t care less about Aboriginal women’s culture and history wipe out the most sacred and special place to our hearts with the flick of their pen. All she needs to do is increase the 20m buffer zone to 100m. A small change, a monumental difference.


To help by signing a petition click here. It reads:

Dear Mr Bill Roche, Mrs Imelda Roche, Damian Roche and Dominic Roche of Roche Group

Many years ago you purchased land near the village of West Wallsend – land that you are extensively developing with housing estates and a shopping centre.

For a number of years Awabakal people and the wider community have expressed concern that your Appletree Grove Estate housing development would have a devastating impact on the environment and the Aboriginal and European heritage of West Wallsend.

However, instead of consulting with the community you chose to steamroll through our bushland and – with the support of Lake Macquarie City Council and the NSW Government – have obliterated hundreds of hectares of native bush, poured tonnes of fill into gullies, displaced wildlife and now your bulldozers and earthmovers are moving painfully close to our precious Awakabal women’s place: the Butterfly Cave.

This petition was originally posted over six months ago. Since that time it has amassed an astonishing number of signatures and the comments have been clear and forceful: what you are proposing to do – that is, build roads and houses 20m from a sacred women’s site – is offensive, disrespectful and demonstrative of a total lack of cultural empathy.

The fact that your proposal has been rubber-stamped by a Government department and supported by planners at a local council does not lend it credibility—in fact it simply increases the argument that a more robust legislative framework needs to be implemented to protect Australian sacred sites.

Of course you are aware of the impacts your profit-driven project is having on the bushland around the Cave. You know it will destroy the songline journey that women have travelled for thousands of years and prevent women from engaging in cultural practice.

Of course you are aware that the Cave may not withstand the impact of construction vibration and changes during the clearing and filling of nearby gullies. You know that if the Cave is damaged it will cause enormous hurt and guilt for Aboriginal people.

In the past the destruction inflicted on the Aboriginal cultural landscape was driven by ignorance. Now we have no such excuse.

If you do not remove Stage 7 and Stage 9 of the Appletree Grove Estate – being the two stages of bushland that embrace the Butterfly Cave – you are engaging in ethnocide.

There can be no other way to view it.

Once again we ask you: is the pursuit of money worth what we will lose? All Australians will be diminished by the loss of this sacred site—but Awabakal women will suffer the most.

Is this what you want?



By 17 June the petition had attracted 80,234 supporters of a target of 150,000. The petition will be delivered to:

  • Roche Group - Bill & Imelda & family
  • Dominic Roche
  • Mr Damian Roche

2 more decision makers...

  • Minister for Environment & Heritage
    Minister Gabrielle Upton
  • Minister for Aboriginal Affairs
    Minister Sarah Mitchell

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