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Byron Shire
December 7, 2023

Lismore Council’s historic vote to hand back Banyam Baigham

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Everybody (almost) hands up! Councillors Vanessa Ekins, Darlene Cook, Elly Bird, Eddie Lloyd, Nancy Casson, Adam Guise and Neil Marks, vote to hand back the Sleeping Lizard to the local mob. Councillor Bill Moorhouse voted against the motion.

In an emotional and historic vote, Lismore City Council last night passed a motion to hand back Banyam Baigham – Sleeping Lizard, known as the North Lismore Plateau, to the Traditional Custodians.

Lismore Mayor, Councillor Vanessa Ekins, spoke at length about the significance of handing back the Council owned land.

Representatives from the local mob including Uncle Mick Ryan, Aunty Marie Delbridge, Aunty Thelma James and Mindy Woods, and North Lismore Plateau Protection Association Inc. spokesperson Dot Moller, took the opportunity to speak in favour of the motion during public access.

The authority and standing to speak for Country

Uncle Mick Ryan said he had both the authority and standing to speak for that country.

‘At the outset, I say to you all that tonight is an historic moment. Grasping this monumental opportunity is a real positive action, more than just empty words.

‘This is a very big step by our community for justice and reconciliation. For all of us, Aboriginal and non-indigenous alike.

‘Not supporting this hand back will just be a continuation of all the injustices people have suffered through massacre, dispossession, stealing of their children in the 200 years of the discriminatory policies enacted by colonial, state and Commonwealth governments.

‘What happens tonight will reflect not only on the Council but the wider community.

‘I believe it will not only be a tragedy but an opportunity lost. There is no question the land to be handed back has been identified as containing some of the most significant and sacred sites within the Bundjalung nation.

‘My responsibility as a senior elder of the Bundjalung nation is toward the protection of ancestral lands and all the animals, plants and people who dwell within.

‘Let’s commence this process of reconciliation and recognition in a meaningful way to right the great injustice, for Council to listen carefully to what I have said and did a proper thing.

‘We Aboriginal people have a strong tradition embedded in our culture of sharing and caring and welcoming.

‘Go beyond the personal politics and point-scoring.

‘All of you see the demand for supporting this historic occasion and supporting the hand back of our sacred land to the rightful landowners,’ said Mr Ryan.

A deep affinity with particular areas of land

Also speaking for the Bundjalung was Mindy Woods who said that Traditional Custodians have a deep affinity with particular areas of land. ‘Much of our sense of identity is derived from it,’ she said.

‘One area is not exchangeable for another, unlike those of Western land systems. We recognize the cultural, spiritual and historical significance of Banyam North Lismore Plateau.

‘This land is steeped in our history, our culture, our spirituality, and our very existence. This is your history.

‘We support and hope to celebrate the motion that custodianship of Council-owned land on North Lismore Plateau be returned to the Widjabul Wia-bal clan group.

For you, our Councillors, this is a significant decision, but a small and vital step to a long journey towards genuine recognition, reconciliation, protection and celebration of our history,’ she said.

‘We extend our thanks and extend our hand to join you on this journey.’

The Sleeping Lizard

Cr Ekins, who moved a motion that Council hand back Council-owned land on the North Lismore Plateau to the Traditional Owners, was very passionate in her address to the chamber, imploring all councillors to vote in favour of the motion.

‘This is a pretty important decision that we’re making to heal Country.

‘We’ve been talking about the North Lismore Plateau and development on it for 20 years. We’ve spent many years in consultation with the Aboriginal community about the significance of that land. And we know that the site is really significant to the Aboriginal community. It’s Sleeping Lizard Hill, it’s well documented and known to us.

‘We need to hand back Council-owned land to the Traditional Custodians. It’s a really small but significant gesture. And it links Lismore with the National Native Title process that’s going on around us everywhere.

‘A Native Title claim was lodged in 2013, and what that claim has done for the Widjabul Wia-bal Custodians, it has recognized that there is connection for Widjabul Wia-bal people to the North Lismore plateau, going back time immemorial.

Cr Ekins outlined the distant and recent history of the land and concluded that the best use for that land is that it be handed it back to the care and control of the Widjabul Wia-bal  Traditional Custodians. ‘It’s a pretty easy decision tonight Councilors, we just decide to hand it back.

‘We can’t use this land. We haven’t used it for 40 years, and we’re unlikely to use it for another decade, but it’s really important to the Widjabul Wia-bal Traditonal Custodians. They can protect it and manage it.’

Just hand it back

‘I’m just asking you to make the decision tonight. Just to hand it back,’ said Cr Ekins.

The motion was passed with votes in favour from Crs Ekins, Lloyd, Bird Marks, Cook, Casson and Guise with only Cr Bill Moorhouse voting against.

Cr Ekins thanked Councilors for making history and thanked the public access speakers.

‘Everyone gets a hug. A COVID safe hug.’

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  1. Context is important to all government decisions and the context of Mayor Ekins motion needs to be put into context. In her own admission she says that she became aware in 2011 that this land was important to the local indigenous community. Between 2011 and 2020, Mayor Ekins voted to invest millions of our ratepayers dollars on head works to prepare the Plateau for development. Not once over those years did Mayor Ekins bring a motion to work with, consult with or plan with the local indigenous community with a view to return this land to the local indigenous community. These things happened as part of a whole of council strategy with no involvement from Mayor Ekins. Now that the council is on its knees financially and Mayor Ekins has read the tea leaves, that this community has had enough, she has chosen to exploit this issue as an election stunt. Over her years on council Mayor Ekins has supported multiple loss making ventures and promoted them as “leading”. What will happen to all of the koalas if the indigenous organisations that this land is handed to go ahead and leverage all of the investment that we have made and build 100’s of much needed affordable houses?

  2. It does not come as any surprise to any familiar with this council, that there is not a brain to be found.
    It is however deeply depressing to see the proof that guts are also entirely missing, and perhaps points to why this council is so notoriously inept and entirely dysfunctional.
    Despite collecting mind boggling millions in rates, the council is bankrupt and incapable of performing basic services due to the incompetence or corruption of council and it’s managers. Now it finds it fashionable and P.C. to divest it’s self of assets, owned by the ratepayers, in a pathetic attempt at self- aggrandisement , while lobbying for unsupportable rates increases.
    God protect us from government, federal, state, and local !
    Cheerio G”)

  3. Thank you Lismore Council. I have come to know the significance of this site through the visits that I have made with preschool aged children. During these visits the Elders and Knowledge Keepers shared their stories and culture with the children. When you hear the Elders speaking about growing up here, about Aboriginal people coming to the area that is now the showground, about the sacred places and their ancestors who are part of Sleeping Lizard, there is no doubt that this area holds great significance. Well done Councillors for handing it back.

  4. My understanding is that the majority of the land for housing on north Lismore Plateau is privately owned. The council owned land that is being given back is a relatively small portion, but extremely signicant to the traditional owners.

  5. Well that is a parcel of land that the council will not have to look after I suppose, much like the rest of Lismore and it environs. The roads are still crap, downtown Lismore looks rundown and tawdry and the way this council is going there will h debt to be paid for hundreds of years. How did this woman Ekins ever become Mayor!!


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