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Byron Shire
December 2, 2021

Bundjalung elder wrongfully arrested on eve of gathering

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Bundjalung elder Lewis Walker. (Photo Darren Coyne)
Bundjalung elder Lewis Walker. (Photo Darren Coyne)

By Darren Coyne

Respected Bundjalung elder Lewis Walker was meant to deliver the Welcome to Country at a dance festival on Aboriginal land near Tabulam on Friday evening.

Instead he spent four  hours in police custody after being arrested for  outstanding warrants. The problem was, the police got the wrong man.

Mr Walker told the Echonetdaily that he was arrested after approaching police around 12.30pm. The police were at his property trying to stop the Omega festival, which is expected to attract thousands of people for the Queens Birthday long weekend.

Mr Walker identified himself and was told that he was under arrest for an outstanding warrant. He was taken to the Lismore police station, and spent hours in custody before being brought before the court registar around 4.15pm.

It was quickly established that the warrants that Mr Walker had been arrested for related to another person who may have used the name ‘Lewis Walker’ as one of up to 20 aliases.

The real Lewis Walker was immediately released unconditionally.

Aboriginal Legal Service solicitor Binnie O’Dwyer represented Mr Walker in court.

She said further action for unlawful arrest and detention was being considered.

Meanwhile, Mr Walker expressed disappointment that up to 15 police remained at his property attempting to stop the weekend gathering taking place.

Police have used social media and issued media releases saying it was not going ahead, but did not respond to repeated requests for details about the arrest. Meanwhile, Tenterfield Shire Council made a last minute application to the NSW Land and Environment Court to stop the party.

Mr Walker denied a police claim that the gathering was going ahead without the knowledge of the Jubullum Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Bundjalung elder Lewis Walker. (photo Darren Coyne)
Bundjalung elder Lewis Walker. (photo Darren Coyne)

He said the gathering had been organised for many months.

“I’ve been speaking with the mayor of Tenterfield early part and rung Cedric Walker, deputy chairman of the land council (about the gathering).

‘So he is now going to ring Superintendent Doug O’Connor (of Richmond LAC) to tell him that we’ve got everything organised properly.’

Mr Walker, who has hosted numerous gatherings on his land during the past nine years, including the twice yearly Rainbow Corroboree, said he was disappointed with the police attention.

‘It took a long time for people to come to our community, to help and support our community, and they are trying to stop us.

‘We have 60 people coming from my community, including my elders and their grandchildren, to support this gathering and we’ve got 15 police at the gate.

Mr Walker was confident, however, that the Omega Festival would proceed.

‘The people are there for a good time and to enjoy culture. People come from all over the world.’

Meanwhile, Tenterfield Shire Council was successful in an application to the NSW Land and Environment Court  – lodged on the opening day of the gathering (June 10)  – in having an order prohibiting the Omega festival taking place.

The NSW Land and Environment Court documents being circulated by Richmond LAC. (Facebook)
The NSW Land and Environment Court documents being circulated by Richmond LAC. (Facebook)









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  1. Blatant disregard for culture, and elders. Not only from the police, especially from the council’s. Who are not recognised in our Constitution. You cannot stop magic. The celebration of being together dancing, on this land, will never be stopped. Thanks and love Uncle Lewis.

  2. how come our servants are so hell bent on becoming our masters, the police and council are Public servants paid for by the community so should be serving us not bullying us on behalf of a few ultra right business interests. Another blatant abuse of power.

  3. It’s funny all the doofs, out Tabulam/Busby’s Flat way, when you ring the Police they tell you they don’t have the resources to do anything, beer bottles get thrown from cars and nothing happens. My understanding is this property where this celebration was being held is drug and alcohol free. Why is it that this particular celebration got so much Police attention?

  4. On what grounds did the council want to stop Uncle Lewis event? I apologise to you Lewis Walker for this appalling and arcane behaviour towards you by our police on your land and by the nearby council. You do so much for our region: helping bridge the gap towards those of us who want to learn more and keeping culture alive and thriving. Thank you for all you do and may even more support come your way now.
    Is there anything we can do?

  5. I am appalled. What exactly does the Tenterfield Council have against the Omega Festival or the Indigenous peoples of this land? What is their excuse? Absolutely horrified that this has been done. Tenterfield Council has nothing to be proud of as far as I can see. Was this racism?

  6. Leave the cops alone. It was an honest mistake, two people with the same name. Now we’ll hear all the usual accusations of good old ‘racism’ and a demand for compo. Get over it!

  7. Very glad to see so many people speaking up on this forum – this is more comments than I have seen on any post – proud of my community for speaking out. Very sad and wrong situation. Very disappointed in the Council actions.

  8. More inept heavy handed policing, one suspects with racist overtones from a police force which needs much closer public scrutiny and oversight.
    I encourage Mr Walker to sue and that is well compensated for this unjust indignity perpetrated against him.
    Further the officers involved should be censured and their service record reflect their ineptitude.
    Tenterfield council should publish their objections so that the community can judge their actions, and reflect on them come election time.
    All Australians need much better civil rights legislation to protect them from this kind of heavy handed authoritarian bullshit.
    I hope the Echo will stay across this matter in the future.

  9. Uncle Lewis, I hope the gathering went ahead and was a success. The work you do in teaching is highly valued as education and hopefully some of it will rub off on the people you dealt with, police and especially including the treacherous council employees. YOWAY!

  10. So sorry and sad to hear of this. I have attended Rainbow events at this beautiful location and understand the sacred way in which the country is treated….

  11. Important yarn – incidentally haven’t the courts made it abundantly clear to police that where there is minimal risk of flight for non-violent matters police MUST issue court attendance notices over arrest? Doesn’t the fact the magistrate overseeing the precedent at Kyogle court during my time on the police beat specifically castigated two general duty officers for unnecessarily and provocatively pulling a young Koori lad out of an important ceremony count for anything? I hope the ALS is all over this (despite the contemptible cutbacks).


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