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Byron Shire
September 23, 2021

Could new dam become another Rio Tinto disaster?

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Widjabul Wia-bal Elder Uncle Steven Roberts. Photo supplied.

Widjabul Wia-bal traditional custodians are deeply concerned about a rescission motion proposed for Rous County Council’s next meeting on Wednesday 17 February. This motion would overturn the recent decision to cease all work on the Dunoon Dam, rezone the land and begin the disposal of Rocky Creek properties.

‘In December we welcomed the decision to stop the dam which has caused us anxiety for years,’ said spokesperson Cindy Roberts.

Senior Elder John Roberts and his niece Cindy Roberts. Photo supplied.

‘After that historic meeting we felt that worry lift, we could breathe easy knowing that the graves of our ancestors and important heritage would not be drowned by the Dunoon Dam,’ she said.

‘Now three Rous councillors are seeking to overturn that decision with a motion to retain the land, to keep the dam option open.’

How many more times?

‘We are sick of having our voices ignored’, said Widjabul elder Uncle Steven Roberts.

‘For years we have explained the importance of our heritage and expressed our opposition to its destruction. How many more times do we have to say this? There are already two cultural heritage reports that say the Rocky Creek site is of huge significance.

‘We ask the voting Rous councillors to stand strong on their December decision and reject the rescission motion,’ he said.

Cindy Roberts said the following statement has been signed by over eighty elders and members of the Widjabul Wia-bal traditional owners and neighbouring tribes to show Rous County Council their clear opposition to the destructive dam.

Statement by Widjabul Wia-bal

‘We, Custodians of Widjabul Wia-bal lands of the Bundjalung Nation, and neighbouring tribes, want you to know that the area to be affected by the proposed Dunoon Dam is significant to us, to our people. We need to protect this land.

‘It is important to our Ancestors and for our future generations to be able to connect to our Ancestors and traditions.

Channon Gorge area to be inundated by proposed dam. Photo David Lowe.

‘This land holds our relationship with our living heritage and culture.

‘For thousands of generations we have lived on this land and protected it while it protected and fed us. To destroy this land is to destroy the environment which sustains us.

‘The proposed dam would destroy the learning grounds for future generations.

‘The suggestion to drown our sites to protect them (as stated in the 2013 Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment) is deeply offensive to us.

‘Additionally, the valley to be drowned by the dam at the end of Fraser Road is the site where we were moved to after we were dispossessed just over 100 years ago. It is important as part of our survival journey.

‘We, the Traditional Custodians of this land, will not accept its destruction. No compensation will replace its importance to us and our following generations.

‘We call on Rous County Council to return the land that it controls to the Traditional Custodians.

‘Do not construct the Dunoon Dam. Do not destroy our living culture,’ the statement concludes.


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5 COMMENTS

  1. So sad to see this option on the table again. Seems like we never learn. There is so much opposition to building a dam that to even consider building it is to go against the will of the people.

  2. The Byron Environment Centre (BEC) has sent all ROUS Councillors a copy of the Warrnambool Roof Water Harvesting Initiative, which is a first in Australia, and the Warrnambool Project tool kit, which gives an assessment of the financial viability, and allows quick comparisons with other potential water supply sources.. The Project collects roof water from new developments, sends it for processing and back into the water supply, which In an average year, the system harvests all the annual water needs of the properties it is connected to. The Project started with 250 lots across two subdivisions. It has progressively expanded and now includes industrial sheds, and another 580 future houses can now be included. “The roofs of some 3,000 new homes will eventually form an urban catchment that is expected to contribute 471 million litres of water each year into the Brierly Basin and then treated at the Warrnambool Water Treatment Plant for urban drinking water.” IE – all new development here can be provided at zero demand for off site water (and I suspect at a cheaper cost than a dam). And the BEC stands with the local mobs in opposition to any more destruction of Aboriginal Heritage.

  3. Great story. It’s despicable and unethical for white folks to consult and consult with local Elders and leaders if they are not going to listen to the answers and take them seriously. There are so many more effective, efficient and ethical solutions to a long term water sustainability strategy for our region. Let’s learn to listen and hear the voices of people who know this land, are responsible for this land, and can lead us back to a healing relationship with the land.

  4. In December most Rous councillors finally accepted what they had been told by two previous reports on the cultural significance of the Dunoon Dam site. They went past just lip-service regarding reconciliation, and showed they really understood that when the Traditional Owners said “No”, they meant, and mean, “No”! And those Rous councillors decided then, that they would not continue an insulting process of asking again and again whether it was OK to flood sacred burial sites, but instead move on to realistic water supply options.

    Australia is slowly but steadily moving to a place where Indigenous voices are being heard properly – and Rous councillors , for the most part, not only understand that, but are committed to following that path. That was crystal clear to anyone who watch the meeting in December.

    Of course, that decision was made far easier because there are far better, more secure, and less risky options to supply water for our projected future needs, so this was never a matter of culture and environment versus drinking water. This was a matter of past water solutions versus modern water solutions, of past attitudes versus reconciliation today, right now.

    The decision by Rous Council in December made me feel proud of our councillors, and the community I live in. I will stand with the Widjabul Wia-bal, those Rous councillors, and my community, to ensure that the historic decision to protect the Dunoon site stands, and that Rous leads us into a secure water future we can all be proud of.

  5. And what is the next dam to be built after the new Dunoon dam?
    You know since Federation the Sydney water catchment area has been expanded about 27 different time with about 20 different dams.
    They are still not satisfied.
    When you build a dam there is a marked jump in population as the dam is used as a selling point for housing, so a new dam increases the use of water and increases the need for yet another new dam after the one you have just built.

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