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Time for traditional custodians of beaches to be heard

South Ballina Beach resident – photo David Lowe.

Since our recent stories about damage and destruction from 4WDs on the beaches south of Ballina, Echonetdaily has been contacted by Iilai from Yidabal Galii Maa Bandjalang for a perspective from the traditional custodians of these areas.

Iilai* said his people have been bothered with the issues at South Ballina Beach for quite a while, along with Seven Mile Beach in Lennox Head.

He said, ‘These areas are our traditional homelands as Nyangbul Bundjalung people, and to hear that no one is willing to take responsibility for these places is deeply concerning to us. Our ancestors were driven from these areas in the mid-1800’s and were the victims of several massacres.

Pipi shell on South Ballina Beach – photo David Lowe.

‘We have maintained a connection to these areas through our stories and our practices of fishing, worming and collecting pippies. My grandfather still remembers being carried to Boundary Creek by his grandfather.

‘They would meet up with other families from all over Bundjalung Country. They would camp, fish and gather pippies.’

Iilai said his people have continually been held back from gaining proper access to the beaches, or legal rights to protect them.

Native title claims have been declined and other arrangements ‘never seem to come through.’

Thousands of sites

He said there are potentially thousands of Aboriginal sites scattered throughout these areas, from middens to burial sites.

4WD track from beach through littoral forest – photo David Lowe.

‘When people choose to drive over dunes and into the coastal heath they are damaging these sites. The whole area needs a cultural and ecological survey to assess the impact of current activities.

‘We still enjoy camping in these areas due to our cultural connection. We always clean up after ourselves and make sure we look after the area.

‘Unfortunately, others do not have the same respect. They leave litter, pull out trees for firewood, defecate in inappropriate areas, leave fires unattended and cut the fences of property owners which creates mistrust.

‘It seems to be a place of lawlessness to these people as they drive unsafely and under the influence of drugs and alcohol.’

Iilai said the Nyangbul Bundjalung people have seen the pippie population of the beaches declining over a number of years. Pippies are the main food source of the Pied Oystercatcher and numerous other species.

‘The delicate environment is continually trampled on by those choosing to do the wrong thing. This makes it harder for us to gather traditional foods which are so important to our health and well being.’

Responsible access

4WD on beach south of Ballina – picture David Lowe

‘We still want access to these places,’ Iilai said. ‘We are all for people using 4WD vehicles if they do so responsibly. We know that 95% of locals who do so are doing the right thing.

‘It is those who come from out of town or out of state who cause these problems. It can also be attributed to naive young people who do not have an appropriate understanding of the damage they cause when they go out and flog their vehicles for Instagram likes.’

Iilai said he and his people would like to be brought to the table for decision-making for the threatened beaches.

‘If no one wants to take responsibility then hand that responsibility back to us. Let us patrol and care for our country, like we have done for thousands of years. It is our customary responsibility to care for our homelands when they are experiencing harm. Unfortunately, we have been kept from doing so but this needs to change.

‘We feel there is no action from those in control so we are acting ourselves. We will be putting up our own signage encouraging people to use these areas respectfully. Keep an eye out.’

Bugalbee

4WD track through littoral forest to beach – photo David Lowe

Iilai said bugalbee (thank you) to those who have acted to protect the beaches and responded to the concerns of the Nyangbul Bundjalung people, but added ‘we are yet to get feedback from Ballina Shire Council, National Parks or either of our local members which is disappointing.’

He’s keen to get a serious dialogue going between new and ancient stakeholders about the future of the beaches.

PS: as of yesterday’s Ballina Shire Council meeting, it seems council is finally responding to pressure and taking action to begin protecting the South Ballina beaches. More information in Echonetdaily soon.

* Iilai asked not to be photographed for this story.


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