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Byron Shire
September 27, 2023

Call to reject Evans Head Iron Gates DA over failure to recognise Indigenous heritage

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Iron Gates Property showing Evans River in foreground and house built by Paul and Dorothy Adams in the 1960’s. Also shows cleared land (middle and middle top along power line, and regrowth (bright green to middle right) where developer cleared land previously and prepared house sites. State Heritage Listed Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome in top of picture. Photo supplied

The Federal inquiry into the appalling destruction of the 46,000-year-old Australian Indigenous cultural heritage site Juukan Gorge has found that this was not ‘unique’.

‘It was one of “countless instances where cultural heritage has been the victim of the drive for development and commercial gain”, the inquiry’s final report said,’ according to The Guardian.

‘It was one of “countless instances where cultural heritage has been the victim of the drive for development and commercial gain”, the inquiry’s final report said.’

History repeating here?

The question is, is the same thing currently about to take place in our own backyard?

Lawrence Wilson on Dirawong Reserve. Photo supplied

This year, on April 30, the area that surrounds the Evans Head, Iron Gates development on three sides was the subject of a successful Native Title Determination (Bandjalang Claim #3 by the Federal Court). This Native Title Determination was a legacy effect of the Bandjalang elder, the late Lawrence Wilson’s earlier work on successful Native Title claim placed in 1990s.

The Iron Gates site is owned by a Gold Coast developer Graeme Ingles, most recently of Queensland based GoldCoral Pty Ltd, who has been attempting to develop the site since the 1990s. The current development application (DA) is for Iron Gates a 184 lot subdivision including 175 residential lots, and 3 residue lot (DA2015/0096) that was submitted in 2015.

An approved DA was overturned by the Land and Environment Court (L&EC) in 1997 after Mr Ingles proceeded with unauthorised works at the site and he was ordered to do around $2m worth of remediation work that has never been completed. Further unauthorised clearing took place at the site in 2014.

During the court case to overturn the DA Mr Lawrence Wilson provided evidence to the court on the destruction of scar trees and ‘Aboriginal relics upon the land to which the development consent relates’. However, his knowledge and place in Aboriginal society did not seem to be recognised by the Courts who stated that ‘The applicant refers to the fact that he belongs to a group titled “the Bundjalung nation”. He claims to be a custodian of tribal sites on the Richmond River. He gives no evidence to show that he knows anything about the matters to which he speaks.’

Protest at the time Iron Gates Drive was bulldozed through Crown Land circa 1991, 30 years ago. Photo supplied

Authority recognised

Dr Richard Gates, spokesperson for Evans Head Residents for Sustainable Development, told The Echo that, ‘The late Mr Wilson was subsequently successful in two major Native Title Claims made in the 1990’s which were Determined in a Federal Court Hearing in December 2013 at Evans Head after his death. His knowledge and integrity as an Elder was vindicated by these Determinations. He was who is said he was and his evidence was accepted. It is sad he was not alive to see the success of his genuine efforts on Determination Day in 2013.’

Native Title Bandjalang People #3 30 April 2021 Determination. Lands surround the Iron Gates on north, south and east.

Iron Gates DA fails Aboriginal Heritage assessment

‘Dr Gates said today that the heritage assessment undertaken by the developer for the Iron Gates residential development, as part of the current DA process which commenced in 2014, had serious deficiencies which had not been remedied by the developer in this fourth version of the application.’

The Iron Gates development is part of wider cultural heritage landscape at Evans Head which includes The Dirawong Reserve, both sides of the river at the Iron Gates, Snake Island in the Evans River Estuary and surrounds the development site on three sides.

‘A review of the consultants’ report on Aboriginal Heritage Assessment of the site by Cultural Anthropologist Inge Riebe in 2016 showed up many inadequacies,’ he said.

Evans River Estuary taken from the site where the illegal drain cuts into the river (not shown). Photo looks across to the south side of the river from the Iron Gates riverbank. Photo supplied

These included the failure to engage suitably qualified people to conduct the assessment, the factually incorrect statement that ‘there are no ethnographic accounts on the public record that relate to the Project Area as being a place of particular cultural significance’, failure to obtain, assess and use ‘authentic oral tradition in the Assessment Report’, and the claim that material was unavailable among others.

‘Aboriginal Cultural Assessment matter is a much bigger issue than most people appreciate. It is not just about “tangible artefacts” but the landscapes and their meanings for culture. The current legislation for assessment of Aboriginal Cultural assessment is out of date and new legislation is required to properly and professionally assess Aboriginal cultural heritage claims,’ explained Dr Gates.

‘I had high hopes that the draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill introduced by the State government in 2018 for public comment would have advanced, been improved and implemented with appropriate funding and safeguards but there is nothing on the horizon notwithstanding an extensive review process with the Aboriginal community and the wider public. This is extremely disappointing.’

Iron Gates property from the air showing Evans River in the background, and extensive wetlands, cleared land and regrowth of the Iron Gates. The bright green in the upper left with dug drain running along the left side is part of the original development of the 1990s which is under Court Orders for remediation. Foreground shows extensive wetland country. Photo supplied

Buy back the site

Dr Gates said that the local community and National Parks have repeatedly advocated for the site to be bought by the State Government and made part of the Broadwater National Park.

‘This is something National Parks has wanted to do on at least four occasions,’ said Dr Gates.

‘We cannot wait for the government to get its act together. We have had years for this important matter to be resolved and yet here we are today in the middle of an inappropriate residential development application for a Gold Coast development on land critically-important to the Bandjalang People and the Bundjalung Nation and contemporary state legislation for protection is missing in action.

‘The Aboriginal Cultural Landscape at Evans Head, of which the Iron Gates is part, needs to be recognised by the State government and the people of Australia for its importance, and preserved in perpetuity.  The Iron Gates is almost completely surrounded by Crown Lands for which Native Title was Determined at Evans Head in April of this year.

‘The Iron Gates need to be compulsorily acquired from the developer less the cost of remediation of the land damaged by the developer and an earlier development company he controlled (Iron Gates Pty Ltd), by the State Government.’

Dr Gates said he is not alone in insisting on cultural recognition and preservation of the site.

‘I have spoken with other Traditional Knowledge holders for the area and they agree that the site must be preserved for future generations, one of the Principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development enshrined in many pieces of State legislation including the EP&A and NSW local government Acts.’

Promotional material for an earlier Iron Gates development proposal in the 1990s.

Have your voice heard

Dr Gates is calling on the community to make submissions to reject the DA and call for a buy back of the property. Submissions close this Sunday 24 October 2021 at 11:30pm. You can find out more information on and make submissions about the DA at the Richmond Valley Council website.

‘Given the uniqueness of the survival of the complex of area, people, history and mythological significance, this area is part of a high cultural value site of local and national importance,’ said Dr Gates.

‘There are few, if any, other sites of this integrated, complex nature still available for protection on the Eastern seaboard of Australia, where once such sites were numerous. That at least one such site should be preserved and safeguarded as the unique example of the rich traditional culture of the wider area would seem to be indicated.

‘This is an opportunity for the public to reject a development which is in the wrong place and which will damage Aboriginal Cultural fabric should it proceed. Rejection of the development and its accompanying clearly-deficient Cultural Heritage Assessment will send a clear message that the community has moved on from Gold Coast developments of an earlier era and embraces the processes of Reconciliation in a demonstrated, concrete fashion. A confirmation by actions, not rhetoric,’ he said.

‘I can think of no better way to demonstrate concrete support for the Aboriginal community by saying “NO” to this unfortunate development which should have been rejected years ago, and providing support for recognition and most particularly protection of the Iron Gates area as part of a larger, culturally-significant Aboriginal Place. Nothing less will do.’

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  1. Primitive humans ate and mated and died in primitive conditions.
    Life was short and difficult.
    Is there “rich cultural tradition “ in there anywhere?

  2. It’s not like the do anything whit this land. The only people who care about the “cultural significance” arnt even aboriginal! It’s the over sensitive hipsters that claim to have no gender. The people that should care are off sniffing petrol behind the bottle O.

    • And what’s your interest then, other that being able to express nasty racist stereotypes ?
      As with the Dunoon non-Dam, there seems to be lots of ignorant people stuck in the 19th century with no respect for heritage, or culture, and no understanding of environmental laws or environmental considerations of developments.

  3. Wow, who are these racists??? Dinosaur attitudes! Why are so many people so hell-bent on destroying what remains of the wise culture that came before this ridiculous one we are ‘living’ in?? It makes me despair sometimes. I’m glad to be sensitive (but I’m not a hipster) to the peace and plenty that still exists in this land, despite all the crazy shit we’ve done to it, and that some want to keep doing. I wish all folks could be sensitive to the beauty and wisdom of this land, and find ways to live in attunement with it, before it’s too late. We could be living the most beautiful life on this planet, restoring it, learning to live as community, caring for each other and being cared for. As a whole. It’s NOT TOO LATE, humans!!!


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