They’ve been here before when fighting the proposed zipline; four years later, residents and friends of the Mt Coot-tha Botanical Gardens are in a new fight to protect the wildlife and amenity of a precious public asset.


In 2017, Lord Mayor Graeme Quirk announced that Zipline Australia had won the tender for a Mt Coot-tha zipline. Concerned about the impact on wildlife, such as the powerful owl, the proposed project prompted the formation of Mt Coot-tha Protection Alliance Inc (MCPA), which mounted a vigorous campaign, claiming the development would create noise pollution and conflicted with the Mt Coot-tha Neighbourhood Plan and the Koala Conservation Plan.

MCAP members created submissions garnering 3000 supporters, mounted a letter-writing campaign, held rallies in the city, and ultimately appealed to the planning court. As a result of this community pressure, within days of his election, the then-new Lord Mayor, Adrian Schrinner,  scrapped the project in April 2019, saying he had listened to community feedback.

Now the Alliance wants the Lord Mayor to listen to the community again as they engage in a new fight to stop the proposed “LUMINA Enchanted Night Walk” at Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha.

The Lumina Night Walks application Light Dreaming [A006083027] was lodged with Brisbane City Council by Place Design Group in August 2022, proposing a permanent guided sound and light walking tour within the Botanical Gardens. The plan is for a five-year lease for Light Dreaming Pty Ltd with a potential five-year extension.

The application is Impact Assessable, and following the required statutory public notification, Brisbane residents had fifteen days to make formal submissions on the applications, commencing on 20 October 2022. While the community submission period has closed, Council has yet to finalise its assessment and will still receive submissions.

According to Botanic Gardens Conservation International,Botanic gardens are institutions holding documented collections of living plants for scientific research, conservation, display, and education.”  Those objecting to the light show argue that it is not in keeping with the purpose of botanical gardens.  So, for example, while Roma Street Parklands hosts events, including an annual light show, as a display garden, it has a different purpose to Botanical Gardens. 

In a petition to Council signed by over 600 residents, opponents of the project argue the proposed Lumina Night Walk light along a one-kilometre light trail through the Botanical Gardens would attract over two thousand visitors per night for about one hundred and seventy nights per year. They object to what they call the “commercialisation” of Mount Coot-tha.

“Brisbane Botanical Gardens at Mt Coot-tha is a public asset supporting a priceless collection of plants from around the world, rich biodiversity, migratory birds and microbats. It has been nurtured by generations of volunteers for the enjoyment of the people of Brisbane,” the group said in its submission to Council.

“The project will negatively impact the flora and fauna that rely on the Gardens and the local residents that live in the surrounding area.”

Friends of Brisbane Botanic Gardens and Sherwood Arboretum Ltd say the gardens have a defined purpose for research and conservation. 

“The function of a modern-day botanic garden in major cities and towns is to provide a showcase for native and exotic species; assist in conservation and environmental efforts/ strategies: education and research: and the amenity of a quiet and contemplative green space often in heavily urbanised areas. They are NOT a venue for mass entertainment on a large scale to increase tourism revenue for Brisbane,” Friends of Brisbane Botanic Gardens and Sherwood Arboretum wrote in their submission.

Michael Berkman MP, whose Maiwar electorate includes the Botanical Gardens, has said he had come to the view that there is significantly more opposition to the proposal than support for it. Like others, Mr Berkman raises concerns about the commercial use of public space.

“I share a lot of the concerns raised with me by residents about the Lumina proposal, especially the commercialisation of public space by a for-profit company with no open tender process,’ Mr Berkman told the Westender.

“If Council wanted to explore new ways to use the Gardens, they could have offered local residents, artists and community groups the opportunity to submit a range of ideas that are consistent with keeping Mt Coot-tha as protected land for a public park.

“I also have concerns about the limited ecological assessment report provided by Lumina and their failure to properly answer locals’ concerns around noise, parking and traffic management. I raised all of these in my submission to Council.”

The developer organised a public consultation process, holding meetings and focus groups. But residents argue these were invitation-only events, and neither the Local Councillor nor the Gardens Curator attended to answer community concerns.

Mr Berkman said, “I’ve repeatedly urged Lumina and Council to conduct more fulsome public consultation on these plans – Lumina’s invite-only sessions and last-minute cancellations really didn’t help their case.”

“From what we know, Lumina could potentially earn millions in profit from running this light show on public land with only a pittance returned to the public. Given the impacts this would have on the community and the gardens, I think residents deserve a better deal.”

A Council spokesperson responded to questions put to Brisbane City Council by The Westender, saying:

“The idea for a light show attraction at Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens was raised initially by the proponent through the Better Brisbane Proposals process and is now the subject of a formal development application.

“Residents were consulted about this proposal last year and all submissions will be considered as part of Council’s independent assessment process.”

Council said that details about the application, including an ecological assessment report, are publicly available.

Friends of Brisbane Botanic Gardens and Sherwood Arboretum said in their submission that the developer’s ecological assessment “is written ‘in support of the proposal’ – we should be able to consider an ecological assessment prepared by an independent assessor.”

“The report covering the flora and fauna is sketchy, dismissive of the species collections and minimalised the impacts on plant, fungi and animal habitats, and breeding cycles/habits. There is little mention of soil or water borne fauna, which generally forage at night, nor the many airborne diurnal and nocturnal insect species.”

As part of its assessment process, Council wrote to the developer in January 2023, requesting further information about wildlife movements, asking the developer to provide a revised Ecological Assessment that outlines the maximum extent of any elevated netting, wiring and cabling that has the potential to lead to bird or bat strike.

The developer is yet to respond.


Cover image Powerful Owl by KarenHBlackiStock

Note – A request for comment was sent to Councillor Jarrod Cassidy, Labor leader in Council, but the Westender is yet to received a response.