Negotiations between Lois Cook and the Jali Aboriginal Land Council came to a head on Friday with the Land Council arriving to remove Cook’s camp from the site she had selected on Byron Bay Road just north of Lennox Head.
Ms Cook has stated that she has set up the Gagamai Ngangbal Suveran Free State on the site and is living there with her supporters.
‘Under Section seven of the Aboriginal Heritage Act we are allowed to practice our culture and heritage,’ said Ms Cook.
‘My people didn’t sell this land. I claimed it 34 years ago. My name is on the document at the Land Claims Unit. I was the only on who was on the land.’
When The Echo arrived at Cook’s camp, there were men and women from the Jali Land Council who were in the process of dismantling the camp.
Jinki, who has been living at the camp with Lois, said, ‘I’m from the west and I am here to support Lois. We do law and culture to renew everything and keep the customs going – linking in with the land and seasons.’
‘This is an old campsite. Lois looked at three sites in the area and settled on this one. Her father came here and blessed the site 13 months ago. This is Nyangbal territory.
‘We have issues with the Land Council. It’s a structure that takes [powers] away from the people; it’s the peoples land. Quite a lot of [Aboriginal] groups are part of the Land Council and the government amalgamated them and they shouldn’t have done that.’
According to Ballina Shire Council, there has been illegal structures erected and they have served orders to the Jali Aboriginal Land Council, the freehold owners of the land, in relation to these.
‘The land is owned by the Jali Aboriginal Land Council,’ said a spokesperson for the Jali Aboriginal Land Council.
‘Ballina Shire Council issued an order of over $1 million in fines if we don’t remove the encampment.
‘There is no sanitation, no water, no power, nothing. There is no driveway and they are in a 100km zone. It is also the highest level of environmental protection down there and is in a bushfire zone – it is dangerous.
‘They have built structures outside of the development control plan without approval of Ballina Shire Council.
‘We have tried to negotiate for a year and have offered them a safe location to relocate to, but they refused.’
The police were called to the camp site during the afternoon however, ‘it is not a police matter,’ said Sergeant York.
The Gugamai camp is a true cultural centre. Electricity and water from a tap do not make a cultural centre unless that culture appeared a hundred odd years ago. These women are taking care of land that has been abused and dumped on for years… let them be!
For God’s sake, let these women have this piece of land, to live on. Even if they are only in tents it is better for them to claim ownership.
Once again a white council shows it inability to understand the connection between Aboriginal people and ‘country’. In their statement “‘We have tried to negotiate for a year and have offered them a safe location to relocate to, but they refused” they show once again that it’s all on ‘white’ terms.
For indigenous people it’s not about just having a piece of earth. Louise Cook didn’t just ‘settle’ on that piece of earth – she chose to be on a piece of earth where her connection was strongest. Indigenous people don’t just live on the earth and take from it. They are connected to their earth and draw strength from it in a relationship that we can only dream about in fiction from our state of disconnection. The council should leave the woman alone.
Lois Cook will find that her main opponent is the Crown Lands Act , it doesn’t mater what belonging she feels of the land she will have to abide by the Act as do all others like Tweed cultural centre who have a lease that still see’s the land owned by the Crown not the individual tribal group .