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.’
History repeating here?
The question is, is the same thing currently about to take place in our own backyard?
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.’
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.’
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.
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.’
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.’
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.’