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

Nestled in a coastal corner of Darwin’s northern suburbs lies a patch of bushland that has become the new home of a tiny endangered bird.

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

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Gouldian finch eats gamba grass.
Flocks of Gouldian finches have made a surprise appearance at Lee Point, a largely undeveloped suburb in north Darwin. (Delivered: Kacie Austin)
Colorful Gouldian finch on blade of grass.
The tiny birds are known to travel several kilometers a day to find water.(Delivered: Greg Postle)

In doing so, it became the mascot of a grassroots movement to stop a multimillion-dollar defense housing project.

At a recent rally against the project in Darwin city center, the colorful creature was pasted over T-shirts and hand-painted signs.

Biodiversity Watch’s Graeme Sawyer said the unique creature has “really wormed its way into people’s hearts because of its colourfulness.”

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

A man sits on a bench next to several other people and holds a sign with a painted image of a finch in his hand.
A grassroots campaign was set up to protect the bird’s habitat. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)
A crowd with protesters at their feet standing outside listening to a man speaking.
Graeme Sawyer spoke during a Gouldian Fink rally in Darwin earlier this month. (ABC News: Michael Franchi)

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

The finch is no stranger to the limelight, not only has it been featured in a documentary by David Attenborough, but it has also become the main attraction for twitchers in Darwin during this dry season.

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

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

People walk on a path with forest on both sides.
Dozens of people wake up at dawn to see the Gouldian finch where they congregate at Lee Point. (Supplied: Ian Redmond and Gayle Laidlaw)

Defense project approved in 2019

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

The first stage of the evacuation has already taken place.

“It is envisaged that a high street district will provide a tourist activity hub with restaurants, cafes, hotels, independent housing and retail outlets,” Defense Housing Australia’s website said.

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

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

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