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Byron Shire
September 29, 2021

Widjabul Wia-bal and the Dunoon Dam

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The Channon Gorge, the proposed site of the Dunoon Dam. Photo supplied

Nan Nicholson, The Channon

Those supporting the proposed Dunoon Dam seem to be living back in a time-warp of Terra Nullius. Amongst the 11,000 petition signatures and submissions in opposition to Rous’ revised IWCM (the one that excludes a new dam) there is barely a single reference to the traditional owners.

It is as if they never existed and still don’t.

Any mention of them is couched in a condescending manner that explains why they should accept destruction of their living heritage and sacred sites whilst being overjoyed about a new cultural centre that might be built for them at a site less inconvenient to the whites.

Isn’t this the story of occupation over and over? How much clearer do our Indigenous citizens have to be that they do not accept this dam?

Indigenous people have a lot to teach about relationship with the Land. Big ‘L’ Land encompasses water, ground, rocks, plants, animals, people, ancestors, future beings, stars, relationships, kin, air, spirituality; in short, everything. Small ‘l’ land is just landscape, a place for owning, using, selling, changing and maybe degrading or destroying – if that seems useful or profitable.

Uncle Mickey Ryan recently said ‘We Aboriginal people have a strong tradition of sharing, caring and welcoming’. The trouble is that Aboriginal people have had to do all of it, especially the sharing.

It is time for some acknowledgement by white folks that the people of an ancient culture still value the Land and have rights to protect it. It is time to stop the ‘consult-then-ignore’ routine that we have seen over and over in the past. It is time to do some sharing back.

Fortunately white law is changing to acknowledge deep spiritual connection as a valid reason to protect Land. This kind of social impact cannot be mitigated away.

The Widjabul Wia-bal connection to the Land should be enough to stop this dam. It can and it will.

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  1. I’ve noticed the same reluctance – it’s as if the dam proponents are scared to even say the name of the traditional owners whose heritage they wish to dismiss as an inconvenience. How hard is it to say ‘Widjabul Wia-bal’ ?
    Yet time and again when pressed to actually address the cultural heritage at the DuD Dunoon Dam site, those spruiking the dam can only bring themselves to say ‘Aboriginal’, or ‘Indigenous’. I suspect in their hearts they know that by saying the real name of the owners they will have to confront the reality of what they propose to do.

  2. I am one who suggested the opportunity to build a cultural teaching and tourist facility at the dam.
    I also suggested there may be away the the Widjabul Wia-bal people may be able to perform a ceremony to acknowledge their ancestors sacrifice to provide water for the future of their people and the rest of the community and the animals. We would also have water to dous the inevitable bush fires.
    I absolutely agree the original people of this beautiful country can teach us much about living and working with nature. But with all due respect, they didn’t have to deal with and ever growing population and such high water needs. I am sure none locally dispose of there sewerage waste in traditional maner. And sewerage is our biggest water waster. There needs to be a change from flush toilets to composting toilets asap!! This is something we MUST do for our future if we truly want to live water wise.
    I admire and honor the first people of our nation… I only wish the whole world had remained living tribally. But we didn’t. We ALL live in modern times and can’t turn back the clock. All our beliefs and cultures need to find away to work together. Life changes, it always has. The first people would have changed their ways as they learnt new things and had to deal with different obstacles.
    I want us all to be respectful of each other. We need to work together to resolve issues.

    • That sounds lovely Louise and I am glad you are so respectful of the Widjabul Wia-bal original owners. But respect means more than just saying nice things – it means acting on them.

      Suggesting ways for the Widjabul to feel better about what some of the whites have in mind for their country, eg with a ceremony, is deeply insulting and demeaning. Instead, you could start looking at whether endless growth and demands on finite resources is even physically possible, let alone ethical.

      The Widjabul did not get us into this mess – we did. Stop asking them to get us out of it by sacrificing even more.

  3. Water management experts with decades of experience say rainfall-dependent sources like dams will not give us security in dry times. Proponents of the dam insist it will make safe from drought but fail to justify this claim. I wonder who we should believe?

  4. Yes Nan…Wigibal Wiabal deserve full respect which is why many people are against the dunoon dam as the “alternative”is to extract ground water which will destroy the sacred aquifers….because country is way deeper than what you see on the surface …as you well know.So…I still think tanks are the solution…reduce usage…reclaim land from thirsty cattle…composting toilets..yep that’s a good one…um…no big developments!…let’s try n keep our area beautiful…preserve ,not pollute.

    • There is another option that negates the “need” for either a new dam or groundwater.

      It is water efficiency on a large scale. It is has been spelled out in detail by Prof Stuart White, a consultant to Rous who produced a huge report (The Rous Regional Water Efficiency program (1997) that has never been implemented or even evaluated. He has also written more recent programs that Rous has again ignored. Prof White gave an 8 min potted version to the July meeting of Rous. https://www.dropbox.com/sh/tao8wwiy19e2v27/AADNByYbToSIJvZmC9_6OO-ca?dl=0

      Frankly, I can’t work out why we are even discussing dams or groundwater when the largest, quickest and cheapest way to meet the supply /demand balance is to institute widescale efficiencies of many types. Surely these should be tried first before engaging in any major works.

      And no to big developments as you say!

  5. Yeah…I watched the vid…brought up for me the realisation I had many years ago about why these decisions often get made against the wishes of the community…its called…”jobs for the boys”…and it means that although there’s cheaper and better options (as mentioned by Prof Stuart White in this vid),the powers that be prioritise temporary gain over the environment that cannot be replaced.He also states that in actuality there’s more jobs in creating the infrastructure to create efficiency than building the dam itself.


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