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Byron Shire
April 21, 2021

Creating sacred space at Goonellabah

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Daniel John Peterson

You might notice new plantings at Goonellabah’s historic Elders Memorial Park. These are part of exciting new upgrades taking place thanks to Rekindling The Spirit and the work of participating organisations such as the Ngulingah Rangers and Nursery who are ‘very glad to be involved’, according to Ngulingah Ranger Silas Telford.

Ngulingah Rangers planting native ginger. Photo Godfrey Swan.

Elders Park is a quaint small space with huge potential, nestled in the very heart of Goonellabah’s central suburbs.

This year, some one million dollars from our NSW Government’s ‘Stronger Country Communities Fund’ came through Janelle Saffin’s office.

This money included $56,315 for Rekindling The Spirit to facilitate ‘upgrades’ in both Shearman Park and Elders Park.

This year’s variety of SCCF (Round 3) funded projects makes for interesting contrast, given that many of these projects received well over $100k.

Elders Memorial Park sign. Photo Daniel Peterson.

Elders Park is a wonderful public space used for a variety of activities, says Yvonne Lingua of Rekindling The Spirit.

‘We’ve had open-air film nights, BBQs, many youth activities at Elders Park, and now we’re thrilled to be coordinating a collaborative planting of native species, each with specific bushtucker or medicinal qualities,’ she said.

‘Watch this space for more positive announcements to come!’

Aunty Rose Walker agrees the plantings are a positive sign for Elders Park, but is also deeply concerned and believes much more can be done.

Leila Glew and Uncle Arddy Glew planting Bunya Pine tree. Photo Godfrey Swan.

‘I think there’s enough trees and bushes. We need to be careful with vegetation, because they can create a haven for criminal activity’.

Aunty Rose has lived in the suburbs around Elders Park, since 1975, and she’s very concerned for the safety of the children in Goonellabah.

Speaking at the park, Aunty Rose said, ‘Elders Park is unsafe. It’s good having a BBQ here, but why is there not even rubbish bins? And what about toilets!

‘The camphor laurel forest in the corner [of Elders Park] has always been known as a haunted place. I don’t know why we cannot have those terrible trees removed!

Camphor laurels. Photo Daniel Peterson.

‘I’m extremely worried about our children walking home at night in the dark, from Clifford Park or Kadina Park, just because that’s the only way our kids can enjoy play equipment after school.

‘There used to be play equipment here, but it’s been gone for so many years,’ she said.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries suggests local council has an ‘active control program’ to control this forest of camphor laurel trees.

Why is this neighbourhood expected to value a toxic and highly invasive weed, as the most dominant and overbearing feature of our beloved Elders Park?


Floodlight. Photo Daniel Peterson.

Uncle Arddy Glew said there has been a half-hearted attempt at security lighting, by simply attaching a floodlight to a power pole, which council has since been forced to switched off permanently, in response to complaints from neighbours.

Uncle Arddy reminds us, ‘We need serious commitment, forethought and professional design work done before any improvements are invested here at Elders Park.’

Uncle Arddy is also a senior resident of the immediate area and wholeheartedly agrees with Aunty Rose, that improved safety and play equipment at Elders Park is desperately needed, especially for the children.

Basketball court. Photo Daniel Peterson.

In 2017 The North Coast Community Housing Company Ltd. was granted over $47k in NSW State funding for ‘Bounce for Elders Park Basketball Court’.

This project included collaborative work with professional artists creating feature back-boards at the basketball court.

‘North Coast Community Housing is just so excited to see what this funded redevelopment will unlock in the lives of local young people who call this space home,’ said Robyn Hordern, Chair (at the time) of North Coast Community Housing.

‘We are so grateful to community for coming out and joining with us to celebrate the commencement of the works and have one last bounce on the old court before it is totally transformed,’ Ms Hordern said.

Lismore City Council’s only budgeted outlay for Elders Park seems to be a scheduled grass mowing and gardening on a fortnightly basis.

But can anything more be done?

Brendan Harrington with Fay Smith memorial plaque. Photo Godfrey Swan.

Several government departments and organisations have active involvement with the hundreds of families and households in the immediate vicinity of Elders Park.

Yet a perception persists, that practical support or actual financial collaboration between non-Indigenous agencies and the Indigenous organisations who are super keen to improve safety, is kept to an absolute minimum.

If we can start by admitting to systemic instructional racism, and then get past it, we can create and maintain the sacred public spaces that we will all enjoy, for generations to come.

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