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.
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.’