Endangered Gouldian finch returns to Lee Point, prompting campaign to stop Defense Housing Australia development

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Tucked away in a coastal corner of Darwin’s northern suburbs is a patch of bushland that has become the new home of a small, endangered bird.

Local twitchers believe the Gouldian finch migrated north to Lee Point in search of better habitat and breeding grounds.

Gouldian finch eats gamba grass.
Flocks of Gouldian finches have made a surprise appearance in Lee Point, a largely undeveloped suburb in Darwin’s north. (Provided by: Kacie Austin)
Colorful Gouldian finch on grass stem.
The little birds have been known to travel several kilometers a day to find water.(Provided by: Greg Postle)

In doing so, it has become the mascot of a grassroots movement to stop a multi-million dollar defense housing project.

At a recent demonstration against the project in Darwin city centre, the colorful creature was plastered over T-shirts and hand-painted signs.

Graeme Sawyer of Biodiversity Watch said the unique creature “has really entered people’s hearts because it is so colourful”.

“It’s a bird that has a huge public profile and is super cute.”

A man sitting on a bench near several other people and holding a sign with a painted image of a finch.
A grassroots campaign has been built to protect the bird’s habitat. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)
A crowd of people with protests at their feet standing outside listening to a man speaking.
Graeme Sawyer was speaking at a Gouldian finch rally in Darwin earlier this month. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Once found across northern Australia, the latest count of the endangered finch estimated there were fewer than 2,500 left in the wild.

No stranger to the limelight, the finch has not only featured in a David Attenborough documentary, but has also become the main attraction for twitchers in Darwin this dry season.

Sawyer said he believed thousands of people have visited the area to catch a glimpse of the elusive bird.

“We estimate that during that period from May to the end of August there were over 10,000 visits to that site and about 48 percent of those would have been tourists,” he said.

People walk on a path with forest on either side.
Dozens of people wake up at dawn to see the Gouldian finch gathering at Lee Point. (Provided by: Ian Redmond and Gayle Laidlaw)

Defense project approved in 2019

Defense Housing Australia describes the proposed 800-house development as a “thriving residential community of defense families, the local community and visitors”, across 131 hectares of zoned residential land.

The first phase of the clearance has already taken place.

“It is envisaged that a main street area will provide a tourist activity center containing restaurants, cafes, hotels, self-contained apartments and retail shops,” according to Defense Housing Australia’s website.

Lee Point destruction
Land clearing at Lee Point has begun to make way for 800 homes. (ABC News: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

The Defense Housing Authority claims the development will provide “much needed” accommodation for members of the Australian Defense Force and their families.

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