It’s a project of great cultural significance that has quietly meandered along beneath the radar.
But the day will soon come when the traditional custodians of the Byron Shire will be guaranteed a burial site on their ancestral homeland.
For nearly three years, Byron Council and local Arakwal representatives have been developing a designated Arakwal burial area within the Byron Cemetery.
The project is set to move a step closer to completion this Thursday (October 8) when the Arakwal Memorandum of Understanding Committee discusses the project at its biannual meeting.
‘Council and Arakwal have identified this as a priority project to allow for people to remain on country after they pass away,’ Byron Council’s Aboriginal Project Officer, Robert Appo, said in his report to this week’s meeting.
‘This is of cultural significance to Arakwal people as reflected in the current Arakwal MOU.’
The project was first put forward as a priority by Arakwal woman Delta Kay.
Ms Kay was concerned about the frail condition of Arakwal Elders and Community Leaders.
Buried on country
Being buried on country, in accordance with traditional practices, is part of the restoration of cultural processes that were largely obliterated by 232 years of white occupation.
Local Indigenous peoples have been prevented from being laid to rest in their ancestral land by a range of factors, including the high cost of burial plots in the Shire and the lack of available space.
In a bid to address this, Byron Council is investigating whether it can waive burial fees for those to be buried in the Arakwal Cemetery.
Ballina Shire Council’s provisions for Aboriginal burials at the Wardell Cemetery are that the fees are waived and that graves are dug and burials are supervised by Aboriginal community and family.
However, it appears this may be easier said than done because of state laws limiting the circumstances in which fees can be waived.
‘Council may waive fees and charges through the General Manager for an individual case, however the Local Government Act, Section 610E would apply for a proposed category of fees to be waived,’ Mr Appo said.
‘Council may need to allocate a budget or fund waived fees out of the general revenue budget to cover the fees and charges associated with burial fees for Arakwal members.’
This roadblock is set to be discussed at Thursday’s meeting, along with other details associated with the cemetery.